Nobody’s fault but mine…

I’ve been asked – by just one constituent to date – to sign this Early Day Motion calling for stricter liability laws so that drivers of vehicles that hit cyclists or pedestrians are assumed liable unless they can prove their innocence.

I’m not sure… I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that someone has to prove their innocence, rather than being presumed innocent until found guilty. These could be offences carrying significant penalties, e.g. causing death by dangerous driving, and if there are no witnesses it could be very difficult for an accused driver to prove that the cyclist/ pedestrian was at fault. Which they sometimes may be….

 Here’s the text of the EDM and signatories to date…. What do people think? Is there a good reason for overriding the presumption of innocence in cases involving cars and bikes or people, rather than any other categories of offence?

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  • Don MacKeen  On June 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Yes – they do it this way in the Netherlands. People in cars drive ridiculously in the UK.

  • kerrymccarthy  On June 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    The four people who have responded on twitter to the auto-tweet all think it’s a bad idea…

  • Brian D. Elsey  On June 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    I share your unease at the abolition of the presumption of innocence.

    If liabilty isn’t admitted by one party or the other in these situations, surely it’s up to a court to examine evidence presented openly, dispassionately, and without prejudice to either side?

  • Jonneh  On June 2, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Nah, this simply cannot be allowed to happen. I mean, don’t we have enough of a lawsuit driven world already?

    Can you not imagine desperate or foolishly greedy individuals who will try to capitalise on any such law by throwing themselves in front of vehicles to claim instant-win compensation?

    Never mind the obvious undemocratic “prove to us you are innocent” angle. Will all cars need to be fitted with cameras? One on every street? You can never take a drive alone? How the hell would any judge be able to sort out that kind of a mess?

    All that will happen is insurance prices will soar, and people will be afraid to drive anywhere without a set of witnesses and full camera crew.

    What is the point of this law anyway? I mean, the current road traffic laws say you must have unlimited 3rd party coverage to drive a vehicle.

    If you ask me, there is quite the case for the opposite to apply here. I can’t go anywhere in Bristol without seeing a cyclist who ignores traffic lights, or who isn’t wearing the proper protection and clothing. Young children are mentioned in the forward for this motion, but they are the worst culprits for taking dangerous risks on the roads.

    Only yesterday there was a group of kids who cycled through the trade center car park at Ashon, by the City ground. None of them had any protective clothing, and it was getting on for 7pm at night – soon to be dark. They cycled the wrong way around the one way system of the car park, though gaps in the parking spaces criss-crossing the various thoroughfares with little or no attention to safety.

    Adults are just as bad. Who can honestly say that most cyclists they see obey traffic lights? I must see several per week who simply ignore the red light and continue through because they think it is safe.

    Is it getting to the stage where there needs to be legislation that forces cyclists to obey traffic laws? Personally I think that would have a much larger impact on safety.

    I remember when I was learning to ride a bike my parents told me in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to cycle in the road until I had been taught how. My father took me out a few times, and he taught me where to stay on the road, what signals to make and what the dangers were.

    I have never been involved in a car accident, either as a cyclist or a driver.

    What we need is safer people, not more lawsuits.

  • Fabian Breckels  On June 2, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    DO NOT SIGN! We’ve all seen how some cyclists flout traffic lights. It would be much better to have a law forcing cyclists to have liability insurance. Add to that if we sacrifice the innocent until proven guilty principle then justice is gone.

  • matthewsdent  On June 2, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    I share your discomfort, but to a greater extent. Having studied the law of Evidence in England and Wales, it is absolutely fundamental that a person is innocent until proven guilty. This is the foundation stone of our justice system. As Viscount Sankey said (in Woolmington v DPP [1935]):

    ‘Throughout the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen, that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilt…’

    Whilst I sympathise with victims of road accidents, we cannot allow our justice system to be eroded away. To legislate a reverse burden of proof into offences which, as you say, are very serious would be a great mistake. I am strongly against this proposal, and urge you not to sign the EDM.

  • Mr Civil Libertarian  On June 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    What possible justification for this can there possibly be? Surely the only fair solution is for each incident between a cyclist and motorist to be viewed with some sense of objectivity, and blame placed accordingly without any sort of prejudice upon one party?

  • Dan Course  On June 2, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Innocent until proven guilty. There should be no exception.

  • Dan Course  On June 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Maybe the problem trying to be solved is more with evidence gathering and less with the end result.

