Recently there have been increased debates over whether the UK should adopt Dutch driving laws, The Specter Partnership’s Gemma Ball looks at the statistics.
The law in the Netherlands and Denmark applies a ‘strict liability’ principle which protects vulnerable road users from other more powerful road users. Following a road collision, this principle automatically places liability on the more powerful road user unless it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the vulnerable road user was at fault. This is one of the methods used to ensure cyclist’s safety in the Country. This is because as a vehicle would be held at fault for causing a collision with a cyclist and a cyclist would be held at fault for causing an accident with a pedestrian.
This law of default liability may be the reason that in some parts of Holland, 50% of all journeys are made by bike as Dutch drivers take greater caution around cyclists and pedestrians. This is compared to only 24% of all rush hour commutes taken by bike in the UK and drivers rarely being convicted for road accidents involving cyclists. Astonishingly, in 2013 six cyclists were killed on the roads in London within a two week period.
These statistics would suggest that a mutual respect has been developed between all road users which helps to establish the idea that the town, city or even country is a cycle-friendly place.
The existing model applied of strict liability is widely supported by the Safer Streets Coalition, CTC and Roadpeace, however there are misconceptions as to what strict liability actually is and how this would apply under UK legislation.
Firstly, it should be remembered that this principle only applies to civil liability and does not extend to criminal liability.
Secondly, there are currently only four western European countries, namely the UK, Cyprus, Malta and Ireland, that do not apply the strict liability principles, and so although the figures above show a safer cycling environment in Holland, these figures are not representative of the whole of Europe. This would suggest that the significant cycling infrastructure that is in place across the Netherlands and Denmark plays a large part in maintaining the safe cycling environment.
So, is the UK out of step with the rest of Western Europe? Should the civil laws be updated to reflect Lord Denning’s poignant speech in 1982? His speech stated that:
“in the present state of motor traffic, I am persuaded that any civilised system of law should require, as a matter of principles, that the person who uses this dangerous instrument on the roads – dealing death and destruction all round – should be liable to make compensation to anyone who is killed or injured in consequence of the use of it. There should be liability without proof of fault. To require an injured person to prove fault results in the gravest injustice to many innocent persons who have not he wherewithal to prove it.”