Bikes and ‘presumed liability’ for motorists are the ways forward

Thursday, 8th February 2018

Cyclist protest over death of Ardian Zagani

Protesters blocked the road following a cycle death in August

• IT is encouraging Camden is putting itself at the leading edge when it comes to tackling air pollution (Town Hall wages war on drivers, February 1).

But they are missing a trick if they do not fully appreciate cycling as the single most important tool in their armoury to achieve this objective.

The humble bicycle is ahead of its time. Requiring the most basic of skills, it is cheap, provides some health benefit, is safe for all, and is incredibly rapid in the urban environment, outstripping the majority of car journeys easily.

So why is everyone still bothering to take their car? Surveys have shown there is one overriding factor; people are terrified of being mown down on the road by tonnes of metal travelling at speed by a featherlight touch of an accelerator.

In the same way that bicycles are the solution to modern urban transport, the private motor vehicle, used in it current form, is no longer fit for purpose.

To encourage mass take-up of cycling there has to be a radical rethink of how we make the roads safer. This will amount to more than a handful of cycle highways and reconfigured junctions.

Think about it. What percentage of London’s streets will be encompassed by cycle-friendly schemes?

How much funding will it take, by some engineering miracle and some miracle of consensus between residents, to apply cycle-friendly designs to all London’s streets? Sadly, with the best will in the world, it is not going to happen.

There is a way that all our streets can be made safer, with no engineering required, no cost to the public purse and no impact whatsoever on motorists who drive in a safe and considerate fashion.

Such a solution has been applied in many countries, all over the world for many years, and is known as “presumed liability”.

It involves is a change in the law so that, in the event of a collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist (or for that matter a pedestrian), the motorist is deemed negligent unless she or he can prove otherwise.

For some strange reason when such a legislative change is made it has been shown that motorists’ driving habits change and streets become safe places in which to live and travel.

So the treacherous junctions at Camden Road, also identified in your pages (‘Blackspot’ warning over new cycle route, February 1) would pose far less a significant threat to non-motorised street-users if presumed liability was in place.

So Camden take note: if you are serious about achieving the World Health Organisation pollution targets, it is going to take more than a few road schemes and fining idling motorists.

You are going to have to take the lead in persuading the government to have a serious rethink about the laws that consider motorists’ liability.  There is no way that enough motorists will be persuaded to leave their cars at home without this.


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