New cycling offences: causing death or serious injury when cycling
In August 2018 the Government announced the consultation Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy safety review: proposal for new cycling offences. To address the few high profile incidents of cyclist causing the death of pedestrian, the Government propose to introduce new offences for causing death or serious injury by dangerous or careless cycling. This consultation seeks views on the new offences and the associated penalties, the consultation closes 11.45pm on 5 November 2018.
The Government instigated a review of the laws relating to cycling offences which was undertaken by Laura Thomas, a Barrister at Birketts LLP. The review considers the existing law applicable to cycling and driving, together with the respective penalties that may be applied; specific attention being paid to the offences of causing death or serious injury. The author concluded that disparities exist between the offences relating to cycling and driving, also in the penalties applicable to the respective offences.
The report puts a compelling case for the review of cycling offences and alignment of the penalties. However, the final clause states; ‘Considering the wider impact of legislative change, this review is focused specifically on cycling. However, some of the issues outlined above would apply in respect of all non-mechanically propelled vehicles such as horses, horse and carriages etc. This is particularly so if, rather than setting out new legislation specifically for cyclists; there was an amendment to existing legislation to remove the “mechanically propelled” stipulation.’ This suggestion would apply a consistent set of offences to all road users, not just focusing on cyclist.
The barrister’s review has been published by the Government, Cycle Safety Review, 9 March 2018 (report dated 1 February 2018).
The Government consultation proposal, Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy safety review: proposals for new cycling offences, summarises the barristers review of the offences.
The pertinent issues issues have been summarised below:
Current cycling offences;
- Dangerous cycling contrary to section 28 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, maximum penalty of a level 4 fine (£2,500).
- Careless and inconsiderate cycling contrary to section 29 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, maximum penalty of a level 3 fine (£1,000).
- It is also an offence under Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to ride a cycle when unfit to ride through drink or drugs. Unlike other cycling offences in the Road Traffic Act 1988, this offence can be committed on a road as well as other public place. Maximum fine of up to £1,000.
There are no specific cycling offences for causing death, the offence of manslaughter can be used however the assessment criteria are different to those applied for the cycling/driving offences which introduces inconsistencies in their application. Manslaughter is reserved for cases where an intent or recklessness to injure is present.
By comparison diving offences are more extensive, including offences for causing death by dangerous, careless or inconsiderate driving. These driving offences are only applicable to ‘mechanically propelled’ vehicles so do not apply to bicycles. There is guidance for the sentencing options and penalties applicable to each of the driving offences.
There are no specific cycling offences for causing death, hence the reference to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861;
- Causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving or wilful misconduct under Section 35 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, maximum sentence is two years imprisonment.
- Inflicting grievous bodily harm contrary to section 20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861, maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. This is an offence that focuses on the level of injury whereas the section 35 offence addresses the manner of driving.
Again the assessment of these offences is different to those for driving offences which introduces further inconsistencies in their application.
It is worth noting that dangerous or careless cycling cases apply only to the road (definition of ‘road’ includes pavements), whereas driving offences apply to the road and other public places. Therefore cycling offences are restricted to the road (including pavement), so dangerous or careless cycling in car parks or shopping precincts is not an offence.
The Government consider there are gaps in the law and propose ‘creating legislation for new offences of causing death or serious injury by dangerous or careless cycling, which include cycling in a public place’. There is also indication to re-frame the current offences of dangerous or careless cycling to apply to road and public place.
The Government seek views on ‘a change in the law which would result in cyclists who kill or seriously injure others by their dangerous or careless cycling behaviour, facing a prison sentence that is potentially longer than they would be likely to face under the existing law’. The consultation contains a series of question related to the proposed changes, the topic areas include;
- The need for a change in the law
- Road and public place
- Penalty points and disqualification
- Dangerous and careless cycling
- Drink and drug driving and cycling
Some questions include space for a free form response, where there is an opportunity to include individual responses.
As cyclist and responsible members of society we should all be supportive of being responsible for our actions and subject to appropriate penalties. In principle the Governments proposals bring a consistency between cycling and driving offences and their penalties, yet there are other road users who are still not explicitly responsible for their actions. Although excluded from the scope of this consultation the barrister’s proposal to remove ‘mechanically propelled’ from the relevant offences would have the desired result and encompass all road users.
The acknowledged athlete and cycling advocate Chris Boardman has publicly added his voice to the debate tweeting ‘I’m absolutely fine with punishing ALL bad behaviour on our roads. I’m sure you’d agree, logic would say start with the 99.5% most dangerous, not the 0.5%?’. Highlighting that the Government has missed an opportunity to redress the broader issues with the offences relating to our road users.
We urge Derby Cycling Group members to respond to the Governments consultation for the proposed change but to include comments recommending a full review of the driving offences and penalties. To this end align the offences for all road users, to apply consistent set of offences to at least cyclists and drivers as already applied in the Netherlands and Ireland.
The following are suggestions for responses that may be included in the freeform questions:
The need for a change in the law
Q13. Do you have any comments on any laws not covered in this consultation which could apply when trying to prosecute for this cycling behaviour?
The experts suggestion to remove ‘mechanically propelled’ from the existing offence to make all road users subject to the same offences.
Again the expert identified that the Netherland and Ireland apply the same offences to cycling and driving, adopting this regime would provide a consistency.
The Netherlands apply a simple rule that the larger vehicle has a responsibility for the smaller more vulnerable road users which, together with their effective cycling infrastructure, makes cycling much safer. Adopting such approach would help to place the responsibility with those who impose the risk.
Road and public place
Q15. This consultation proposes that new offences should apply to public places as well as roads. Do you agree with this proposal?
Careless and dangerous cycling are a problem in public places just as dangerous driving, it is reasonable to have offences covering this too.
Q17. Are there any other comments that you wish to make about where the laws should apply?
The offences should apply to all users, including runners, users of mobility scooters, horses, etc. The offence should not be limited to only cycling and driving.
Penalty points and disqualification
Q19. If not please explain why? If so, do you have any views on how long the minimum disqualification period should be?
If driving disqualification is applied to a cycling offence then for non-driver they should have this penalty pending their application for a driving license. Also, similar measures applied to other road users.
Q20. There is currently an offence of dangerous cycling (with a fine of up to £2,500) and for careless cycling (with a fine of up to £1,000). This consultation proposes that the penalties for these offences should remain unchanged. Do you agree with the proposal?
The penalty should be related to the cyclist income, many cyclist are lowly paid and use the bicycle as their sole means of transport, whereas some wealthy cyclists this is an insignificant amount.
Drink and drug driving and cycling
Q25. Are there any further comments you wish to make?
Q22 is too vague. When does pushing become attempting to cycle? If pushing a cycle whilst unfit through drink or drugs is an offence then there is no difference to a pedestrian, would the pedestrian similarly be committing an offence?
What criteria will be applied to being intoxicated through drink or drugs? Should this not be applied to other road users as well, mobility scooter riders, horse riders and pedestrians?