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Will change in the law prove a liability?

Olympic gold medal cyclist Chris Boardman’s recent suggestion that cyclists and pedestrians should receive greater legal protection has not been favourably received in all quarters.

Boardman has suggested that ‘presumed liability’ should apply to motorists involved in accidents with pedestrians or cyclists, with the onus on the driver to prove they were not at fault, effectively turning innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent.

He is not the first to make such a call and some have gone further by suggesting there should be an ‘absolute liability’ where children or OAPs are the victims, giving the driver no defence, regardless of whether the child/OAP were to blame.

Any potential change would be highly controversial as it seems that the rights of UK motorists are akin to the gun lobby in the US, with cyclists a particular irritant.

As a driver and keen cyclist I can see it from both sides; that is the moronic tendencies that seem to affect all too many motorists and cyclists alike. There seems to be a significant minority of drivers that are more aggressive these days and show little consideration for other road users, whereas too many cyclists don’t wear helmets or use lights, cycle side by side and run red lights. As regards pedestrians, more now seem to cross side streets without looking, especially if they are looking at their mobiles.

Those wishing to change to ‘presumed liability’ feel it will encourage both an increased standard of driving care, as well as improvements in safety technology on vehicles.

Over the years we have seen vehicles modified to be more ‘pedestrian friendly’ with crumple zones and the banning of ‘bits sticking out’ and more recently the advancement of no impact ‘driverless’ technology.

There is a particular concern with cyclists being caught in the blind spots of lorries, to the extent that David Cameron has suggested lorries be banned from Central London during rush hour and it is likely that ‘presumed liability’ would hasten the introduction of new technology to solve the problem, as vehicle manufacturers come under pressure from their customers and insurers to provide safer vehicles.

We would also see more technology to help motorists prove their innocence such as on board cameras and black boxes to confirm speed and rates of acceleration and braking etc

The ‘anti’ argument is that it is not fair to motorists and higher compensation payments would lead to higher insurance costs. However, a similar change in Belgium only led to a 5% increase in insurance premiums, as the increase in compensation was partially offset by a reduction in legal costs with less arguments about liability.

It is also suggested that the same presumed liability would apply where a cyclist hits a pedestrian (I would go for absolute liability if the cyclist was on the pavement) and perhaps it should also apply to pedestrian/pedestrian collisions where the one at fault is texting on their mobile.

Arguably we already have a form of ‘presumed liability’ with rear end shunts, where it is generally accepted that the vehicle behind is responsible unless there is strong proof to the contrary. However, the UK is presently out of line with most of the rest of Europe where some sort of presumed liability applies. At the moment the call for change is from a few lobby groups, although it is gathering momentum in Scotland, so it is possible they could go it alone and introduce legislation. If not, any change in the wider UK is more likely to come from an EU dictate.

It may be interesting to get the view of the compensation lawyers; if they come out against it, perhaps it is the right thing to do!

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