After Charlie Alliston, the UK needs to review its road safety legislation

A cyclist in west London. Image: Getty.

The UK is set to review the criminal laws and safety issues relating to cycling. This announcement, last September, came shortly after 20-year-old Londoner Charlie Alliston was found guilty on the little known charge of “wanton and furious driving”, having collided with 44-year-old pedestrian Amanda Briggs causing serious head injuries, which led to her death in 2016.

This was, for several reasons, an odd case. Historically, the offence was used to prosecute drivers of horse-drawn carriages. It stems from a Victorian act of parliament, which predates the invention of the penny farthing bicycle. Yet it does carry a sentence of up to two years in prison, and has been used in the modern era (notably in 2008 and 2009) to convict cyclists who have killed pedestrians as a result of riding on the pavement.

An odd case

If Alliston had been driving a motorised vehicle, he could have been charged for causing death by dangerous driving, which can attract a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. Although cyclists can face a charge of dangerous cycling under the Road Traffic Act 1986, this offence only carries a minimal sentence: a fine of up to £2,500.

Taking the view that these charges would be too lenient, prosecutors were left with few alternatives but to charge Alliston with manslaughter and the lesser charge of “wanton and furious driving”. Alliston was eventually acquitted of manslaughter, but found guilty on the lesser charge and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

That prosecutors had to rely on such an outdated legal provision shows that the law is in need of modernisation, so the UK government is right to update it. Yet, of the 400 or so pedestrians killed on Britain’s roads every year, only about two are the result of collisions with bicycles. So creating new crimes to punish cyclists may seem an odd place to start improving pedestrian safety.


Who’s liable?

In fact, there is a strong argument for a wider review, which overhauls the way that the law balances the rights of all road users. Research shows that UK law is out of step many other more cycle-friendly European nations. In the UK, only about 1 per cent of journeys are made by bicycle, in comparison with 27 per cent in The Netherlands, 19 per cent in Sweden 10 ten per cent in Germany.

This has been achieved through investment in cycle infrastructure, education and the provision of pro cycling road laws which has had the effect of normalising cycling as a mode of transport.

Under UK civil law, the burden of proof is on an injured cyclist to show that a defendant driver is liable for his or her injuries. While a similar principle is at work in Malta, Romania, Cyprus and Ireland, the majority of European jurisdictions have some version of a “presumed liability” principle.

This is where the driver of the more powerful vehicle is presumed to be at fault, unless they can prove otherwise. For example, Article 185 of the Dutch Wegenverkeerswet (Road Law), introduced in 1994, presumes the liability of a motorist in a collision with pedestrians or cyclists.

Campaign groups such as RoadShare argue that bringing UK civil law in line with most European jurisdictions would improve the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists. But this move has so far been resisted by successive UK governments. They have argued that the European model undermines an important legal principle in English law; that the defendant is presumed not to be at fault until proven otherwise – or innocent until proven guilty in a criminal context.

Yet concerns have been raised over whether UK law provides enough protection for cyclists who, along with motorcyclists, are the group most likely to be injured on the road. A Freedom of Information request by the BBC demonstrated that only around 40 per cent of car drivers who killed a cyclist received a prison sentence.

The evidence suggests that making roads safer for vulnerable users does come at a cost; the Dutch spend around £20 per head on cycle related projects per year, whereas the UK spends only £7 per head. But the health and economic benefits seem to justify this spending.

The ConversationSo, although a review of UK cycling law is a welcome opportunity to modernise the laws around cycling, it needs to do much more than create further criminal offences for cyclists.

Hugh McFaul is a lecturer in law at The Open University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a single national housing market – so we need multiple models of local regeneration, too

Rochdale. Image: Getty.

This week’s budget comes ten years after the 2007 financial crisis. The trigger for that crisis was a loss in confidence in mortgages for homes, with banks suddenly recognising the vulnerability of loans on their books.

In the last ten years, the UK’s cities and regions have followed very different paths. This week’s focus on housing affordability is welcome, but it will be a challenge for any chancellor in the coming decade to use national policy to help towns up and down the country. Local housing markets differ drastically. The new crop of city-region mayors are recognising this, as rents in parts of south Greater Manchester are on average double the rents in parts of the north of the city-region.

