Thursday, 6 December 2012

The government is gambling with cyclist's lives

I was reading today the tragic news of another cycling fatality in London, again involving a heavy goods vehicle. He is the fifth cyclist to die in a lorry crash during 2012. This comes only two weeks since Brian Florey was killed in Barking in a collision with a lorry.

The dangers of HGVs to cyclists are well documented, and solutions to pacify the dangers have been suggested and ignored. The government is aware of these risks and, by taking no action, they are gambling with the lives of cyclists. Whatsmore, the Department for Transport are looking to up the ante by increasing the speed limit for HGVs exceeding 7.5 tonnes from 40mph to 50mph on single carriageways. You can read more about the proposals here.
It is bewildering how this regressive step could be considered when all the evidence points towards a reduction in speed limits being necessary to increase road safety. I am sure that I am not the only cyclist who bitterly resents having to share the road with the demonstrable dangers posed by HGVs, and it is impossible to reconcile the proposal to increase the speed limit of HGVs with the government's purported policy of encouraging cycling.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Cycle Cameras

I have just been reading this round up of the cycle cameras on the market by Martin Porter QC (The Cycling Silk) and I may now be a convert. It is clearly a shame that cyclists feel the need to record their ride from a safety point of view, as it should be unnecessary. It is also only a small step away from carrying a video camera all day to record everything, and I can think of no more awful way to live. However, the practical benefit of having a cycle camera, if you are involved in a cycle accident, is unquestionable. Despite the proliferation of CCTV cameras, particularly around London, it is surprising how often they are not there when you need them (or the footage has been deleted).

Thankfully it is rare, but there are times when an injured cyclist cannot continue with their case due to a lack of evidence. The fact that they are the exception is of no comfort to the injured cyclist who must discontinue their case when, had they been recording their journey, their case could have been successful. Even in stronger cases, footage of the incident can avoid a battle over liability and help the injured cyclist to get compensation quicker. On a similar note, a client of mine was recording his ride with GPS, which was useful in allowing him to prove his road positioning at the time of his accident. Perhaps, then, a camera with inbuilt GPS is the way forward...I will keep you updated.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The rise of interest in cycling gives employers the chance to promote pedalling to work as a cleaner, greener option

Here is an article I wrote for HR Magazine, which you can read here:

Over the last weeks, the world has watched Bradley Wiggins lead the Tour de France on his way to victory, and he has become Britain’s first ever yellow jersey winner when only a few years ago a British winner of the Tour would have been unthinkable. And yesterday, Lizzie Armitstead won Team GB's first medal of London 2012 when she took silver in the cycling road race.

For a few years now, cycling has been riding a wave of popularity which shows no signs of stopping, and cycling is no longer an outsider activity but a valid mode of transport for all. With the Olympics this month, many more will be taking to bicycles as it will undoubtedly represent the fastest, most convenient way to get around London, even as Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton are speeding round the track.

Despite the country's success at the sport, and the ever increasing number of cyclists, there is still a negative perception of cycling in Britain. This is hard to explain as cycling represents a cleaner, greener, cheaper and healthier form of transport.

The hatred of some motorists towards cyclists is plainly evident and is the least pleasant part of cycling for many, myself included. Road rage between drivers is one thing, but when a car driver's anger is directed at you when you are on a bike it can be very frightening and, of course, potentially life-threatening. Cycling safety requires a greater tolerance of cyclists by motorists, and greater punishment of dangerous drivers.

Cyclists are also marginalised by the view that cycling is dangerous. Of course, cyclists have their share of accidents like any other road user. However, if you regularly cycle you are actually adding a few years to your life expectancy. Labeling cycling as a dangerous pursuit is particularly frustrating as it impedes a safer and more pleasant cycling experience. It is common sense that you improve the safety of cycling by increasing the number of cyclists. London has seen a great rise in cycling over the last 15 years and cycle casualties have fallen by a third. It stands to reason that drivers who regularly interact with cyclists on the road will be better educated in how to deal with them and are more alert to their presence.

