Guest column Oliver Jeffcott: is strict liability the answer?

The Liberal Democrat policy paper Green Growth and Green Jobs has recommended the introduction of strict liability in cycling cases, bringing the matter into the public eye. However, the impact this change would have is not clear.

Currently the person who causes a collision is liable to pay the victim damages for their injuries and financial losses. However, the victim must first show that the other party is to blame. With strict liability, the person in the more powerful vehicle is automatically presumed to be at fault and the duty is on them to prove they are not liable for the accident.

Spiderman’s Uncle Ben put this idea across simply when he said, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Supporters of strict liability argue that shifting the onus to the driver of the more powerful vehicle will create a change in attitude, with motorists becoming more considerate and safety conscious around cyclists. However, it is unrealistic to think that a culture of cycling will come about by strict liability alone.

For instance, long after it was introduced in Ontario, Canada there are still a low number of cyclists and a high risk of injury. Conversely, strict liability came into force in Holland in 1992, long after a cycling culture was firmly established, demonstrating that cycling can flourish without it.

Strict liability is often misrepresented as having an impact on criminal law, whereas it actually only deals with cases for damages. With strict liability motorists would be no more likely to get points on their license or receive a conviction. In my experience, cyclists are most concerned by motorists getting away with injuring cyclists – whether they can recover compensation is often a secondary issue.

It is demoralising when drivers receive a paltry sentence after having been found guilty of killing a cyclist. It also reinforces the dangerous message that driving is a human right that should not be taken away.

If criminal laws were better enforced, and with more stringent punishments, the roads would be less threatening and the number of cyclists would grow. Cycling groups, including British Cycling, RoadPeace and the CTC, are already calling for improvements to criminal justice for offending driver.

In my view, it is here that we cyclists should concentrate our efforts.

Oliver Jeffcott is a senior solicitor and blogs at

This article was first published in the August 22 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!