The health and safety of British cyclists is being failed by the British justice system, an inquiry held by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group has found.
The APPCG published the findings from its inquiry into ‘Cycling and the Justice System’ on Tuesday and concluded that the next government must urgently address the issue of drivers who escape penalty after causing serious injury or death to other road users.
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MPs from the APPCG found that there were concerns over the way that the police and justice system dealt with irresponsible drivers. They found that 8,500 drivers who had 12 or more points on their licence were still allowed to drive.
Numbers of those disqualified from driving due to an offence had ‘collapsed’ by 62 per cent over the past 10 years, the inquiry found. This had far exceeded the fall in the number of recorded serious motoring offences.
By law, 12 points on a driver’s licence should mean that they are banned from driving, but a plea of ‘exceptional hardship’ as a result of losing their licence has meant that thousands continue to drive after magistrates clear them to do so.
APPCG use the case of driver Christopher Gard as an example of how the law is allowing law-breaking drivers to continue on Britain’s roads, putting other road users at risk.
Gard was texting at the wheel of his vehicle when he collided with cyclist Lee Martin, killing him. Gard already had six convictions for using his phone while driving, and had been allowed to continue driving after pleading exceptional hardship. He has now been banned from driving for 14 and a half years and jailed for nine years.
“The evidence we have heard during our inquiry is truly shocking,” said Ruth Cadbury, Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, and co-chair of the APPCG.
“Threatening behaviour by vehicle drivers towards more vulnerable road users who are on bikes and on foot is routinely tolerated and rarely punished; our roads police are under resourced; and people who have flagrantly and habitually flouted the law are allowed to continue being a menace on our roads.
“This idea there is a ‘right to drive’, when it is clearly a privilege, is taking precedence over the right to safety on our roads for everyone. Lives have been lost because people who should have been taken off the road, are granted the leniency not given to those whose lives they then go on to ruin.
“This isn’t a political issue, but a public safety one, which is why this cross party group calls on the next Government in June to address the collapse in the number of disqualifications imposed on irresponsible drivers.”
Alex Chalk, Conservative MP for Cheltenham and co-chair of the APPCG, said that the road safety concerns are deterring people from cycling on Britain’s roads.
“The decline in the number of disqualifications for irresponsible driving is striking, and requires examination by the next government,” said Chalk.
“If we are serious as a country about getting more people on bikes, safety for all road users has got to be a priority. We simply won’t achieve the take up we want to see, particularly among women cyclists, unless the roads become safer.”
The APPCG has made a series of recommendations as a result of its Cycling and the Justice System inquiry:
- The Highway Code should be revised
- The driving test must be changed to help improve driver behaviour towards cyclists
- Professional drivers should be retested more frequently
- Roads policing should be given a higher priority
- The Government and other local authorities should adopt similar partnerships to the ones in London in other parts of the country, to counter the risk posed by illegal freight operations
- The Department for Transport and Ministry of Justice should research the growing discrepancy between road casualty figures
- More police forces should adopt close passing enforcement practice on a wider scale
- The police must ensure that a higher standard of investigation is maintained in all cases where serious injury has resulted
- All police forces should ensure that evidence of common offences submitted by cyclists, or other witnesses, using bike or person mounted cameras or smart phones is put to use, and not ignored
- The length of time required by the Police to serve a Notice of Intended Prosecution for a road traffic offence is currently just 14 days and must be extended
- Confusion and overlap between ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving means that often bad driving does not receive the level of punishment that the public feel it should, the MoJ should investigate how these offences are being used
- The police and CPS should ensure that victims and bereaved families are always kept adequately informed throughout the process of deciding charges
- The Ministry of Justice should examine the reasons behind the decline in the use of the penalty of disqualification
- The Soft Tissue Injury Reforms – the ‘whiplash reforms’ – should not include injuries to cyclists or pedestrians