  • JM  On June 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    As a pedestrian, and not a driver or cyclist, I feel threatened by the number of cyclists and car drivers who ignore basic rules of safe driving (e.g. when I am already half-way across the road – having checked to see that it’s safe – a car turns without signalling and expects me to dodge) and I feel that too many drivers consider they have some sort of “right” to drive. While I don’t wish to remove the presumption of innocence, too many drivers regularly ignore the needs of anyone else but themselves. Where possible I use crossings (although not every road has a crossing), but I have been nearly knocked over on several occasions while using crossings, because drivers have ignored them. I sometimes wonder whether I am invisible. I don’t feel that drivers are made aware of the need, not just to look out for other cars, but for people crossing the road. They also need to be aware that you don’t have to pass a test to be a pedestrian, and those who are crossing a road may be particularly vulnerable because of age or disability. Having been nearly knocked over on a zebra crossing by a driver who drove past me when I was having a seizure, and on another occasion by a driver who came round a corner and failed to see me although I was in the middle of the road, I would like to see the following:
    compulsory sight-tests at regular intervals (as with insurance and valid licence, proof of sight test can be submitted yearly when road tax is renewed;
    loss of licence if a driver is found to be driving without spectacles etc of the correct prescription;
    if someone’s livelihood depends on their having a clean licence, that should never be used as an argument to avoid loss of licence;
    police should be more proactive in stopping and warning drivers who commit even minor breaches of the law – bad habits, if unchecked, can kill others;
    everyone should have to retake some form of driving-test every five years – this doesn’t have to be a full test, but any aspect of driving should be deemed to be up for testing, and a higher standard of driving than that of a learner should be expected. If someone doesn’t pass, then they should lose their full licence and be issued with a provisional one until they pass a full test.
    Far too many drivers forget the little details they had to learn to pass their test. An emphasis on ensuring driving skills are maintained rather than neglected would make everyone safer.
    Special squads to catch and fine cyclists in breach of the law would also be a good idea. I’m fed up with having to dodge pavement cyclists or those who break the law.

  • Jamie  On June 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I’m a sensible, law abiding cyclist that has been hit twice by drivers in the last 6 months, not seriously thankfully. Nevertheless, I think this motion is a bad idea. Unfortunately, the majority of my fellow cyclists are careless and dangerous. Laws like this would give people like this a free pass to behave even more obnoxiously.

  • Rida  On June 2, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    I don’t think this will work. Firstly it’s a fundamental principle of law that the person is innocent until proven guilty, and I don’t think that should be reversed for any crime. I sympathise with victims and their families but if concede for one crime, where will we stop? Surely someone will start arguing that we should apply guilty until proven innocent to another crime, and then gradually our justice system will be eroded.

    Secondly it would be incredibly difficult for the driver to prove he/she wasn’t at fault, especially on roads without witnesses. This tilts the justice system against the driver, and justice is supposed to be impartial. Also it would traumatizing for the family to have to hear in court about why the cyclist or pedestrian was at fault, particularly in cases which resulted in death.

    A far better approach would be to ensure cyclists and pedestrians are informed of road safety.

  • kerrymccarthy  On June 3, 2011 at 12:16 am

    To be honest, I almost signed the EDM without thinking too much about the issue – I’m glad I paused for thought. On the surface it’s inoffensive – who could be against encouraging drivers to be more aware of cyclists/ pedestrians, or cutting road deaths? I wonder how many of the MPs who have signed the EDM spent much time pondering the issues raised in these comments?

  • Ben  On June 3, 2011 at 1:15 am

    The EDM seems a little confused. The reference to personal injury and the comparison with health and safety suggests it is talking about civil liability. The word ‘innocent’ obviously suggests criminal liability.

    I am in absolute agreement with the others in this thread: there can be no suggestion of a driver having to prove his innocence of a road traffic offence.

    However, the burden of proof could be changed in civil cases. A rebuttable presumption that the driver is liable might be reasonable given that all drivers are required by statute to be insured.

    The law has already shown a willingness to be quite harsh when it comes to the liability of drivers (no allowance is made for the driver’s inexperience, for example – a learner driver has the same duty of care as anyone else) precisely because the driver must be insured.

    The comparison with health and safety legislation is arguably sound – there are situations in which the burden of proof is placed on the employer for policy reasons.

  • Ben  On June 3, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I realise I didn’t express an opinion as to whether you should have signed it. I think that as it is drafted (referring to innocence) you were right to hesitate. But I think that idea is one that is worthy of further consideration.

  • Don MacKeen  On June 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Ah well, the UK’s car culture seems to be winning out here. Onwards, towards the American way! (once the new Labour/Tory tendency destroy the NHS, you won’t be able to tell the difference)…

    • Mr Civil Libertarian  On June 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      Because, once you accept silly notions like placing blame on an incident on the person who caused it, rather than according to some legal fiat, you soon find yourself drinking a 7/11 supersize Mountain Dew while driving your Hummer on the way to see the Yankees play.

      Right, sure, whatever.

    • Jonneh  On June 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      Or the UK Justice Culture.

      “Innocent until proven guilty” is a fundamental human right.

      “Innocent when you ride a bike” is ridiculous. *People* mis-use the roads. Not drivers or cyclists exclusively. All *people* should be held to account equally. Most of the above comments simply point out that cyclists and even pedestrians are guilty of taking stupid risks and breaking the laws of the road, as well as showing no common sense.

      • matthewsdent  On June 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm

        Agreed. This is a fundamental issue of the justice system. I can’t understand why this can even be up for discussion, to be honest.

  • Fergal MacErlean  On June 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    The proposed EDM is purely to reverse the current situation where pedestrians and cyclists involved in an accident with a vehicle must prove their innocence. The EDM is to make drivers strictly liable not the non-drivers as is currently the case.
    The UK is one of only a few European countries where this topsy-turvy situation exists.

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