Interesting article in Sunday Times today by Jonathan Leake:-
MINISTERS are considering making motorists legally responsible for accidents involving cyclists or pedestrians, even if they are not at fault.
Government advisers are pushing for changes in the civil law that will make the most powerful vehicle involved in a collision automatically liable for insurance and compensation purposes.
The move, intended to encourage greater take-up of environmentally friendly modes of transport, is likely to anger some drivers, many of whom already perceive themselves to be the victims of moneyspinning speed cameras and overzealous traffic wardens.
Many will argue that it is the risky behaviour of some cyclists — particularly those who jump red lights and ride the wrong way along one-way streets — that is to blame for a significant number of crashes.
However, policy-makers believe radical action is required to get people out of cars and onto bicycles or to walk more. Only 1%-2% of journeys are at present made by bike.
Other proposals to promote greener — and healthier — transport include the imposition of blanket 20mph zones on residential streets.
Supporters want such measures to be included in the government’s National Cycling Plan and Active Transport Strategy, due to be published soon.
Phillip Darnton, chief executive of Cycling England, an agency funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) to promote cycling, said four key policy changes were needed. “I would like to see the legal onus placed on motorists when there are accidents; speed limits reduced to 20mph on suburban and residential roads; cycling taught to all schoolchildren; and cycling provision included in major planning applications,” said Darnton.
Such proposals will be seen by some as part of a battle for control of Britain’s roads between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
In London, where cycling has bucked the national trend and increased sharply, clashes are already common.
Last week James Martin, the television celebrity chef, described in a newspaper his joy at running a group of cyclists off the road and into a hedge while test-driving a sports car. Martin was forced to apologise after thousands of angry cyclists protested.
Matthew Parris, a columnist for The Times, was similarly forced to backtrack last year after suggesting that piano wire should be strung across roads to decapitate cyclists. Parris said he was joking, but statistics show that cyclists are actually among the most vulnerable road users, with 115 deaths last year alone.
Last month Harry Wilmers, 25, a mental health support worker, was killed when his bicycle was hit by a lorry in Manchester. Wilmers was the boyfriend of Rebecca Stephenson, the daughter of Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan police commissioner.
The government is spending £100m on building cycle routes in 18 pilot towns. Yet motorists and residents are often infuriated at seeing swathes of road space, or the kerbs where they park their cars, turned into cycle lanes. Councils in York, Huddersfield and Cambridge, have all had to deal with anti-cycling protests.
Last week lobbyists for cycling and walking groups met Jessica Matthew, the DfT official in charge of sustainable transport who is drafting the National Cycling Plan. Placing the onus of responsibility on motorists is perhaps the most controversial move under consideration.
Such scheme would place the presumption of blame against whoever was driving the most powerful vehicle involved in an accident, so they or their insurers would be liable for costs or damages.
If a cyclist were hit by a car, the presumption of blame would fall on the driver, while a cyclist would automatically be blamed if he or she knocked down a pedestrian.
Similar policies — which would not extend to criminal law — have already been adopted by Germany and Holland, where transport campaigners say they have had a significant influence in changing attitudes towards cycling.
Matthew, who has been briefing Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, also confirmed that ministers want to slash speed limits in urban areas.
Her report is expected to recommend that councils should introduce 20mph zones in all residential streets and on other roads with high numbers of cyclists or pedestrians. This would include roads around schools, markets and shopping areas, as long as they are not major through routes.
Edmund King, president of the AA, said it was wrong to see cyclists and motorists as separate and opposed groups. “Many cyclists are motorists and many motorists are cyclists,” he said.
“Simple changes in the law that assume one party is in the wrong because of what they drive will not help harmony on the roads.”