Friday, 24 February 2012

Debate Reaction - Cycling Solicitor Tim Beasley talks Red Lights and Liability

Packed House as 75 MPs Attend Debate
One of our cycling solicitors Tim Beasley has his say on the points discussed in yesterday's cycling debate in Westminster. (Missed the debate, read a quick round-up here)

I was really pleased with the many positive comments about the benefits of cycling and the need to make cycling safer. As many have alluded, you should be able to jump on a bike when you want to and just go, but at the moment people who might be persuaded to leave the car at home and jump on their bikes are put off. This won’t change until transport planners give much greater priority to cycling. I cannot say that I am too encouraged by the noises from the government. It’s all too easy to talk about money spent on training for kids, but parents are not letting their children go on the roads. When it comes to real action I am not convinced. We have not seen any real spending commitments. We need a comprehensive change of approach not a few tins of paint on the road. We need to look at allowing cyclists to ignore red lights when turning left.

I also think that we should look at how the law approaches liability. France, for example has a principle of no fault liability. When a motor vehicle collides with a cyclist the motor insurer is liable. This is because there is recognition that cyclists are vulnerable and vehicles are lethal machines. The cyclist does not have to show that the driver caused the accident. A change such as this would need a sea-change in how the insurance industry and the courts approach these things. It would actually ensure justice much more than is the case now and save a lot in lawyer’s fees arguing about liability – and we know the government and insurers hate lawyer’s fees. Another approach falling short of the French system would be to reverse the burden of proof. When cycle and car collide, let’s make the car driver have the burden of proving that the accident was the cyclist’s fault and not the other way around. At the moment, motorists all too often escape the results of their actions and society as a whole has to pay a heavy price – in medical and care costs, obesity rates, pollution etc.

There are lots that we need to do from a transport planning and legal perspective which would help make cycling a safer and more normal activity with huge spin-offs for society.

Let’s hope the momentum of the debate is continued, especially with a London Mayoral election coming along.

Tim Beasley - Partner at our Birmingham Office

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