03 January 2018
Dangerous Cycling: What is The Current Law?
The recent case of Charlie Alliston has sparked a debate over cycling laws in the UK, bringing to light so-called “gaps” in legislation. But what are the current laws, which were highlighted in Mr Alliston’s case?
In September 2017 the 20-year-old was sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders’ institute for causing bodily harm by “wanton and furious driving” when he knocked down pedestrian Kim Briggs on his bicycle as she crossed the road in east London. Mrs Briggs, 44, suffered severe injuries and died in hospital a week later.
Mr Alliston, a former bike courier, was riding a ‘Fixie bike’, which had no front brake. He claimed that he was unaware of the law that states these Olympic-style bikes are not legal to use on UK roads unless they have been modified with brakes.
The case has since spawned a polarising debate over what Mr Biggs called “a gap in the law when it comes to dealing with death or serious injury caused by dangerous cycling.”
What is the law on dangerous cycling?
Cyclists found guilty of causing harm to others can be charged with careless or dangerous cycling, which carry maximum fines of £1,000 and £2,500 respectively.
As for cases involving cyclists who cause fatal injury there is no criminal offence per se. The offence which Mr Alliston was charged actually dates back to Victorian times. Cyclists that injure others can still be convicted under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. This piece of legislation initially applied to horse-drawn carriages but was translated to mechanically-propelled vehicles. Cyclists found guilty of this offence, of which there have been three, including Mr Alliston, can be sentenced to a maximum prison sentence of two years and an unlimited fine.
In the tragic event of a fatal accident involving a cyclist, the accused may be charged with manslaughter, which can result in life imprisonment. Mr Alliston was cleared of manslaughter.
Debate Over Changes to Dangerous Cycling Laws
In 2016 dangerous cycling convictions increased from 23 to 26, according to new figures from the Ministry of Justice. There were also 63 convictions for careless or inconsiderate cycling, compared with 85 in 2015 and 96 in 2014.
Mrs Briggs’ husband has now called for a change to the “hopelessly out of date” UK cycling law. As a result, the Government has said it will carry out an urgent review into whether serious injuries and fatalities caused by cyclists should be considered under similar laws to those of dangerous drivers.
On the other side of the debate, the cycling community argues that while any vehicle, motorised or otherwise, in the control of a reckless operator is hazardous, using the case of Mr Alliston as a platform to tar all cyclists with the same brush is unhelpful. The number of serious and fatal incidents involving cyclists or pedestrians are a tiny fraction of similar incidents caused by careless drivers wherein the (usually) high speeds and greater mass involved tend to cause far more severe injuries.
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.