One great way to increase the number of cyclists is to convert the estimated 25% of employees who could commute to work by bicycle but currently do not. HR directors have a big role to play in encouraging their employees to cycle to work, which will also shift attitudes towards normalising cycling as a method of commuting, even for those who do not choose to cycle to work. Naturally, cycling has clear benefits to both the environment and the employee, and it can also benefit the employer. Business benefits include having fitter staff and a happier, healthier working environment. Employees who cycle to work statistically have one less sick day per year. Also, an employer's national insurance payments will reduce for employees who participate in the Cycling to Work scheme. Commuting by car is also cited by many as the most stressful aspect of their working day. These are clear incentives for employers to promote greater levels of cycling participation to work.

Inexperienced cyclists may well lack confidence on the roads, but cycle training can give them the confidence to cycle in an assertive way. Employers can arrange for cycle training for their staff through their local authority, or an organisation such as Cycle Training UK, who can often provide low cost training for those who do not have the experience or confidence to cycle on busy roads. Given that cyclists are often more difficult to spot, it is important that they are well informed as to how to protect themselves and minimise risk. Examples include educating them regarding the blind spots of lorries and large vehicles so that they can remain visible at all times. Following such procedures, even the uninitiated can travel to work in an environmentally friendly way without fear of accident or injury. The Cycle to Work Alliance schemes also help to educate cyclists with up-to-date safety advice and support on issues such as implementing a Cycle To Work bike purchase scheme, best practice cycling and bike maintenance.

With the support of HR departments in encouraging employees to commute by bike, the numbers of cyclists will increase, as will the healthiness of the workforce, and hopefully the attitude to cyclists will also improve. This may also help make the roads safer and more pleasant for everyone, including the nation's future Olympic cyclists and Tour De France winners.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

"See Me Save Me" Press Release

Important press release regarding the dangers of HGVs to cyclists, and the failings of the criminal justice system:

Jail is not the justice we want 

On 5th February 2009 lorry driver Joao Lopes ran over and killed fit, strong and experienced cyclist, Eilidh Cairns as she rode ahead of him on her daily 10 mile commute through Notting Hill Gate.  

Just days after what would had been her 32nd birthday in June 2011 he again ran over bright and active holocaust survivor 97 year old Nora Guttman at a pedestrian crossing. This week at Isleworth Crown Court Joao Lopes pleaded guilty to causing the death of Ms Guttman by dangerous driving and also to falsifying data on his tachograph.

Whilst Lopes is remanded in custody there are others who may be feeling uncomfortable at the avoidable heartbreak of three broken families.

At Eilidh’s death the police failed to check Lopes’ eyesight, and did so only at the family’s request and then three months after the crash. His eyesight was so bad that it did not meet the standard to drive a car let alone an HGV. The police failed to find witnesses as they turned away vehicles without taking details. Eilidh’s sister Kate, after a personal public appeal, found two witnesses who gave key evidence at the inquest clarifying that Eilidh had been in front of lorry and not coming up alongside as assumed by the police.

Coroner, Dr Shirely Radcliffe, failed to use her powers under Rule 43 to make recommendations to prevent further similar deaths and concluded that it was just an ‘tragic accident’. Kate challenged her and won permission to apply for judicial review. But at High Court, Judge Silber accepted Radcliffe’s argument that there were ‘no practicable preventative measures’ which could be applied to prevent further similar deaths.

The police eventually acknowledging that the original investigation report was inadequate have only in recent weeks finished a complete review of the investigation into Eilidh’s death. But the CPS this month rejected any proposed charge and will be taking no further action. Following Eilidh’s death Lopes was charged with driving with uncorrected defective vision and given three points and a £200 fine. He did not have his licence revoked.

