Calls for a new cycling offence to be introduced
27 September, 2017
Following the tragic recent case where a cyclist knocked over and killed a pedestrian, there have been calls for a new cycling offence to be introduced. London cyclist Charlie Alliston was riding an illegal Olympic-style track bike without front brakes when he hit and killed Kim Briggs as she crossed the road in February 2016. He was prosecuted for manslaughter, but the jury instead found him guilty of ‘wanton and furious driving’, an outdated law from 1861, designed to prosecute horse and carriage drivers.
Gaps in the law
Following the verdict, Kim Briggs’ widower, Matthew Briggs said the case demonstrated “the gap in the law when it comes to dealing with death or serious injury by dangerous cycling”. He argued that the fact the options were either “manslaughter at one end, or a Victorian law that doesn’t even mention causing death at the other end,” shows this gap exists.
Alliston was sentenced to 18 months in a young offender’s institution, but it has been argued that this is not long enough for taking someone’s life. The maximum sentence for ‘wanton and furious driving’ is just two years. In comparison, if a car driver had killed Kim Briggs, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving would be 14 years. As a result, many have argued that, for cyclists, there should be an offence equal to causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving.
Transport Minister Jesse Norman, said: “We already have strict laws that ensure that drivers who put people’s lives at risk are punished but, given recent cases, it is only right for us to look at whether dangerous cyclists should face the same consequences.”
However, cycling groups have argued that this only serves to further vilify cyclists. Adam Jones, press secretary for Southend Wheelers cycling group, said that the fact that the government’s review comes so soon after Alliston’s case ‘appears to be an attempt to capitalise on furious headlines in the media’ rather than paying attention to the dangerous actions of vehicle drivers around cyclists.
He added that he was worried that this review of the law “will further exacerbate negative perceptions of cyclists”, adding that the majority of cyclists ride “safely and within the law, but are often vilified and misrepresented.”
Rules that apply to all
Yet, these arguments do not seem to take into account that laws to prosecute dangerous drivers already exist, while there is nothing along similar lines to prosecute cyclists. The rules of the road need to be fair, and they need to apply to all who use them.
Charlie Alliston was not only responsible for the death of Kim Briggs, he was also willingly riding around a major UK city without any front brakes, and did not see any problem in doing so. While this is illegal, the gap in the law means that there are very few options on what to charge him with. As a result, he got a much lesser sentence than he would have received had a law existed for dangerous cycling, as it does for drivers.
Designated cycle routes exist in the majority of cities, although there is a long way to go until UK roads are entirely fit for cyclists’ use, as our recent survey found. However, this does not mean that cyclists don’t also cause problems on the roads, which the case of Charlie Alliston has demonstrated. Yes, all users of the road need to be careful, including pedestrians, but that doesn’t mean there should not be equal punishment for cyclists who do not follow the rules, just as with drivers.First4Lawyers support the need for a new offence for causing death or serious injury by cycling. There is clearly a gap in the law that needs to be filled, and hopefully in doing so it will discourage cyclists from taking risks they would not take in a car. Would Charlie Alliston have driven a car without any brakes? It is highly unlikely. Yet, as this case demonstrates, the results can be just as deadly.