Thursday, 27 October 2011

Going Dutch and strict liability for drivers

I enjoyed the Guardian bike blog today, which was about the LCC's Go Dutch campaign, and how the focus of the campaign should not be on segregated cycle paths. I agree; seeking to dramatically change the infrastructure in London is impractical and segregated cycle paths are not an effective way of reducing cycling accidents.

The article also touches on the 20mph speed limit (which I have blogged about recently) and the concept of 'strict liability' as methods to improve the attitude to cycling in general. I do not think that strict liability in the form proposed by the LCC (outlined here) would have a great deal of impact from a legal perspective. My view is that the real benefit of strict liability would be in shifting society away from its current motorcentric attitudes by making it clear that drivers are responsible for the safety of cyclists.

There is often confusion about the concept of strict liability. This is not really surprising, as the name is misleading. In essence, strict liability as proposed by the LCC would mean a rebuttable presumption that the car driver is liable in any collision between a car and bicycle. As a result, the burden of proof would shift from the current position where the injured cyclist has to prove that the driver was liable for the accident, to the driver having to prove that they were not liable. It is important to be aware that this would relate purely to civil cases i.e. those who have been injured in a cycling accident and are seeking compensation. This has no bearing on criminal cases.

On the subject of strict liability, the LCC say that, "the current system isn't fair: if a pedestrian or cyclist is hit by a motor vehicle, they are far more likely to suffer serious injury than the driver or passengers. It seems reasonable that the people who use the most damaging vehicles should pay for most of the injuries caused. There is a bias against vulnerable road users which means, sadly, drivers are less likely to worry about collisions because they know they're very unlikely to be held accountable."

However, I have not seen any evidence of a "bias against vulnerable road users" and I do not think that this is the case. I get to see the practical difficulties cyclists face in proving liability and getting compensation for their injuries. From a legal point of view, there is already a good system in place to ensure that drivers are accountable for causing accidents – if they have breached their duty of care to another road user then they are liable for injury and loss which arises from that. There is also a recognition that drivers should take responsibility because of the dangers posed by cars.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Another cycling death involving a lorry - on a cycle superhighway

I was sad to read of the death of another cyclist this morning, who was involved in a collision with a tipper lorry. The accident occurred on the cycle superhighway on the Bow Road roundabout, although I have not heard the precise details of the accident yet.

I find it very strange that people continue to prioritise cycle helmets, whereas measures to stop the number of fatalities involving lorries are rarely in the public eye.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Cycling Campaigner in Accident

I was very sad to read of Lindsi Bluemel's cycling accident, which has reportedly left her with life-threatening injuries. It sounded needless, as it was caused by a "five-metre long piece of plastic" lying in her path, and it is particularly sad to read of this occurring to someone who had been promoting cycle safety; she is the chairman of the Southampton Cycling Campaign.

What struck me about the article was a point it made that Lindsi Bluemel's helmet had been stolen a few days before the accident, with the implication that she would have avoided life-threatening injuries had she been wearing a helmet. This is mirrored in comments underneath the article, such as "Mrs Bluemel should have known that if you're riding on the road you need your lid on, surely."

I think it is in pretty poor taste to start placing the blame on a cyclist for not immediately replacing a stolen helmet, when it is not even reported whether she had a head injury. Furthermore, the comments were made where an injured person's family are likely to read them. In fact, Lindsi Bluemel's son and daughter did read the article and both left comments, with one defending their mother for not wearing a helmet.

I think it is unlikely that a car passenger would be blamed for being severely injured had they not been wearing a safety belt, particularly where this had been stolen a few days prior, as in Lindsi Bluemel's case. This is despite the case, as far as I am aware, that the benefits of wearing a safety belt are not disputed, and passengers are legally obliged to wear them. However, the effectiveness of cycle helmets is widely debated and it is not a legal requirement to wear them. It is sad that cyclists are often blamed for accidents that are not their fault, and I believe it speaks a great deal on the way cyclists are viewed in our society.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Why Young is wrong on health and safety

It is getting a little old now, but here is my letter, published in the Law Society Gazette on 25 November 2010, on the Health and Safety fallacy.
Lord Young has resigned from his post as adviser to the prime minister following his ill-conceived statement that ‘the vast majority of people in the country today... have never had it so good ever since this... so-called recession started’.

