Our Question of the Week – Do Dangerous Cyclists Put Us All At Risk? – generated much debate when it was posted on Monday, and a bill proposed in the UK Parliament yesterday is sure to add more fuel to the fire.
Conservative backbench MP Andrea Leadsom put forward a motion to increase sentences for dangerous cycling, arguing all road users should take equal responsibility for their actions. It was immediately condemned by CTC, the UK’s national cyclists organisation, who branded it a ‘distraction’ from the more serious issue of cyclists killed by motorists.
They say the bill is unnecessary, and pointed to the Department for Transport’s Road Casualties Great Britain: 2009 report which found fatal collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists (none in 2009) were rare compared with deaths involving pedestrians and motor vehicles (426).
CTC also highlighted the imbalance in the way the legal system handles these groups. They said that in the last 10 years, the two cyclists who killed pedestrians in collisions were handed prison sentences, whereas small fines and community sentences were given to motorists.
Roger Geffen, CTC’s Campaigns and Policy Director said: “Our ‘Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You’ website shows numerous cases of drivers receiving derisory sentences for killing or maiming cyclists, or being let off altogether. Only last week, lorry driver Tony Smith received a 100 hour community sentence and a one-year driving ban for killing Vera Chaplin, a 89 year old cyclist in Essex last summer. Last month, driver David Kilgallon received the same sentence for killing 85 year old Barbara Taylor, while she was cycling in Blackpool.
“We would certainly agree that road traffic law needs strengthening. But the overwhelming priority is to ensure that the authorities use the law to deal with the sources of danger on our roads, and that is overwhelmingly about tackling bad drivers.”
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Leadsom defended the bill, saying it wasn't her intention to criminalise cyclists or discourage them from riding. She cited the case of 17-year-old Rhiannon Bennett, who was walking with friends when she was knocked down and killed by a cyclist in 2007. The cyclist was convicted of 'dangerous cycling' and fined £2,200, but didn't receive a custodial sentence.
"At the moment, the punishment for cyclists falls far short of the crime, and I believe we need to update the law so that all road users are equally protected and take equal responsibility for their actions," she said. "We should just imagine what would happen if a motorist drove onto a pavement and killed a teenager. If the driver had only walked away with a fine, there would have been a national outcry."