Kate Cairns said:

'For three years I have battled the whole way through an inadequate system which assumes the guilt of the cyclist, and which is rife with incompetence and complacency and which has failed us all on so many levels. There was no interest in carrying out a proper investigation nor in finding witnesses. The police report was riddled with assumptions, omissions and conclusions contrary to evidence, obvious even to a layperson but there was no interest from the CPS in questioning it. Only after the death of someone else, three years later, have the police acknowledge the report was inadequate and reviewed the case of Eilidh’s death.' 

Then there is an absolute failure of the coronial process to be meaningful in anyway when the coroner refuses to put her mind to ways to avoid similar deaths.

Nora Gutman did not have to die, Lopes did not have to loose his freedom, if the  professionals had done their jobs.

All I wanted was the truth so that other deaths could be avoided and other families did not have to suffer. We have not had justice today, clearly there are many more drivers like Lopes on our streets. Their employers need to take responsibility and train them and incentive them, and comply with legislation and provide the tools and equipment to protect everyone from their business activities. These trucks are lethal killers, not designed for our urban streets. Those presenting the most risk must manage that risk. Whilst they profit, innocent people die.

The President of the Institution of Highways Engineers yesterday called for a ban on HGVs on motorways on Sundays. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers last month called for a ban of HGVs in urban areas until they are made safe (Intelligent Transport Intelligent Society). The BMJ called for a ban on HGVs in 1992 following the deaths of vulnerable road users. A report ten years later also called for a ban on HGVs until the risk they posed could be reduced.

The original press release can be found here:

Friday, 22 June 2012

Stricter Law Enforcement (not Strict Liability!)

I've just finished reading this article in The Times which is pressing for strict liability in cycling accidents. This would mean a presumption that a car driver is liable in any accident with a cyclist. The argument may hold a little more sway than usual as Mark Cavendish is lending his support, and it would be for the driver to prove otherwise. I have already blogged about strict liability here so I will not trot out the arguments again. However, I will mention the case of O'Connor -v- Stuttard as it illustrates that there is already a heavy onus upon drivers in civil cases, which is what Mark Cavendish says is needed.

O'Connor -v- Stuttard

This case was heard in the Court of Appeal in June 2011. There were a group of children playing with a football in a quiet residential side street and the defendant was driving towards them at about 10 mph. He saw the group of young children playing on the right hand side of the road and slowed further and positioned his car very close to the left side of the road. As he was doing this, the claimant (a 9 year old boy) ran across the road, from right to left, about 15 metres in front of the car. The child reached the left pavement and continued to play with the ball. The boy was not looking towards the car but was concentrating on the movement of the ball. In order to control the ball, the boy moved backwards to the very edge of the pavement, so much so that the heel of his left foot overhung the edge of the kerb. The driver struck the back of the claimant's foot as he was passing, causing him quite serious injury.

The Court of Appeal found that the driver was driving, albeit slowly, very close to the kerb of a pavement on which the young boy was playing ball. The boy was looking at his ball, not at the approaching car and the driver should have appreciated that the boy was wholly unpredictable. As a result, the driver should have either stopped or sounded his horn or both. The driver did not do either, so was found to be liable for the boy's injuries.

Criminal Cases

In my view, it is not civil law which has the problem, as there is already a fair system in place and a strong onus on drivers to act responsibly. (This is notwithstanding the changes to be introduced by the insurance-backed and ill thought out Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which will come into force in April 2013, but that is another story).

The issue comes with the criminal sanctions for those who cause accidents with cyclists. Take Robert Wightman, the Cumbrian coach driver who has today been cleared of killing two brothers (Christian and Niggy Townend) whilst they were cycling on the A595. Wightman told the jury he could not see the brothers, apparently due to the sun being in his eyes. The jury also heard that the coach’s windscreen washer was not working because freezing had displaced the pipes from the nozzles to the washer fluid bottle. As a result, grit and ice had smeared on his windscreen and Wightman said he could only see 20 to 30 metres ahead, and conceded he could not have stopped in that distance.

