The Memo: "Death by dangerous cycling": the UK's new proposal for cycling safety laws

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"Death by dangerous cycling": the UK's new proposal for cycling safety laws

Rita McGonigle - 3 June 2024

Any Londoner knows that cycling is where it's at. After all, it’s not uncommon to spy a couple of suits hopping on a Lime bike while walking through Liverpool Street, or to see friends arrive at the pub on a trusty Santander cycle. Investment into London cycling is noteworthy, with the Mayor of London delivering 260km of cycle routes in his first term, creating a sprawling map of Cycle Superhighways and Quietways. However, with the new (literally) green mode of transport skyrocketing in popularity, so have accidents.  

Your mind might immediately jump to the question of whether a car was involved when thinking about bike accidents. However, there has also been a trend of some cyclists colliding with pedestrians. This was something most notably observed back in 2016, with the unfortunate death of Kim Briggs who was killed after cyclist Charlie Alliston crashed into her while riding an illegally brakeless, fixed-gear bike. Alliston was subsequently convicted of causing bodily harm but was cleared of his manslaughter offence. 

Long time lobbyist, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, said that the attempted prosecution was so complex and outdated, and proved that the law doesn’properly protect families and victims of such accidents. This was reflected in the previous law, which capped jail time at two years and an unlimited fine. Therefore, as of 15 May 2024, the government has agreed to introduce new cycling laws to properly prosecute those who kill or seriously injure people because of careless cycling. This would open them up to the same sentences as reckless drivers or motorcyclists. 

The change in law is certainly a step forward in road safety and accurately represents the popularity of cycling amongst Brits in the 21st century. However, theres no doubt that there must be some sort of change given that the law is quite literally Victorian. Introduced in 1861, the Offences Against the Person Act was meant to address horse-drawn carriages and “wanton and furious” riding! 

There are several ways in which such changes could be implementedOne option that is currently being considered is to make the existing dangerous driving laws applicable to cyclists as well. This would mean that cyclists could be prosecuted under the Road Traffic Act of 1988. Another option would be to create ‘death by dangerous cycling’ laws, which would apply specifically to bikes.  

According to Cycling UK, bicycles are only involved in 2% of pedestrian casualties reported to and by the police, while the other 98% are motor vehicle accidents. Kevin O’Sullivan of Cycle Legal also publicly stated that cows are responsible for more pedestrian deaths per year than cyclists. So, while the change would likely cause contention, solicitors remain divided on the topic. However, most agree that an update to the law is necessary to protect everyone, including cyclists.