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Vulnerable road users

Clarke Willmott LLP

You don’t need statistics to know that cyclists and pedestrians are amongst the most vulnerable people using the roads. If you did want any proof, recent reports showing an annual increase on average of 1% per year since 2010 in pedestrian deaths, and that 83% of cyclist deaths are a result of a collision with a motor vehicle make the point clearly.

For a long time, those of us who represent the victims of road traffic accidents have been aware of the vulnerability of cyclists and pedestrians, and the law has recognised this. In 2003, in the case of Eagle v Chambers, Baroness Hale (Lady Justice Hale as she then was) talked about the “potential destructive disparity” between vehicles and pedestrians. Or, as most people would put it, a car or lorry can be a lethal weapon when driven unsafely. The outcome of that case was that the law accepted it would be rare for a pedestrian to be found more to blame than a driver, unless the pedestrian moves suddenly into the driver’s path.

The Department for Transport has just published Gear Change: A bold vision for cycling and walking.

One aspect of the proposals is in relation to the criminal law and the charges and penalties that can be imposed on drivers who cause accidents. The reports says:

“We will work with the police and CPS to better understand the evidential needs and sharing of best practice to ensure drivers are prosecuted for the more serious offence of dangerous driving. We will escalate our work on the use of ancillary orders, by considering the potential for extending these or creating new ones as part of sentencing over and above points on the licence, driving bans and prison sentences.”

One of our road traffic claims experts, Philip Edwards, said: "It is encouraging that the government is to review the criminal penalties handed out to dangerous drivers. Many of the people I represent, who have had catastrophic injuries or lost loved ones, have told me they often feel the penalty for the dangerous driver who caused the accident does not reflect the serious nature of the consequences of their actions. They also say the most important thing is to take steps to make the roads safe for vulnerable road users."

The DfT report makes sweeping recommendations to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians. It recognises that implementation will require a transformational spend on infrastructure. New cycle routes are to be designed by those who have experienced the roads on a cycle, and the routes should be logical and can be used intuitively. The proposal states that routes should be joined up, recognising that isolated stretches of good provision are of little use. There will be a review of the vision standards for lorries implemented in London in 2015 to see if it should be implemented nationwide. One eye catching proposal is the desire to create “Mini-Hollands”, where roads and streetscapes become as cycle and pedestrian friendly as their Dutch equivalents.

Philip Edwards
Clarke Willmott LLP