Calls for change in the way cycling deaths are handled

Calls for change in the way cycling deaths are handled

The former head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has said the way that the deaths of cyclists are treated by police and prosecutors may need to change,

Talking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on Monday (26/10/15), Sir Keir Starmer, who is now a Labour MP, said there was a "very strong case" for the CPS to make the final decision on whether to prosecute cases.

He supported this by saying, if the death of a cyclist was involved and it was serious enough to have had a criminal investigation "then it really ought to go off to the CPS for the final decision".

In England and Wales, police forces currently decide whether to pass a case to the CPS after investigating a death.

In Scotland, if evidence suggests the driver is to blame for a collision that leads to a cyclist's death, a report is to be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.

According to Department of Transport figures, 113 cyclists were killed on the UK’s roads last year. Whilst between 2007 and 2014, there were 276 recorded incidents where a cyclist was killed in an accident involving a motor vehicle. Of these, only 148 of the drivers – just over 50{9b4a2c8832b2482ca7eb937f6bfa363e1f3f7cb05e1b42927da41c9eadde8c32}, were charged with an offence and fewer than half of those found guilty went to prison.

Currently, it's often on the victim to prove liability in an accident. Discussing this, Sir Keir said the debate over liability had been going on for some time.

"You have to be very careful with this – and I certainly wouldn't want to go to strict liability where it's automatically thought one party is at fault – but we may need to start looking again at that balance," he said.

At Cycle S.O.S., this is a topic which we have previously discussed in detail. Following a spate of cycling tragedies in 2013, Cycle S.O.S. Consultant Solicitor, Paul Darlington, discussed an outcomes based sentencing policy at that year’s Cycle City Expo.

Commenting on this again today, Paul had to say “The law must have a deterrent effect. A law which is not enforced loses that effect.

Sentencing is currently intended to reflect the seriousness of the actual offence, but not necessarily the consequences.

The crimes of dangerous and careless driving include a provision of foresight on the driver – “regard shall be had not only of the circumstances of which (the accused) could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to be within the knowledge of the accused.”

To put this simply, regardless of the road conditions or the type of manoeuvre, drivers should always consider the following –  “if in doubt, don’t.”

Paul believes it is time to extend this concept to the sentencing of drivers involved in causing injury or death to a cyclist.

To do this, he believes the following actions should be put in place:

1)      The creation of a specific category of offence that involves causing injury or death to a vulnerable road user.

2) The introduction of a higher penalty tariff (double points) and/or suspension of licence pending compulsory retraining / re-test.

Commenting on this further, Paul said, “Given the consequences of a vehicle vs cyclist collision, the penalty must reflect the havoc that is wrought. Otherwise, the deterrent is absent and drivers will continue to fail to anticipate the results of their actions.”

Whilst cycling does come with some risks, it is not the dangerous activity that it is often made out to be. As a cyclist, by making yourself seen, and giving other road users every chance to see you, the risks can be reduced and you can continue to cycle safely, as millions do daily.

Should you require our assistance, you can receive this by speaking to our specialist cycling lawyers today on our 24/7 Freephone helpline 0808 100 999 5. We're here to help you.