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How to make the roads safer

As the number of UK cyclists soar, so do death and injury on the roads. These are two simple rules that would reduce accidents and simplify a victim's claim.

A motorist emerging into the path of a cyclist or a motorist turning across the path of a cyclist remain the most common causes of cycling collisions. Photo: Flikr/Lars Plougmann. Some rights reserved.

With more and more people taking to the roads and cycling, whether for fitness, sport or getting from A to Z, there has never been more attention on the Highway Code and how it protects vulnerable road users in terms of rights of way at junctions.

The reason for concentrating on junctions is because a motorist emerging into the path of a cyclist or a motorist turning across the path of a cyclist remains the most common cause of cycling collisions according to the latest statistics

As lawyers dealing with hundreds of cases of road collisions involving cyclists and vehicles we can testify that a large proportion of these are caused by motorists either turning across a cyclist’s path or pulling out of a side road into a cyclist’s path.

The Turning the Corner campaign suggests scrapping the 14 different rules in the Highway Code and requiring motorists to adhere to just one rule.

The Highway Code and “Turning the Corner”

Earlier this year British Cycling launched their ‘Turning the Corner’ campaign due to what they saw as a lack of coherent guidance in the Highway Code relating to junctions. They identified 14 different rules in the Highway Code that deal with junctions which they claimed led to confusion over who has right of way in certain scenarios. 

The Turning the Corner campaign suggests scrapping the 14 different rules in the Highway Code and requiring motorists to adhere to just one rule, which is a “universal duty to give way.”

Martin Key, Campaigns Manager at British Cycling, says that this means that motorists must stop and check before they turn at a junction. The rule would apply everywhere.

It massively simplifies the onus on the motorist and makes it clear what is expected of them at any junction. All they would be required to remember is to stop and check before carrying out their turn.

The campaign has received endorsement from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group in their “Cycling and the Justice System” report published this month. The report made 14 proposals designed to better protect cyclists and these included revising the Highway Code with regards to giving way to cyclists at side road crossings and specifically referenced the Turning the Corner campaign. 

The advice is supported by the latest statistics from ROSPA, statistics which found the most common key contributory factor in road traffic collisions involving motorists and cyclists recorded by the police is “failed to look properly.”

Presumed liability is a fairer system as it shifts the burden of proof from the more vulnerable party, an injured individual, onto the more powerful party to such claims, the insurer.

Presumed Liability

We believe that presumed liability, which is practiced in many European countries, would also make the roads safer for all road users by protecting the most vulnerable road users. 

Where presumed liability is the law, it is presumed when a collision occurs that the larger vehicle is held liable for the incident unless it can be demonstrated that the more vulnerable party was at fault.

In a collision between a motorist and a cyclist, it will be presumed that the motorist was liable for the collision unless they can prove otherwise. Similarly, in a collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian, the cyclist would be presumed to be liable unless they could prove otherwise.

The aim of the system is to develop a hierarchy on the roads based on mutual respect between all road users. It promotes careful road use where people look out for each other, which would surely be a very positive step on today’s busy roads and especially in and around junctions.

Presumed liability is a fairer system as it shifts the burden of proof from the more vulnerable party, an injured individual, onto the more powerful party to such claims, the insurer.

There are wide ranging benefits to the scheme but the most important is that claims should progress faster meaning that the injured party receives compensation quicker. This can then be used to obtain the treatment is required to maximise their recovery.

Under the current system, establishing liability can be a difficult and time-consuming process meaning that unless the injured party has the money readily available to fund treatment, the opportunity for early rehabilitation can be lost.

A common misconception is that presumed liability equates to strict liability, where liability cannot be disputed. This is not the case. If it can be shown that the injured party was at fault for the incident and was the “author of their own misfortune”, they would not receive compensation. It is not a case that the injured party will always receive compensation.

The reversal of the burden of proof is unlikely to lead to many more cases being successful than is currently the case. If an insurer has a good case as to why they should not have to pay compensation, they can still defend a claim and they can still “win” the claim.

The reversal of the burden would however give an insurer an incentive to give more careful consideration to those cases that they decide to defend, leading to quicker and less stressful resolution of the claim for the injured party.

In terms of litigation costs, swifter resolution would also lead to lower legal costs being incurred as the costs of investigating liability would be significantly reduced except in cases where the insurer decided to defend the claim.

This would therefore reduce the costs to insurers and, hopefully, in turn reduce the insurance premiums payable by the road users.

The key message here is what we should be looking to achieve. Safer roads and, when incidents do occur, swifter access to compensation to get the injured party the rehabilitation they need as quickly as possible. Based on our European counterparts, presumed liability may be the way towards this.

About the author

Jane Bedford McLaren and William Broadbent are solicitors at Leigh Day specialising in accident and personal injury and cycling and sports injury claims.


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