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City Bike Hire Schemes: Your Safety Guide

By Principal Lawyer, Personal Injury - Serious Injuries

City bike hire schemes have made it easier for anyone to grab a bike and be on their way.

cycling lawyer

But while the booming popularity of initiatives such as London’s Santander ‘Boris’ cycles and Manchester’s Mobikes has resulted in a surge in the number of people ditching their cars in favour of a healthier and greener two-wheeled commute, some have questioned if safety is being sacrificed.

 

If you’re injured riding a cycle hire scheme bike, who is responsible?

It will depend entirely on the circumstances, just as it would if a cyclist were riding a bike they owned, i.e. one would have to assess who or what was the cause of the accident.

If you are injured as a result of a defective hire bike it would depend on whether this was a failure on the part of the cycle hire company. For example, did the fault arise out of a significant failure by the cycle hire company to maintain the bicycle or repair an obvious defect?

If, on the other hand, the defect was such that it would have been very difficult or almost impossible to have been detected/ foreseen prior to the accident then there may be no case to answer. The introduction of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 has made it even more difficult to succeed in such “latent defect” cases.

 

Cycling in The City: Where’s The Risk?

When out for a spin in the city there are more risks for cyclists than many might realise.

First of all, in a congested rush hour stream of heavy traffic, cyclists ought to be aware of the limited room for manoeuvring. Cycle superhighways and cycling lanes are not always available and while motorists ought to leave an appropriate amount of space when overtaking, this is unfortunately not always the case. 

Car-Dooring

‘Car-dooring’, the literal title given to someone opening a car door and hitting an unsuspecting passer-by is more commonplace than you may realise. As cycling injury lawyers we have seen countless examples of people hurt due to a passenger’s lack of awareness. Though a cyclist may be fully aware of their surroundings, a sudden unavoidable obstacle would mean they are unable to stop in time, potentially forcing them into the flow of traffic.

I have successfully pursued many ‘dooring’ personal injury claims for cyclists. Generally, vehicle insurers admit liability if it can be proved that the cyclist had little or no time to react to the hazard. A driver has the responsibility to ensure that it is safe for passengers to exit a vehicle and should give instructions when it is safe to do so.

In the UK, prosecutions against drivers are brought under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. Section 239 of the Highway Code states: "You must ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door – check for cyclists or other traffic."

 

Tram Lines

While there are more obvious risks to riding on a track shared by trams, tram lines, like drain covers, may trap cycle wheels particularly if they are parallel or at an oblique angle to the direction of travel. Cyclists need to exercise extreme caution when crossing tram lines. For when they are unavoidable, bear these three easy steps in mind when approaching:

  1. It is advisable to cross tramlines at a 90-degree angle as, at an acute angle, the bike wheel can drop into the groove causing a spill.
  2. Take the primary riding position to deter motorists overtaking so that the tracks can be crossed safely.
  3. If the tracks are oblique to the direction of travel then move further out to enable them to be crossed a 90 degree angle.

 

Left-Turning Lorries

City centres often mean narrower roads and a bottleneck effect of traffic. While the utmost awareness of your surroundings is essential on any road, in any traffic, but when approaching a junction alongside a heavy goods vehicle, a cyclist must make sure that they are visible to the driver – especially when they are turning left.

 

Cycling Drunk

Cycling under the influence of drink or drugs should be avoided at all costs, if not just the cost of the £1,000 fine. Dangerous cycling is penalised with a £2,500 fine.

Perhaps it doesn’t take much to imagine a scenario: with a city cycle scheme’s dock within distance of a pub, a bike ride home instead of a taxi fare may seem harmless but it is indeed illegal. You would be committing an offence whether you were on a footpath or on the road. You can read more on this subject in our previous blog.

 

Is city cycling safe?

Chris Boardman, the former world champion cyclist who won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and several stages of the Tour de France, told the Guardian: “The roads are statistically safe, but it doesn’t look it and it doesn’t feel it. Now I try to do more of my riding off-road, which is sad.”

We’ve previously raised the question of why more Britons don’t cycle. Many believe that the considerable health and economic rewards of cycling don’t outweigh the risks, with a government report suggesting around 70 per cent of non-cyclists in Britain feeling it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads. Over half (51 per cent) of those who do cycle also share this view.

So what are some of the health and economic benefits of cycling? To name but a few, you might consider:

  • if a cyclist rides for 30 minutes at 12mph they will burn 300 calories;
  • according to the Office for National Statistics, the average weekly household expenditure on cycling is a whopping 50p compared to an average of £54.90 for cars and vans;
  • looking at the bigger picture of cycling and the economy, the Cycle to Work Scheme generates more than £72million in economic benefits for the UK economy in terms of health a year.

 

Preparing For Risk

I would always advise that cyclists wear as much protective clothing as they can before setting out on a journey. This means wearing a helmet, ensuring that you have a working bell and using front and rear lights as well as a red rear reflector at night.

While bicycle helmets are not required to be worn by law in the United Kingdom, the British Medical Association advocates the compulsory use of helmets. Mobike suggests that riders bring a helmet with them, but do not enforce this as terms of use. This means that if there’s a chance you’ll be picking up hire bike at some point throughout the day you should leave home in the morning with your helmet in anticipation.

Unfortunately, accidents do happen and cyclists are vulnerable road users compared to those in other vehicles. Because of this, cyclists have a responsibility to be extra vigilant, to have the utmost control over their bicycle and to know the rules of the road: The Highway Code.

It is essential that all road users – including cyclists - have a good knowledge of the Highway Code so that they may be vigilant in identifying risks and ensuring they are road-ready.

There is no separate handbook for cyclists, per se; guidance for cyclists can be found in sections 59 to 82 of the Highway Code and a useful annex provides information and rules about you and your bicycle

 

 

What if the worst should happen?

In the event of a road traffic collision, if a cyclist is injured they will need to prove the other party’s negligence caused their injuries. This is not an easy feat in the absence of witnesses and CCTV evidence. For this reason it is a good idea for cyclists to wear helmet cameras, which could alleviate any doubt as to how the events took place.

 

Slater and Gordon Lawyers can provide you with free legal advice on cycling accident claims in an online guide that you can download and print.

Call us for a free consultation on 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

Richard Gaffney is Slater and Gordon’s principal lawyer for Cycling UK (previously CTC), the national cycling charity.

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