Chris Boardman calls for strict liability for drivers involved in crashes with cyclists and pedestrians to help protect vulnerable road users

Chris Boardman is calling for better legal protection for cyclists and pedestrians, claiming that motorists should be liable for incidents involving vulnerable road users.

Speaking to the London Evening Standard, in an interview published on May 19, the 1992 Olympic champion said that there should be a strict liability enforced to ensure that all road users are protected.

“The fact is, if you want to kill someone, do it in a car; it’s the way to get the least punishment,” he said. “We should have strict liability in the UK so that if you are in a vehicle you’re held responsible – as much to protect pedestrians as cyclists.”

“Police should target bad behaviour no matter who it is. People riding a bike are just as prone to bad behaviour as anyone else.”

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In an interview with the same newspaper last week, Sir Bradley Wiggins claimed that helmets should be made mandatory in the United Kingdom to help cyclists protect themselves.

Boardman, meanwhile, is quite outspoken on the subject and courted controversy last year for appearing on a BBC Breakfast video on cycle safety without a helmet as he rode around Manchester.

“I seldom wear a helmet,” he added to the Standard. “Statistically, you can cycle 800 times around the globe without having an accident,” he said.

“If people want to wear one, no problem, but if you start pushing for it, you should also tell people to wear one when they’re up a ladder, when they’re in the bathroom or driving a car – all of which are statistically more dangerous.”

  • 1LelaG

    Yes, 25 pounds of a bike frame can not compete with a 1 ton steel
    and survive. But, many tech zombies with the cell stuck in their
    ear or pedestrians spaced out texting and walking right under
    a motor vehicle’s wheels, should not be incriminating the
    driver for any collision as a result. Many cyclists don’t know and
    they don’t care to follow the Rules of the Road, and should be
    penalized for being a cause of a collision. Road
    infrastructure and proper law enforcement will do wonders in
    all cases.

  • 1LelaG

    Yes, 25 pounds of a bike frame can not compete with a 1 ton steel and survive. But, many tech zombies with the cell stuck in their ear or pedestrians spaced out texting and walking right under a motor vehicle’s wheels, should not be incriminating the driver for any collision as a result. Many cyclists don’t know and they don’t care to follow the Rules of the Road, and should be penalized for being a cause of a collision. Road infrastructure and proper law enforcement will do wonders in all cases.

  • Don Shipp

    Liability is not concerned with blame or guilt.

  • Andrew Walsh

    This is an excellent, informed comment that illustrates the gulf in a genuine commitment to cycling safety in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The red herring of the helmet too often dominates discussions about cycling safety whereas blame free allocations of financial responsibility where the burden of payment lies with the insurer of the more ‘dominant’ road user should surely be a significant part of the debate, alongside better education about the anticipatory responsibilities of car drivers in road safety situations. And can the British authorities please do something, anything about the ‘I pay my road tax, so get off my road’ nonsense spouted by too many irate and incompetent car drivers.

  • Matty1245

    “An issue which has been raised many times is that of compulsory training and testing for cylists. Every other road user has to do this so why not cyclists? If you’re going to put yourself in an inherently dangerous situation, surely you should be appropriately equipped with the knowledge of the risks involved and how best to avoid them”

    Well, its a complex issue, surprisingly so.

    For starters roads where never that dangerous until they got filled with tons of cars, and we trained drivers because obviously they where the ones driving around in a ton plus of metal.. And also, not all road users need to take test, only those using what is in effect heavy machinery 😉 Unfortunately now those people have swamped the road system.

    Past that though there’s just not the need – for a couple of reasons. 1 – cycling is to be encouraged, more people cycling equals better safety for others. Its also seen as a mode of transport even kids can get into, its cheap, healthy and all that stuff. Training and logically licenses work against that and has been shown to lower cycling numbers and boost car numbers, equaling a crappy situation for everyone. 2 – 90 odd percent of adult cyclists already have a driving license.

    Personally I would be over the moon is cycle craft was added to school training. But even then I suspect it will be done in such a way that discourages cycling rights, and the idea that roads are for cars and you, on your bike is simply a guest.

    “It saddens me when anyone is killed or injured however cyclists creeping up the inside of traffic, in particular lorries, bewilders me. I witness this almost daily and it’s terrifying”

    I feel your pain. But even then the problems are complex. Filtering is permitted in the HWC, and being a rider you probably know more about that than most. As for going up the side of HGVS, my heart sinks when I see it, but at the same time I can see why it happens. Have you ever noticed that all cycle paths go up the inside of traffic, and even if there’s no cycle path there is often a cycle box at the front of traffic. Its a problem by design as much as a lack of training. Oh….One other issue. Look at the photo ive hopefully uploaded. One shot shows the blind spot of a HGV, the other shows very typical cycle infrastructure. Is it any wonder people get killed.

  • Andrew Walsh

    Interesting points, but just one example of where a change in driver behaviour could help here would be your example of swerving to avoid a pothole. In Germany, for example, a car that overtakes a cyclist should only do so if they have 1.5 metres of space available between themselves and the cyclist, which factors in unforeseen obstacles and the necessity of avoiding them if you are riding on a pair of hoops of approximately 25 mm width. Why couldn’t this be introduced in Britain ?

