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Presumably Innocent or Presumed Guilty?

September 23, 2009
Sorry mate didn’t see you

Sorry mate didn’t see you

Chesterfield, England – Is it vote catching ahead of the UK elections, or justification of a £1.5 billion spend over ten years, whatever. This weeks Governmental leaks on proposals to be included in the forthcoming National Cycling Plan and Active Transport Strategy seem more like a last ditch attempt to square the circle on the fact that despite years of trying just 2% of journeys in the UK undertaken by bicycle.

Be it allowing cyclists to travel against the flow of traffic in one way streets, the imposition of blanket 20mph zones in urban areas to improve cycling safety, spending £100m on building cycle routes in 18 pilot towns, or making motorists legally responsible for accidents involving cyclists or pedestrians. The great British travelling public seem less that enamoured with the Labour Governments attempts to get its national cycling strategy back on track.

It is the proposed scheme that would place the burden of responsibility on motorists involved in collisions with cyclists that has proved the most controversial with a huge media led public outburst against the plan. Such a scheme, already adopted by Germany, Holland and Denmark would assume blame against whoever was driving the most powerful vehicle involved in a crash, so they or their insurers would be legally responsible for costs or damages. If a cyclist were hit by a car, the blame would fall on the driver, while a cyclist would automatically be blamed if he or she knocked down a pedestrian.

Should UK motorcyclists and scooter users be interested in this proposal? My answer an emphatic yes. Including all vulnerable road users pedestrians’ cyclists, motorcyclists, scooterists and even mobility scooter users would have, I believe, a significant influence in changing attitudes towards these modes from a road safety perspective. Bringing much needed personal responsibility back into the equation. Motorcyclists and scooter riders, particularly those riding low powered machines, are the victims of irresponsible drivers who typically give the ‘sorry mate I didn’t see you’ defence. If such drivers were hit financial or even, via the courts, criminally perhaps their powers of observation would have a sudden and dramatic improvement.

Of course the real issue here is the culpability i.e. deserving blame or censure of those causing road crashes where death or injury is involved. In England killing intentionally with a gun is murder, if you take the gun along and it goes off accidentally its manslaughter. Getting so drunk you need to helped into the car by ‘friends’, driving the vehicle at excessive speed and knocking down and killing an innocent pedestrian, who happens to be walking on the pavement or sidewalk, isn’t murder or most times manslaughter. It’s an accident as there’s not a presumption that you set out to do it, you are not culpable.

Too often vulnerable road users are the victims of totally negligent behaviour by car drivers who, even with the recent tighten of laws on causing death by drink or dangerous driving, are getting away literally with murder. Have you read the reports of drivers laughing in the faces of bereaved families of bikers as they leave court punching the air in celebration over a small fine and short driving ban? Have you been present when the 96 previous traffic offences committed by a driver convicted of killing a child when he overtook a stationary queue of traffic that had stopped to allow her to use a pedestrian crossing are read out in front of the parents? I have.

Time for a proper review of crash culpability then, finding a way forward to apportion blame and responsibility. Time to move away from the ‘it was a momentary lapse’ scenario. Time for mandatory sentences of 25 years for those convicted of causing death with motor vehicle. Time for a Minister of State to stop mealy mouthed leaks and ‘off the record press briefings’ and to be a Statesman and actually do something about the issue.

© Back Roads Rider 2009

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. MrC permalink
    September 24, 2009 12:56 pm

    I disagree with this idea totally. Firstly I ride a 125 scooter and have riden in London most of my life. What you are suggestion though makes no sence as I think the larger the vehical the harder it is to stop so while the driver has more responsabilaty to control the vehical with stopping distances in minde it also fulls on others to be aware that the vehical has to have time to stop.

    Where I do agree with you though is that killing somone while driving without due care and attention is close to manslaughter and should recieve the same centance if the facts show this to be the case.

    Lastly you refer to Germany, Holland and Denmark so what evidance have you that this has reduced deaths on the road there?

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