When it comes to buying a home, politicians are increasingly articulate about the consequences of inequity in our housing system. But we must recognise that, for 9m citizens who live in social rented homes, the prospects of improvements to properties, common areas and grounds are usually tied to wider projects to create new housing within existing estates – sometimes involving complete demolition and rebuilding.

While the Conservative governments of the 1980s shrank the scale of direct investment in building homes for social rent, the Labour governments from the late 1990s used a sustained period of growth in property prices to champion a new model: affordable housing was to be paid for by policies which required contributions to go to housing associations. Effectively, the funding for new affordable housing and refurbished social homes was part of the profit from market housing built next door, on the same turf; a large programme of government investment also brought millions of social rented homes up to a decent standard.

This cross-subsidy model was always flawed. Most fundamentally, it relies on rising property prices – which it is neither desirable nor realistic to expect. Building more social homes became dependent on ratcheting up prices and securing more private profit. In London, we are starting to see that model come apart at the seams.

The inevitable result has been that with long social housing waiting lists and rocketing market prices, new developments have too often ended up as segregated local communities, home to both the richest and the poorest. They may live side by side, but as the RSA concluded earlier this year, investment in the social infrastructure and community development to help neighbours integrate has too often been lacking. Several regeneration schemes that soldiered on through the downturn did so by building more private homes and fewer social rented homes than existed before, or by taking advantage of more generous legal definitions of what counts as ‘affordable housing’ – or both.

A rough guide to how house prices have changed since 2007: each hexagon is a constituency. You can explore the full version at ODI Leeds.

In most of England’s cities, the story does not appear to be heading for the dramatic crescendo high court showdowns that now haunt both developers and communities in the capital. In fact, for most social housing estates in most places outside London, national government should recognise that the whole story looks very different. As austerity measures have tightened budgets for providers of social housing, budgets to refurbish ageing homes are under pressure to do more with less. With an uncertain outlook for property prices, as well as ample brownfield and greenfield housing sites, estates in many northern towns are not a priority for private investors in property development.

In many towns and cities – across the North and the Midlands – the challenges of a poor quality built environment, a poor choice of homes in the local are, and entrenched deprivation remain serious. The recent reclassification of housing associations into the private sector doesn’t make investing in repairs and renewal more profitable. The bespoke ‘housing deals’ announced show that the government is willing to invest directly – but there is anxiety that devolution to combined authorities simply creates another organisation that needs to prioritise building new homes over the renewal of existing neighbourhoods.


In Rochdale, the RSA is working with local mutual housing society RBH to plan for physical, social and economic regeneration at the same time. Importantly, we are making the case – with input from the community of residents themselves – that significant investment in improving employment for residents might itself save the public purse enough money to pay for itself in the long-run.

Lots of services are already effective at helping people find work and start a job. But for those for whom job searching feels out of reach, we are learning from Rochdale Borough Council’s pioneering work that the journey to work can only come from trusting, personal relationships. We hear time and again about the demoralising effect of benefits sanctions and penalties. We are considering an alternative provision of welfare payments, as are other authorities in the UK. Importantly, residents are identifying clearly the particular new challenges created by new forms of modern employment and the type of work available locally: this is a town where JD Sports is hiring 1000 additional workers to fulfil Black Friday orders at its warehouse.

In neighbourhoods like Rochdale’s town centre, both national government and the new devolved city-region administration are considering an approach to neighbourhood change that works for both people and place together. Redevelopment of the built environment is recognised as just one aspect of improving people’s quality of life. Residents themselves will tell you quality jobs and community facilities are their priority. But without a wider range of housing choices and neighbourhood investment locally, success in supporting residents to achieve rising incomes will mean many residents are likely to leave places like Rochdale town centre altogether.

Meaningful change happen won’t happen without patience and trust: between agencies in the public sector, between tenants and landlords, and between citizens and the leaders of cities. This applies as much to our planning system as it does to our complex skills and employment system.

Trust builds slowly and erodes quickly. As with our other projects at the RSA, we are convinced that listening and engaging citizens will improve policy-making. Most of those involved in regeneration know this better than anyone. But at the national level we need to recognise that, just as the labour market and the housing market vary dramatically from place to place, there isn’t a single national story which represents how communities feel about local regeneration.

Jonathan Schifferes is interim Director, Public Services and Communities, at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).