    I don’t think the cycling lobby is going to get very far if we factor in the personal decision of someone to drive a car rather than take the bus: cars and cycles will always share the roads and if you live in Britain too many car-drivers are not and have never been cyclists, don’t really understand what cycling is about and exhibit selfish, dangerous behaviour on a daily basis. Maybe if car drivers had to complete a sort of updated ‘cycling proficiency test’ before being given a licence, they might drive more appropriately. Certainly, the HGV training needs some sort of radical overhaul to include specific advice on cyclist safety.

  • Andrew Walsh

    I agree with this. However, having left the UK, I think that the driving behaviour of many British motorists is disgusting and dangerous, and Boardman is, perhaps, making a rather provocative statement to draw attention to this problem. If automatic liability is not the way to go, then at least ‘stacking the odds’ against motorists in terms of proving or disproving liability is certainly the way to go – if Britain embraced Dutch or German protocols on perceived levels of responsibility and respect for your fellow road user, then Britain would be a safer place to cycle. I would rather see a revision of training in preparation for the driving test that emphasises respect for cyclists, and more meaningful ‘public information films’ and the like that try to change driving culture. Maybe with the growth of cycling in Britain, this cultural change will come, but I imagine it will take another ten to twenty years for this to happen.

  • briantrousers

    Cheers, yours and Dr David Martin’s reponses below have clarified the issue.

    No one wants to be injured or involved in an accident. As a driver and a cyclist I can see both perspectives. Interestingly one of the most eye-opening things I did was to take my motorbike test. This puts into perspective the vulnerability and exposure you feel given the speeds involved.

    It would be of great benefit if every road user were forced to undertake this type of training.

    An issue which has been raised many times is that of compulsory training and testing for cylists. Every other road user has to do this so why not cyclists? If you’re going to put yourself in an inherently dangerous situation, surely you should be appropriately equipped with the knowledge of the risks involved and how best to avoid them.

    It saddens me when anyone is killed or injured however cyclists creeping up the inside of traffic, in particular lorries, bewilders me. I witness this almost daily and it’s terrifying.

    (Gone off topic obvs so will give up now!)

  • briantrousers

    Thank you for a very reasoned response which more fully explains the situation.

  • Matty1245

    “Cripes! Difficult to see in what circumstance that would arise. As a for instance however, if a cyclist slips on a patch of black ice (not the cyclist’s fault) which then sends them careening (real word) into the front of my car (not my fault), it actually is my fault because I have the audacity to be out on a road in my car?”

    Lots of way things can happen – cyclist avoids pothole, cycles around it, at same time a car overtakes cyclists. Hits cyclist.

    No on strictly at fault, but the cyclists situation has been made infinitely worse by a person who chose to introduce a car into the equation. That person in the car could have walked, took the bus. But they made a conscious decision to use a car that day, and now, in part due to that decision a cyclists is in a bad way.

    So, its less about personal fault, its about personal responsibility.

    And in fact is nothing more than a simple insurance issue. No one needs to take it personally, or feel ripped off. Its about acknowledging heavy, voluntary introduced items (be that car, or cycle for that matter) can make bad situation worse by their introduction.

    “Bearing in mind the test of reasonableness inherent in the laws of England and Wales, this doesn’t sound like it would ever get through.”

    SL already exists in many forms. Not least those who use heavy equipment (building firms etc) in public spaces already. So while I agree it’s a hard sell, and it may never happen, it’s no actually that unrealistic.

  • John Smith

    All the data shows it is ‘inherently hazardous’ & little is done to dramtically reduce the thousands of deaths & 10’s of thousands of bad injuries .
    17 – 25 yr old drivers are particularly hazardous, luckily, primarily to themselves & immediate friends

  • John Smith

    This is the only way ahead
    All the rest is window dressing
    Cycleways have failed
    Most of europe has this & its successful

  • Dr David Martin

    The campaign for presumed liability (Roadshare) has explored this in some detail, Presumed/Strict liability is not about fault but about who bears the financial burden for accidents. The UK is one of a tiny minority of countries in Europe that do not have such a law and there is a strong correlation between accident rates and absence of protective measures such as this.

    The proposals would make the operator of the more powerful vehicle (car, or even a bike if they knocked down a pedestrian) presumed liable for any loss/damage. There would be exceptions, – for example if they could demonstrate that the other party was deliberately negligent.

    This legislation goes some way towards redressing the balance where the car driver brings the majority of the danger, accrues most of the benefit, and the cyclist is left having to nurse injuries, loss of earnings etc unless they can prove the car driver was at fault. This can be very hard to do in a he said, she said situation, lead to legal wranglings continuing for years and be very expensive in the long run. Indeed, French insurers support presumed liability because it actually keeps their costs down.