Of course, Lord Young has also recently published his report on health and safety regulations, which chastises ‘compensation culture’ and describes the operation of health and safety law as a ‘music hall joke’.
Lord Young’s comments about the ‘so-called recession’ show ignorance of the reality of the economic situation. Low interest rates may benefit new homeowners, and some of those who are more comfortable financially, but the majority are faced with rising food prices, benefit cuts and redundancies.

The same lack of understanding pervades his review of health and safety legislation. The government’s own statistics show there are fewer claims brought now than there were 10 years ago. Employers are mostly subject to safety requirements that are grounded in common sense and which dictate that employers must act only so far as is reasonably practicable. The main beneficiaries of the proposed cuts to health and safety requirements are the employers themselves – by and large the same people who are having a ‘good recession’.

If Lord Young’s recommendations are followed then things might get better for those who ‘have never had it so good’, but this will be at the expense of the majority.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Joke Is On General Motors

The ridiculous advertising campaign by General Motors which encouraged America’s students to give up cycling in favour of driving a pick-up truck (see below) has been sent-up by the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, Giant.

Good work!

 The original advertisement from General Motors

The response from Giant.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Rapha Etiquette by Simon Mills

• White socks only from May onwards. Black socks are for winter months.
• Yes, vintage jerseys - 20 years old or more - can look rather chic but, let’s face it, you do not ride for the US Postal/Quickstep/Liquigas team and you do not get paid big bucks to wear its garish livery, either… so who are you trying to kid?
• All road cycling kit should be road cycling-specific. Men who wear floral board shorts intended for the beach whilst on the road should be banned from the sport. Training shoes, baseball caps, Aviator sunglasses etc are also totally unacceptable. And those novelty jerseys printed with Heinz Baked Beans, London A-Z and Marmite logos? Not funny or clever.
• The only exception to this rule is a wooly hat for winter riding which can be of generic outdoor or hand-knitted provenance. Ski hats with big, comical bobbles, perhaps emblazoned with the name of a Dolomite resort or Alpine mountain, are also allowed. Wear with clear or yellow-lensed glasses – spectacle arms worn over (not under) wooly hat. Persol sunglasses, as worn by David Millar, are also OK.
• At cafés, bars and pubs cyclists must always sit outside, no matter what the season. Why? Well it looks more European and you can keep an eye on your bike, but mainly because there is no place for Lycra in a public bar and a nice Sunday-lunching family does not need to stare at your ugly lunchbox.
• Acceptable drinks to enjoy halfway through a ride include French/Italian/Spanish lager (strictly bottles only), a glass of cold shandy (refer to it as “un panache”, if it makes you feel more French), a glass of ice-cold rosé (Duralex tumbler please) and, particularly during winter, a slug of brandy from one’s back pocket to “correct” your coffee. Citrus juices are a bit acidic but apricot juice straight from the bottle is good. Coca Cola, Fanta etc are only acceptable served in bottles. No vodka-based drinks or pints of bitter.
• Cycling food. During a ride lunchbreak; pasta, slices of proper, thin crust pizza, Caprese salad, steak frites, toasted panatone, ham and cheese baguettes. Full English breakfast is also acceptable when riding in UK.
• Cyclist’s tan; brown forearms, brown shins and calves, brown nose, ears and cheeks, brown stripe on back of neck, dry, chapped lips, brown fingertips, sunburned triangle at sternum, weird little brown circles adjacent to the thumb where there’s a gap in the mitts. Everything else – feet, ankles, tummy, thighs, forehead, hands etc; sparkling white.
• When two roadies travelling in opposite directions pass each other, brief eye contact must be made and the cursory but crucial “cyclists’ nod” administered. This is as close as we get to a Masonic handshake.
• Cycling, like rock ‘n’ roll and flower-arranging, is an alpha male lingua franca. You can bond with like-minded riders and tag onto club rides all over the world. But when not in the company of fellow cyclists, the first rule of cycling club should always be: don’t talk about cycling club. All road cyclists should have plenty of non-roadie friends who have absolutely no idea what they get up to of a Sunday morning. And that’s just the way we like to keep it. Why? Well, non-cyclists simply don’t understand us. In fact, they think we are weird. (To be honest, we are… a bit.)
• Learn some basic repair skills. This is not nerdy, it is essential. Knowing three bits of simple maintenance could be the difference between a long, wet walk pushing your bike to the nearest taxi rank or train station and a simple trundle in to the nearest town. Master the mysterious ways of a chain breaker, get the hang of fixing a flat tyre and carry the appropriate tools at all times.
• Be friends with your local bike shop mechanic. He can do stuff you can’t. Bike shops are essential for not just buying bits but also for hanging out in and drooling over hardware.
• Appreciate the elegant efficiency of your machine, taking time to look down at your chain and mechs doing their magical stuff as you change gear. Your bike needs to feel your love.
• Try not to rock your shoulders too much when climbing. It’s a waste of energy and it looks silly… and remember to breathe.
• Always black shorts. White shorts are for aerobics teachers.
• Having lots of bikes makes perfect, rational sense. Road bikes in carbon, steel and titanium are all essential. Consider owning also; a meticulously restored vintage Hetchins, Holdsworth or Colnago; a gentleman’s bike for when you ride around town in a suit.
• Unless you are astride a touring bike, any extraneous equipment should be kept on the body, not on the bike. Pumps, tool kits, rain jackets etc look naff, twee and nerdy mounted to the crossbar saddle or bars and spoil the elegant lines of your titanium frame. So stuff all your bits and pieces in those three pockets on the back of your jersey.
• The only exception here is a folded up tyre, rakishly attached to the rear of the saddle with an old fashioned pedal strap.
• Use of a handlebar-mounted Garmin or iPhone for navigation is OK but stopping to consult a crease-worn Ordnance survey map is much more the thing.
• When stationary, always complain of being cold; it makes everyone think your body fat percentage is really low.
• Clip-on aero / TT bars? Non.
• Make like the Italians who like to ride slow and long. It’s stupid, uncool and very rude to burn off at top speed at the beginning of a Sunday morning jaunt. Cyclists that do this always end up struggling at the back anyway.
• Do not refer to a sportive as “a race”. Racing is racing, everything else, even the mighty Etape du Tour, is a jolly.
• Bar tape should be finished off using plain-coloured, bog-standard electrical insulating tape.
• Presta innertube valves should be left nude (ie no dust caps) and collarless.
• Clean your bike with a brush and a bucket of warm soapy water. Using a jet wash is vulgar and insensitive to your bike’s feelings.
• Too high seat posts; look sporty but your arse looks bad rocking about on the saddle. Go for a low Belgium style. Same goes for stems that a far too long for your physique…you’ll be seeing the osteopath soon enough.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Is raising the speed limit on the motorway to 80mph an expensive distraction?

