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Blame the Motorist!

by Ridley&Hall in Janet Watson, Samantha Hirst posted May 22, 2014.

A controversial campaign has been launched in Scotland to change the law in road accidents involving cyclists and motorists.

Cycle Law Scotland, the driving school RED and a number of cycling groups in Scotland launched an online petition last year named ‘The Campaign for Strict Liability: Road Share’.   They say that if a motorist was involved in an accident with a cyclist the driver should be presumed at fault for the accident, unless they can prove otherwise.  This is known in law as “strict liability.”

The current law relies on a cyclist to prove that a motorist has been negligent i.e. has ‘breached their duty of care’.

The national cycling charity CTC backs the campaign in Scotland and argues that it is much harder for vulnerable road users to claim compensation for injuries they sustain.  Cyclists are more likely to be the injured party in collisions with motor vehicles, but less likely to be at fault, and the current law does not reflect this.

Samantha Hirst, personal injury specialist with Ridley & Hall Solicitors, warns “the fight for strict liability in Scotland is likely to cause a lot of controversy, especially amongst motorists. But something has to be done to try and reduce the number of cycling injuries on Britain’s roads.  A change in the law could be a step in the right direction in transforming people’s attitudes towards vulnerable road users.”

The UK, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus are the only countries in Europe that do not operate a system of strict liability.  The Netherlands and Denmark are two countries at the forefront of cycling safety and both have a system of strict liability.

But strict liability has a very small role to play in protecting Dutch cyclists and they consider ‘Sustainable safety’ a priority.

After years of research the Dutch have come up with specific principles that have made their roads some of safest in Europe.  Some of these principles are the functionality of their roads.  Instead of emphasising blame they recognise that humans make mistakes and so design their roads in such a way that our natural human behaviour does not lead to crashes and injuries.  Details on the Dutch ‘Sustainable Safety’ model can be found here.

Samantha adds “There is a careful balance to be struck when making changes to the law.  From a legal point of view, although strict liability would place the initial blame on the motorist, the driver could still defend their claim by proving the cyclist wholly or partially caused the accident.  However, the lessons from Europe are that apportioning blame for accidents is not the best way to prevent collisions.  The government needs to take a more holistic approach to road safety to reduce the number of accidents.”

Samantha is a paralegal in Ridley & Hall’s specialist Litigation team with years of experience in personal injury cases.

samantha-hirst-headshot

For further information please contact Samantha Hirst of Ridley & Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield, HD1 2HL on 01484 538421.

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