Review of cycle safety law could delay attention to wider issues.

So the government has announced an urgent review of cycle safety.

This comes after the appeal by Matthew Briggs, the widower of Kim Briggs, who was killed by a cyclist on an illegal bike. Prosecuted for manslaughter, Charlie Alliston was convicted of the lesser offence of Causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving, a charge dating back to 1861. Alliston was sentenced to 18 months in prison. This is a relatively tough sentence: of the 419 drivers convicted of causing a death by driving in England and Wales in 2016, 239 (57%) were sent to prison, with 50 serving sentences of 18 months or under.

The first phase of the government review is on the need for causing death/serious injury by careless or dangerous cycling charges.  The second phase a will be a wider consultation on road safety issues relating to cycling.

As a victims’ charity, RoadPeace well understands the trauma and grief caused by senseless road deaths.  Our heartfelt condolences go out to Matthew Briggs and his children. But as a campaigning organisation, we believe that there are many overdue changes in the law that may be sidelined by this over-focussed initiative. Reckless cycling can indeed be a problem but priority should be given to addressing those actions that cause the greatest harm.  By giving precedence to the threat caused by cyclists, when they so rarely cause death or serious injury – see the Cycling UK’s comprehensive evidence-based discussion of this – there is a danger that wider reforms to ALL driving offences that are so needed will be delayed even longer.

History

Despite promising it, the government has shown little appetite for a comprehensive review of driving offences and the changes that have occurred have been piecemeal and inconsistent.

  • Five years ago, the CPS consulted on driving offences but its questions were limited and failed to address the confusion arising regarding the charging standards around careless and dangerous driving.
  • At the end of 2012, the government introduced the charge of Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving.
  • In June 2014, the Justice Minister announced a full review of driving offences, as well as new charges around causing death and serious injury by disqualified driving.
  • At the end of 2016, the MoJ did consult on a few changes, with attention focused on lifetime custodial sentences for the worst of the worst. The proposals did include a new charge of Causing serious injury by careless driving.

Earlier this year, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling (APPCG) held their inquiry into cycling and the justice system. In our response to the inquiry, RoadPeace argued that a review into careless and dangerous driving standards was keenly needed, (for more see our You say Careless, I say Dangerous graphic for the extent of overlap. And the wide variation in how careless and dangerous driving is prosecuted by police services). Our response was supported by British Cycling, Cycling UK, LCC, and the Road Danger Reduction Forum. The APPCG agreed with RoadPeace, rather than the CPS and in its report, called for a review of careless and dangerous driving.

The full review promised by the government in 2014 never happened and we are left with:

  • continuing lack of clarity over the distinction between serious and careless driving,
  • a series of offences when impaired driving (drink/drugs or use of a mobile phone) can result in serious injury but not attract a significantly higher penalty, and
  • major anomalies in the treatment of drivers that leave the scene after causing death or serious injury.

These issues affect the way a large proportion of those causing death and serious injury on the roads are dealt with. Instead, we have an initiative that addresses a problem that resulted in only two deaths in 2015, 0.12% of the total. Matthew Briggs honours the memory of his wife by seeking to curb reckless cycling but the government should not allow this to be at the cost of the long overdue review of driving offences.

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