I've just been reading about the transport secretary’s plans to raise the speed limit to 80mph on the motorway. This appears to be a headline grabbing red-herring to distract from the proposals which will see an increase in roads with a 20mph limit in residential areas.

The 20mph speed limit is expected to be unpopular as it will be seen as a continuation of the so-called “war on motorists”. Whatsmore, since the proposals are spawned from the EU’s recent resolution on road safety (which I blogged about recently) some may feel that the changes smack of the EU meddling in British affairs.

I find it difficult to see the point of increasing the limit on motorways when most motorists are said to be driving at 80mph without penalty. Presumably, the effects of increasing the speed limit on motorways will be:

  • some drivers will be able to legitimately make slightly quicker journeys;
  • petrol consumption will increase, and there will be a negative impact on the environment (it is suggested that 20% more fuel is consumed by increasing in speed from 70mph to 80mph);
  • the number of accidents will rise, resulting in an increase in the burden on the NHS and emergency services. Accidents which would have occurred anyway may also result in more severe injuries;
  • car usage will rise;
  • the country will have to pay for implementing the changes.

I don’t think people need to be enraged about the proposed changes, as the effects are relatively insignificant. In fact, on the whole, the roads will be safer for cyclists as there will be more 20mph zones. However, it is sad, and a little irresponsible, that the Government has to appease the nation's motorists by engaging in a costly exercise which may well increase the number of accidents and have an adverse effect on the environment with no real gain.