Government road safety consultation response signals major shift in attitude
In November 2018, the UK government published its response to a public consultation on road safety for cyclists and pedestrians. As a personal injury lawyer and a keen cyclist, I contributed evidence as part of the consultation – I have also been considering the Department for Transport’s response and future plans.
The government’s ultimate aim is clearly expressed: by 2040, most people should travel short distances by bicycle or on foot, and our roads should be safe enough to accommodate cyclists as young as 12 years old. This policy goal is also tied in with the government’s initiatives on clean air, health, and tackling obesity.
UK road safety statistics detailing death and injury caused to vulnerable road users including cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists make for uncomfortable reading. In 2017, for instance, 467 pedestrian fatalities and 87 cyclist fatalities resulted from road traffic collisions involving at least one motor vehicle, while failing to look properly was a contributory factor in 84 pedestrian fatalities and 28 cyclist fatalities.
Government thinking seems to be that through various initiatives such as encouraging cyclists and drivers of heavy goods vehicles to swap places for a trial period, individual road users may be more inclined to see road safety issues from a fresh perspective, reducing mistrust and misunderstanding between different groups of road users.
The consultation response quotes many examples of local or regional initiatives including the enforcement of cycle lane parking restrictions, police initiatives to target motorists who overtake cyclists leaving less than 1.5 metres clearance, and police force collaboration in the gathering of helmet-mounted camera video footage for use as prosecution evidence.
While the wearing of cycle helmets is encouraged, the government is still considering how best to tackle dangerous cycling and how best to amend the Highway Code in order to protect vulnerable road users.
Perhaps most significantly, the government is considering reversing the burden of proof to introduce a presumption of driver liability so that a driver would have to explain why he or she should not be held liable for a collision and any resulting injuries. For more than 100 years, a road user or pedestrian injured by another road user’s actions has been required to prove negligence against them – in this sense, such a shift in emphasis would represent a major change in the law.General, George Ide, News, Personal Injury Blog