Injured cyclists must use their rights
The funeral of a married couple who were killed when they were knocked off their tandem bicycle in Bristol, and the recent vigil held by RoadPeace in memory of cyclists who have died in lorry accidents, have once more placed the issue of cyclist safety firmly in the spotlight. They also serve as a reminder of how important it is that cyclists understand and use their rights.
Cyclists are injured in fewer accidents than people think but when it comes to protecting their rights this is not always a straightforward matter. Being struck by several tonnes of metal travelling at speed is an intimidating experience to say the least and a cyclist’s first instinct is often to hobble away, if they are able. As a result, many bicycle accidents go unreported.
There is also a culture of stoicism amongst cyclists on the road which means they are reluctant to make the most of their rights after an accident. They may also feel unsure about who is to blame for an accident – particularly as other cyclists can often be quick to point out how someone should have been cycling when they were hit by a car. However, it is important that cyclists act in the same way as any other road user when involved in an accident and they deserve the same support.
From a financial point of view, cyclists need to get the driver’s details if they don’t want to be left out-of-pocket. A motorist wouldn’t think twice about claiming back costs if someone rear-ended them in a car, yet it is so easy for a cyclist to do just that if they get knocked off their bike. In a case I acted on recently, the victim cycled off after an accident without taking the driver’s details only to find a few hundred yards down the road that they had fractured their collar bone. Whilst this may be an extreme example it demonstrates the dust-yourself-off attitude many cyclists adopt when in a road accident. In some ways, this attitude is no bad thing. However, it is vital that cyclists involved in accidents get the registration number of the offending car in order to trace the driver. They should also contact the police if they suspect they have been injured or if the driver refuses to provide their details.
To ensure cyclists can prove what happened in an accident it is important to preserve any evidence, paying special attention to getting the details of any witnesses. Some cyclists now use helmet-mounted cameras to record their commutes. Proving negligent driving may not have been their original purpose but the practical benefits of having footage of your 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 that footage has been deleted. If so, it could be important for the cyclist to have a record of events from their perspective.
After an accident, cyclists frequently complain that the police take little interest in prosecuting the driver. Sadly, this can be the case even where there is strong evidence of bad driving, as was discussed recently by the witnesses at the second session of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s inquiry into ‘Get Britain Cycling’.
This coincided with the government’s announcement that they are making a timely £62 million investment into road infrastructure to help improve safety for cyclists. If spent wisely, this can go some way to reducing the dangers on the roads thereby encouraging more people to cycle. However, a shift in attitude within the criminal justice system is also needed. Driving is currently seen as a right not to be curtailed at any cost – even where that cost may be the loss of life. For the good of all road users, public pressure needs to be put on the criminal courts to keep dangerous drivers off the roads.
Cyclists tend not to have the same sense of entitlement as other road users and often treat themselves as second class citizens of the road, even though the law affords us the same rights and protections. If cyclists want to be treated as legitimate road users then they need to lead the way by reporting accidents to the police, pushing for the most severe punishments for dangerous motorists and by making drivers accountable when they cause injury by bringing claims for damages.
Oliver Jeffcott is a senior solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp and a keen cyclist. He blogs as thecyclingsolicitor.com