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That prosecutors had to rely on such an outdated legal provision shows that the law is in need of modernisation, so the UK government is right to update it.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.

 
 
 
 

Smart cities need to be more human, so we’re creating Sims-style virtual worlds

The Sims 2 on show in 2005. Image: Getty.

Huge quantities of networked sensors have appeared in cities across the world in recent years. These include cameras and sensors that count the number of passers by, devices to sense air quality, traffic flow detectors, and even bee hive monitors. There are also large amounts of information about how people use cities on social media services such as Twitter and foursquare.

Citizens are even making their own sensors – often using smart phones – to monitor their environment and share the information with others; for example, crowd-sourced noise pollution maps are becoming popular. All this information can be used by city leaders to create policies, with the aim of making cities “smarter” and more sustainable.

But these data only tell half the story. While sensors can provide a rich picture of the physical city, they don’t tell us much about the social city: how people move around and use the spaces, what they think about their cities, why they prefer some areas over others, and so on. For instance, while sensors can collect data from travel cards to measure how many people travel into a city every day, they cannot reveal the purpose of their trip, or their experience of the city.

With a better understanding of both social and physical data, researchers could begin to answer tough questions about why some communities end up segregated, how areas become deprived, and where traffic congestion is likely to occur.

Difficult questions

Determining how and why such patterns will emerge is extremely difficult. Traffic congestion happens as a result of personal decisions about how to get from A to B, based on factors such as your stage of life, your distance from the workplace, school or shops, your level of income, your knowledge of the roads and so on.

Congestion can build locally at pinch points, placing certain sections of the city’s transport networks under severe strain. This can lead to high levels of air pollution, which in turn has a severe impact on the health of the population. For city leaders, the big question is, which actions – imposing congestion charges, pedestrianising areas or improving local infrastructure – would lead to the biggest improvements in both congestion, and public health.

We know where – but why? Image: Worldoflard/Flickr/creative commons.

The irony is, although modern technology has the power to collect vast amounts of data, it doesn’t always provide the means to analyse it. This means that scientists don’t have the tools they need to understand how different factors influence the way cities function and grow. Here, the technique of agent-based modelling could come to the rescue.

The simulated city

Agent-based modelling is a type of computer simulation, which models the behaviour of individual people as they move around and interact inside a virtual world. An agent-based model of a city could include virtual commuters, pedestrians, taxi drivers, shoppers and so on. Each of these individuals has their own characteristics and “rules”, programmed by researchers, based on theories and data about how people behave.

After combining vast urban datasets with an agent-based model of people, scientists will have the capacity to tweak and re-run the model, until they detect the phenomena they’re wanting to study – whether it’s traffic jams or social segregation. When they eventually get the model right, they’ll be able to look back on the characteristics and rules of their virtual citizens, to better understand why some of these problems emerge, and hopefully begin to find ways to resolve them.

For example, scientists might use urban data in an agent-based model to better understand the characteristics of the people who contribute to traffic jams – where they have come from, why they are travelling, what other modes of transport they might be willing to take. From there, they might be able to identify some effective ways of encouraging people to take different routes or modes of transport.


Seeing the future

Also, if the model works well in the present time, then it might be able to produce short-term forecasts. This would allow scientists to develop ways of reacting to changes in cities, in real time. Using live urban data to simulate the city in real-time could help to inform the managers of key services during periods of major disruption, such as severe weather, infrastructure failure or evacuation.

Using real-time data adds another layer of complexity. But fortunately, other scientific disciplines have also been making advances in this area. Over decades, the field of meteorology has developed cutting-edge mathematical methods, which allow their weather and climate models to respond to new weather data, as they arise in real time.

The ConversationThere’s a lot more work to be done before these methods from meteorology can be adapted to work for agent-based models of cities. But if they’re successful, these advancements will allow scientists to build city simulations which are driven by people - and not just the data they produce.

Nick Malleson, Associate Professor of Geographical Information Systems, University of Leeds and Alison Heppenstall, Professor in Geocomputation, University of Leeds.

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