    The suggestion that cyclists are going to be throwing themselves under busses to claim compensation is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

  • Howard Cobb

    Come to Cambridge and see the stupid behaviour exhibited daily by cyclists here and then tell me the car driver is to necessarily to blame. Yes I am a car driver, a cyclist ( twice daily all weather), and a pedestrian, and I see mistakes by all groups of road user. The driver has the most lethal weapon to be sure, but that is no reason to presume them guilty.

  • briantrousers

    That’s right, completely in agreement with you. What I find odd is that some people have leapt on this and seem to suggest that car drivers should be held liable for any accident involving a cyclist, irrespective of whether or not it’s their fault.

    There are always fine nuances when it comes to determining fault or blame in any situation. The introduction of strict liability would make it a black or white decision which would be wholly unreasonable.

    Can I also add RT how refreshing it is to have an intelligent reasoned discussion without the reversion to trolling/petty retorts that so often proliferate on the internet. Chapeau sir!

  • briantrousers

    That’s right, completely in agreement with you. What I find odd is that some people have leapt on this and seem to suggest that car drivers should be held liable for any accident involving a cyclist, irrespective of whether or not it’s their fault.

    There are always fine nuances when it comes to determining fault or blame in any situation. The introduction of strict liability would make it a black or white decision which would be wholly unreasonable.

    Can I also add RT how refreshing it is to have an intelligent reasoned discussion without the reversion to trolling/petty retorts that so often proliferate on the internet. Chapeau sir!

  • RT

    Suppose the car were struck by lightening / a meteorite / something else and the resulting malfunction causes it to swerve into a cyclist. The driver is not at fault. The manufacturer is not to blame. Should the driver therefore not compensate the cyclist? It’s not the cyclist’s fault someone else chose to propel a 2-tonne lump of metal down the street at 50 km/h.
    If the cyclist falls in front of you then I would presume it would be mostly his fault.

  • briantrousers

    Cripes! Difficult to see in what circumstance that would arise. As a for instance however, if a cyclist slips on a patch of black ice (not the cyclist’s fault) which then sends them careening (real word) into the front of my car (not my fault), it actually is my fault because I have the audacity to be out on a road in my car?

    On the other hand if I’m out on my bike this sounds perfectly OK. If I hit a tree rather than a car, can I sue God?

    Bearing in mind the test of reasonableness inherent in the laws of England and Wales, this doesn’t sound like it would ever get through.

  • RT

    I think the point is that the car driver is assumed to have “done something wrong” simply by driving. Even if everyone has complied with all the rules, an accident could happen. No one is to blame. Nevertheless, the car driver is held liable since he, by driving the car, is considered to have created the risk.

  • briantrousers

    Apologies, I thought you were suggesting that the fault would automatically lie with the driver even if they had done nothing wrong.

  • RT

    That would be up to the driver to sort out with the manufacturer, if the accident was caused by a fault in the car. However, it is still the car driver who is responsible for the car when it is on the road so he would surely be liable towards the victims, no?

  • briantrousers

    That would be the car manufacturer then who would be responsible for creating the hazard in the instance where the driver has not broken any rules?

  • briantrousers

    Butterworth needs to use a bit of thinking before he makes such statements. (Terrible grammar from both of you BTW).

    Presumably the next logical step here would be to impose strict liability on cyclists who are involved in accidents with pedestrians?

    Strict liability does exist in areas of law where it is deemed to be appropriate. In this case it would not be and never will be. It’s nothing to do with funding or donations from insurance companies.

    If you are using the road whether walking, running, cycling or driving and you cause an accident through your own idiocy or inattentiveness, then it’s your fault.

  • RT

    No. This relates to cases where neither party has broken any rules. Driving a car is inherently hazardous, and if something goes wrong, it is not unreasonable that the party that created the hazard be held liable.

  • Mungo Butterworth

    Cahern needs to use a bit of thinking before he makes such statements. As if any cyclist is going to ride more recklessly (risking life, limb and livelihood in the process), simply because he knows a motorist will be found liable if his riding causes an accident.. Not suffer any consequences!!!!

    Strict Liability exists in lots of areas of law and there has been a movement towards this policy change for many years. It would have happened already had the Tory Party not been in the pay of the insurance industry. Unless cyclists can club together to match the insurance industries £5 million donations and find a way to offer the Minister for Justice a £million boardroom seat upon retirement, it ain’t going to happen in the next 5 years unfortunately.

  • cahern1968

    Chris needs to use a bit of thinking before making statements such as these. Automatic liability is not the way to go, he is basically saying that no matter who may have caused the accident it always the motorists that are responsibl. Such statements basically give carte blanche to cyclists and other road users to break the rules of the road and not suffer any consequences.

    If a cyclist runs through a red light or stop sign and is hit by a car, according to Chris it should be the car driver who should be liable for any damage even though they did nothing to cause the accident.

    I am not anti cycling, I have raced and toured for over 30 years, but liability should never be placed on the innocent party in any collision. If cyclists are going to behave in such a manner that they cause an accident then they should be held liable. Remember rule number one of road use, behave in such a manner so as not to cause an accident.