Rise in cycling raises legal issues for commercial drivers

British successes at the London Olympics and the Tour De France (three times) are among many factors which have led to a significant increase in the number of cyclists on British roads. 

According to figures released by British Cycling in January, some 2,069,200 adults in England now cycle at least once every week. This, sadly, has led to increased casualties. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reported in August 2014 how there were 19,438 cycling casualties on British roads in 2013, with 3,252 of those being killed or seriously injured. But with cycling participation and corresponding casualty numbers continuing to rise, like it or not, there will be more cyclists on the road for drivers to contend with over the coming years.  

The first point to make is that a cyclist is a valid road user – much like a driver - and so must abide by road traffic laws including The Highway Code. What runs contrary to that position of parity and seems an affront to fairness is that, unlike drivers, there is no mandatory testing of a cyclists’ proficiency or their understanding of the Highway Code.  Moreover, bicycles do not require MoT certificates. What adds further to the frustrations of drivers and their insurers is the idea that an untested cyclist on any contraption comprising of a frame and two wheels is seemingly offered more "benefit of the doubt" than licenced drivers using regularly serviced vehicles.

The good news is while courts have traditionally been reluctant to blame cyclists involved in road traffic collisions, they have shown a more robust approach recently. For example, a motorist who failed to avoid a collision with a 14-year-old cyclist who rode from a footpath directly into his path was recently found not to blame. Similarly, no negligence was found against a motorist unable to avoid colliding with a cyclist who overshot a give-way junction.

Cyclists create specific hazards for the motorist and drivers should not be afraid to point out the risk presented by a cyclist with whom a collision has occurred. One such issue unique to those on two wheels is "visibility". The Highway Code no more than "recommends" that cyclists wear appropriate clothing. "Help yourself to be seen" is the key message. From a legal standpoint though, failure in that regard will only amount to negligence if the failing can be shown to have caused or contributed to the accident.

The most common place for an accident between a cyclist and a motorist is at junctions, with about 75% of all accidents occurring near junctions. Accidents involving cyclists proceeding close to a nearside kerb at a much greater pace than slow moving traffic to their offside are a real problem, but undertaking dangerously is contravening the rules of the road, even from cyclists.

A driver involved in an accident with a cyclist while in the course of employment will not be personally liable as the principle of vicarious liability applies. However, should the accident occur while the vehicle is being used outside strict employment purposes, liability is less assured and legal advice will be essential. In any case, drivers involved in accidents with cyclists should act in the same way they would if the driver had been involved in an accident with a vehicle. Cyclists often hold insurance against which a claim or counterclaim might be pursued, just as it would against a driver, if fault lies with the cyclist. Don’t be afraid to argue the points that need to be made.

☛ Philip Nicholas is a solicitor in the motor team at law firm Weightmans

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