Many favour introducing into British law a principle of ‘strict liability’ in adjudging fault in traffic collisions, following common practice elsewhere in Western Europe. This proposal isn’t making much progress. Let’s raise the game.
As I understand it, absent evidence to the contrary, strict liability presumes the driver of a motor vehicle at fault in a collision with a cyclist. This determines civil claims – insurance – but not criminal proceedings, where it would remove the onus of proof. Its champions argue that French and German drivers accordingly give bikes more road space.
This proposal meets the usual objection. Benefits for cyclists are seen to be at motorists’ expense in a zero-sum game: a win for the cycling minority is a loss for the motoring majority. And why disadvantage law-abiding motorists in favour of cyclists, who ignore the law anyway?
We have to break out this zero-sum game. Time to go large.
Let’s instead advocate a general principle: the greater the danger you pose in a public space, the greater your duty of care.
This follows the Road Danger Reduction Forum line of addressing danger at its source, instead of controlling its potential victims.
Combine this principle with making collisions an offence and we start to get useful consequences. At present, police charge parties involved in a collision only if they find evidence an offence has been committed. Make the collision an offence in itself, and the question changes to – whom to charge?
The principle of greater danger applies. Absent contrary evidence, the lorry before the taxi, the Range Rover before the Mini, the cyclist before the pedestrian. We’re talking here about enforcing courtesy as the minimum standard of behaviour, the strong protecting the weak. And we’re not talking about fixed penalty notices, but criminal convictions, loss of driving licences, and so on.
This not only avoids condemnation as a cycle-specific measure, it responds to a widely expressed desire to prosecute pavement cyclists. Let’s make cycling on footways legal – and collisions an offence. That could unleash in Britain the swarms of peaceful pavement-cycling grannies I see in Japanese cities.
Our culture accepts minor collisions as part of the rough and tumble of the public roads. That is why so many mothers choose to deliver their children to school in a faux-military light truck, to resist intimidation by commercial drivers. Cyclists suffer – and die – in this rough and tumble. Time to end the reign of traffic flow as king.