I have not heard all the evidence in this case, but it seems remarkable that there was no conviction in this case. However, the most frustrating thing is how few criminal cases even make it before a court in the first place, as the police show little appetite for prosecuting motorists where cyclists have been injured or put at risk.

RoadSafe London

The London Metropolitan police's RoadSafe London website was set up to encourage people to report "criminal, nuisance and anti-social behaviour on the roads of London". However, a Freedom of Information request showed that only 21 cycling intelligence reports were generated from the 530 near misses reported by cyclists plus (no doubt) a share of the 476 reports of anti-social driving. This means that only 3% of the cycling complaints resulted in any further action, which is horribly low by any standards.

There are few positive tales given by cyclists who try and prosecute drivers. Martin Porter QC has written in detail on the inaction by the police, even when they are handed video footage of dangerous driving. For these reasons, I think Mark Cavendish (and the other groups calling for strict liability) should redirect their gaze away from trying to change civil law and should focus on the inadequacies of legal enforcement. Otherwise it may only be a matter of time before private prosecutions are needed to get justice for cyclists.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

What To Do In A Cycling Accident

I have just finished co-writing a fairly comprehensive guide for what to do if you are in a cycling accident. This is for the London Fixed Gear and Single Speed (LFGSS) cycling forum and you can find it here:

I co-wrote the guide with Roxy Erickson from Bicycle Images, who has had more than her fair share of experience in dealing with the police after cycling accidents.

I hope people find it useful.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Safer Streets Encourage Cycling

My firm, Bolt Burdon Kemp, recently launched a Cycle for Life campaign with the road safety charity, Brake. The strongest issue in this campaign is for a widespread 20 mph limit in communities to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

To get the ball rolling, we undertook a joint survey to assess the views on cycling amongst 1,500 road users. The results were interesting but, to me at least, not unexpected. The key point to come out of the survey is that 35% would switch to cycling for their commute if the route was less dangerous and 46% would make other local journeys by bike given safer roads.

The impact of these potential cyclists choosing not to cycle has a significant reach. If all these people were to start regularly cycling, the roads would be exponentially safer for cyclists. There is plenty of evidence to show that an increase in the number of cyclists leads to reductions in cycle casualties. For example, London has seen an enormous rise in cycling over the last 15 years and there has been a corresponding 33% fall in cycle casualties. It stands to reason that drivers who are more used to dealing with cyclists on the road will be better educated in how to deal with them and more alert to the presence of a cyclist.

In addition, the health benefits of cycling cannot be overstated. Cycling regularly has been shown to be the most effective thing an individual can do to improve health and increase longevity. On 10 May 2004, the UK parliamentary health committee published a report which noted that “If the Government were to achieve its target of trebling cycling in the period 2000-2010 … that might achieve more in the fight against obesity than any individual measure we recommend within this report.”

On 21st April 2009, over three years ago now, the government was presented with the paper “A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World.” The proposals recommended that local authorities introduce 20 mph zones around schools and for residential areas. This is heartily backed by the population, drivers and cyclists alike. It is astonishing that this popular, valuable and efficient measure has not been implemented further to encourage cycling, thereby promoting good health, and improving the safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

The introduction of 20 mph zones has started, and Islington (from where I now type) is not alone in introducing a near blanket 20 mph limit, but movement has been slow. Since cycling is now a front-page issue, surely the government need to act swiftly to encourage the implementation of far-reaching 20 mph zones. It is a crime that so many are put off cycling when such simple measures could push the potential cyclist into being a committed commuter cyclist.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Cycling talk

On Tuesday, I gave a talk on cycling law at the transport special interest group for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. The talk was on rules of the road for cyclists, the case of Malasi -v- Attmed (which I have blogged about previously) and some areas of loss specific to cyclists. I'll post my notes here shortly.

I was joined by Martin Porter QC of 2 Temple Gardens, who spoke on cycle helmets. You can find his paper on this topic here which is well worth a look, particularly for those who seek to blame cyclists for not wearing a helmet: