Monday, 7 December 2015

How will the proposed increase in the Small Claims limit affect cyclists?

Here is a guest blog I wrote for the Cyclist Defence Fund website:

In the recent Autumn Statement(link is external)George Osborne stated that the small claims limit will increase from £1,000 to £5,000 in personal injury cases. The theory is that cases which fall within the small claims track are straightforward and will not require legal representation. As a result, a party bringing such a case should not be entitled to recover their legal costs.
In personal injury cases this is being brought in so injured people are encouraged to deal with a defendant’s insurance company direct. However, personal injury cases at this level are not always minor or straightforward and the government were even warned against this move in 2013 by a report of the transport select committee. 
To put it in context, a common injury cyclists face after being struck by a car is a fractured collar bone. Under the Judicial College guidelines (which the courts use to assess the value of an injury), a fractured collar bone may be worth £4,290. Most would agree that a fractured collar bone is not trivial, yet such injuries will fall within the cases captured by the proposed increase to the small claims limit.
According to the Financial Services Authority, injured people get an average of two or three times more money if they consult a solicitor rather than negotiating with an insurer direct. In other words, insurance companies will try to under-settle cases when solicitors are not there to hold the companies to account and give the victim a voice.
This will not surprise anyone who has had the misfortune of trying to recover money from an insurer themselves. A client whose home had been burgled recently told me that the process of getting the money from her household insurer was more distressing than the burglary itself. People who have suffered injury will soon have to go through a similar process.
Many will be asking why George Osborne is increasing the small claim limit, and he has explained that the change is being brought in to cut the cost of motor insurance. However, it is debatable whether the purported savings will be passed on to motorists. The number of claims have fallen significantly in recent years yet still the insurance industry has not reduced premiums. 
More importantly, it is unjust to expect a cyclist or pedestrian, who may have suffered a fracture and several thousand pounds of financial losses, to fight against a driver's insurance company without legal representation. The fact that the measure is being taken to save motorists money adds insult to injury.
I would encourage all to sign this petition to keep the small claims limit at £1000(link is external)so that this change in the law will be debated properly in Parliament and to give injured people the chance to retain their voice.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Motorists and Cyclists – Where’s the Love?

A cyclist taking part in the 90-mile Velothon Wales in June suffered serious leg injuries when he came off his bike at 30mph after riding over drawing pins that had been deliberately strewn across the road on a downhill stretch seemingly chosen to cause the most carnage. 

In July, police in Brighton issued warnings about wires strung between trees in Coldean Woods, a popular woodland bike track, after cyclists reported spotting the wires on two separate sections. Earlier in the month, a cyclist in Dorset suffered cuts after hitting 15 individual strands of fishing line strung across a cycle path in a country park.

Fortunately, the threats from these types of malicious incidents are comparatively rare. The dangers posed by heavy goods vehicles alone are a far greater threat to cyclists. But why has this apparent backlash against cyclists become so personal? How does someone make the leap from muttering abuse from behind their wheel to stringing wire up between trees hoping to decapitate passing riders?

Cycling safety campaigners highlight how the tone of the debate around cycling has become increasingly polarised and venomous. Some have suggested that such incidents are linked to a public and media narrative in which cyclists are constantly demonised as serial law-breakers who supposedly love nothing more than dressing up in lycra, jumping red lights and riding on the pavement terrorising pedestrians.

There is seemingly no end to the anti-cyclist vitriol so often dressed up as balanced journalism published in print and online calling for cyclists to be ‘banned’ from Britain’s roads.

Whether it’s because cyclists occasionally eat couscous for lunch, wear “pompous little pointy plastic hats,” or simply don’t belong on the road because they don’t pay the mythical ‘road tax’, the message is clear; cyclists are a menace to society.

Dr Rachel Aldred, a sociologist at Westminster University, suggests that cyclists in Britain so often get victimised because, unlike in Denmark and the Netherlands, bikes are seen as “frivolous” and have no place in the serious and adult environment of the road. “It’s as if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing on the roads, almost like you’re playing in the street and getting in the way of the traffic, like you’re a child.”

“There’s also this dual way you can be stigmatised as a cyclist – it was historically seen as something for people with no choice, but now it’s seen as something for people who have a choice. It’s a leisure or play thing that they shouldn’t be doing in this inappropriate place.”

Dr Ian Walker, a psychologist at Bath University, told The Guardian newspaper that the debate around cycling could be compared with the historical treatment of so-called ‘societal out-groups’ “What you see in discourses about cycling is the absolute classic 1960s and 1970s social psychology of prejudice. It’s exactly those things that used to be done about minority ethnic groups and so on – the over-generalisation of negative traits, under-representation of negative behaviours by one’s own group, that kind of thing. It’s just textbook prejudiced behaviour.”

A perceived lack of respect for the rules of the road is often cited as one of the main gripes motorists have against cyclists. Although the average cyclist is no more inclined to break the law as the average motorist, cyclists claim that a rider spinning through a red light right in front of queuing traffic for example is far more conspicuous than a driver edging past 20mph in a residential street.

Dr Tom Stafford, a psychology lecturer at the University of Sheffield theorises that “motorists hate cyclists because they think they offend the moral order.” Drivers stuck in traffic have all the time in the world to stew over a cyclist breaking rules they themselves have to follow, and it is this widely mentioned sense of frustration felt by motorists upon witnessing cyclists undertaking on the inside, jumping red lights, or weaving in and out of stationary traffic, that spawns so much antipathy.

"The very fact that cyclists are able to filter through traffic grates on many motorists and they take that out on cyclists," says cycling journalist Carlton Reid. Growing levels of bad feeling between cyclists and motorists breed increased aggression in the minority of both camps, perpetuating the apparent war of attrition between the two.

When a Norfolk driver tweeted "Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way - he doesn't even pay road tax!" after she struck a rider on the 100-mile Boudicca Sportive ride in Norfolk in 2013, the ensuing uproar exemplified the growing social media backlash often taken against drivers who are seen to have threatened or endangered the lives of cyclists.

Many cyclists now routinely wear helmet cameras to record such incidents to identify those guilty of dangerous driving. Road rage footage involving heated altercations between cyclists and drivers frequently appears on sites such as YouTube complete with license plates in view and full audio commentary.

When such videos are posted online, the consequences for those involved can often be far more severe than if the matter simply went before a court. When helmet cam footage of a road rage incident involving a driver in Richmond, South West London, went viral, the video sparked outcry on social networks along with calls for a boycott of the identified driver’s chain of coffee shops.

Some argue that the presence of helmet cameras often inflames the situation and cyclists have been accused of goading already enraged motorists into more incriminating behaviour. Both motoring and cycle safety groups agree that filming incidents between cyclists and drivers can sometimes escalate minor disagreements into full-blown physical confrontations.

There is no doubt that the explosion in the number of people taking to two wheels over the last 10 years has completely altered the dynamic of driving on Britain’s roads but it is important to remember that cyclists and drivers are often the very same people. While there is clearly bad behaviour from both sides, cyclists argue that it is a totally unequal relationship.

Referring to the so-called on-going ‘war’ between drivers and cyclists, Olympic track cycling champion, Chris Boardman said: “You’ve got 2% of vulnerable road users versus 98% in two tonnes of steel. How can you possibly have a war? I think that’s called a massacre. What could a cyclist possibly do to somebody in a car?”

It seems that the only weapon cyclists have in their arsenal is to publicly shame drivers for their actions. Unfortunately, the threat to portray a motorist as the next Ronnie Pickering is unlikely to be sufficient to prevent that red mist from getting the better of them.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Cycling and The Law: Some Frequently Asked Questions

Can Motorists Park in Cycle Lanes?

Cars and lorries parking in cycle lanes is a particular problem for cyclists as it forces them out of the relative safety of cycle lanes into moving traffic, often with little warning.

But is it legal for motorists to park in cycle lanes? 

Rule 140 of the Highway Code clearly states:

Cycle lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs. You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line during its times of operation. Do not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line unless it is unavoidable. You MUST NOT park in any cycle lane whilst waiting restrictions apply.

Put simply, the rules on parking in cycle lanes depend on whether the cycle lane has a solid or broken white line running down its right side, and whether any signage is in place.

A solid white line indicates a mandatory cycle lane which motorists, cannot drive or park in. A broken white line is an advisory marking telling motorists they should not drive or park in cycle lanes unless absolutely necessary.

Motorists who are caught parking in a mandatory cycle lane may be given a £50 Fixed Penalty Notice.

Can Cyclists Cycle the Wrong Way Down One-Way Streets?

One-way streets can often make cycle journeys longer and potentially more dangerous as detours can mean there may be more junctions to negotiate.

There have been proposals to introduce arrangements to allow cyclists to ride in both directions down one way streets. However, at present, cyclists can only ride the wrong way down one-way streets if there are signs stating it is permitted.

Cycling and Alcohol: What is Legal?

Cyclists do not have to adhere to the same drink drive limit as motorists. The test for cyclists is whether or not they are “fit to ride.” Both the legal limit and the breath tests the police use for motorists do not apply.

Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states: A person who, when riding a cycle on a road or other public place, is unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle) is guilty of an offence.

Is it Legal to Cycle in Bus Lanes?

Nearly all bus lanes are open to cyclists unless signage indicates otherwise. Cyclists should always look out for passengers getting on or off buses and be careful when overtaking buses that have either pulled in or may be about to pull out from bus stops. Cyclists should never pass between the kerb and a stationary bus at a bus stop.

What Are The Penalties for the Most Common Cycling Offences?

Red lights: Cyclists must obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals. Cyclists must not cross the stop line when traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line (ASL) to enable cyclists to position themselves ahead of other traffic.

If cyclists are caught jumping red lights they may be given a £50 Fixed Penalty Notice.

Speeding: Cyclists cannot be booked for speeding, but under the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act, they can be fined for “cycling furiously.”

Under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, cyclists can be convicted and imprisoned for up to two years if found guilty of “wanton and furious driving,” which causes injury to someone other than themselves.

Under Section 28 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 it is an offence for cyclists to ride recklessly or in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate manner. Dangerous cycling, defined as riding “far below what would be expected of a competent and careful cyclist,” is a more serious offence than careless and inconsiderate cycling. The maximum penalty for dangerous cycling is £2,500.

Cycling on the Pavement: It is illegal for cyclists to ride on the pavement unless the pavement is marked as a shared use cycling path. If caught riding on the pavement, cyclists can face a £50 Fixed Penalty Notice.

Cycling without lights: It is illegal to cycle on public roads between sunset and sunrise without white front and red rear lights. Lights can be steady or flashing, although it is recommended that cyclists riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front light.

By law, bikes must also be fitted with a red rear reflector and two amber reflectors must be fitted to each pedal.