A campaign is being launched to bring Scotland into line with the rest of Europe by introducing 'strict' - or 'presumed' - liability to Scots civil law for road accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians.
Presumed liability will enable cyclists, and other vulnerable road users involved in road traffic incidents, to be compensated fairly and quickly, by establishing a hierarchical structure to identify responsibility. The strong bend to the weak: so, motorists are presumed liable - for insurance purposes - when they hit cyclists, and cyclists are presumed liable when they hit pedestrians.
Cyclists seriously injured in a road traffic incident, and the families of those killed, typically battle through the legal process for well over two years before receiving compensation or the full and proper medical care for injuries. This is despite the fact that many cases brought to court are found against the motorist and in favour of the cyclist.
A new umbrella organisation has been formed to push for 'strict liability': a statement from Road Share said that "it is the only proper response of a mature and civilised nation and that Scotland should take a lead if it is serious about reducing road deaths and serious injuries."
Campaigners believe that not only will it help to resolve liability quickly, but it will also create a cultural shift in driver behaviour.
Brenda Mitchell, a personal injury lawyer of 25 years’ experience, said:
“The UK is out of step with much of the rest of Europe. As a consequence, our current system expects those injured or the families of those killed to go through an often harsh and protracted process to gain much needed treatment, care or compensation. On the Continent, strict liability is seen as an integral factor of road safety and Scotland has the power to introduce this principle into civil law to demonstrate its credentials as a civilised, cycle-friendly nation.
“We believe that as the Scottish Government promotes cycling as a means for good health and energy sustainability, it should also take a lead in providing cyclists with proper legal protection.”
The campaign has been launched by Cycle Law Scotland and is backed by both cycling and motoring groups in Scotland, including CTC Scotland, SPOKES, Pedal on Parliament and RED driving school. The campaign aims is to influence the introduction of a Member’s Bill into the Scottish Parliament.
Richard Lyle, MSP for Central Scotland, supports the campaign. He said:
“The laws around strict liability should be looked at as we work to make Scotland a cycle-friendly nation.
“For too long, strict liability for road users has been dismissed as too difficult or too contentious a law, but in a modern society that sees cycling as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and sustainable economy, it is important to put this debate back on the agenda.
“If strict liability can be shown to help improve road safety and provide protection for those injured, then Scotland should not be afraid to take a lead and change the law.”
Motoring organisations and the mainstream media in Britain tend to hate 'strict liability' believing it to be anti-motorist, with cyclists throwing themselves in front of cars in order to get automatic compensation. In 2002, rumours that the EU would force the UK to harmonise its road safety laws with the rest of Europe led to an anti-cyclist outcry against 'strict liability', with support from broadsheet as well as tabloid newspapers.
In The Sun, Jeremy Clarkson wrote:
"We don’t need this new loony idea to encourage them even more [cyclists] to shoot red lights and ignore the Highway Code. They have already taken over a third of the roads with their green tarmac cycle lanes. Now the Lycra Nazis want to take over the whole lot! And they still don’t pay a penny for going on the roads which the poor old motorists pay through the nose for.
"When will people understand that roads are for cars and that there is no danger at all from speeding motorists if walkers and cyclists steer clear?"
Author Tony Parsons in the Daily Mirror, went even further:
"If we cared anything at all about road safety, then we would tear up all the bicycle lanes today. We would order traffic wardens to nick any cyclists who jumps a red lights - all of them in other words.
"And if we truly cared about safety on our roads, then we would make a bonfire of all those stupid hats, all that hideous Lycra and every bicycle in the land."