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Velo-City: Perth » Strict Liability Legislation – a step towards safer cycling?

Strict Liability Legislation – a step towards safer cycling?

Recently a road raging female cyclist was making headlines in Perth’s western suburbs for assaulting car drivers who she felt had threatened her safety. While not condoning her violent response, many cyclists were nodding their heads in understanding at her alleged cries of “that’s my life!” as she confronted her perceived attackers.
The value of a bicycle rider’s life doesn’t seem to count for much in our society, whether we are talking about a lycra clad roadie, an urban commuter or a child riding to school, and we see evidence of this anti-democratic attitude in the way many motorists behave when they have to share the road with people on bicycles, and also in the way the justice system deals with those who kill or maim cyclists.
The problem needs a multi-faceted approach, and some of the facets, such as normalising the practice of cycling; improving the skills and education of cyclists and drivers; improving the infrastructure; and so on, are dealt with in other parts of this book. On the legislative side, we could campaign for the introduction of Strict Liability rules.
Strict Liability is based on the principle that anyone who uses a vehicle that might become a dangerous object in a collision, should be liable to compensate for any injuries arising from the use of that vehicle on the road. This rule, which would only affect civil law cases, would make the most powerful vehicle in a collision liable, so cyclists would be liable to pay compensation if they hit a pedestrian.
At present, if a car hits either a bike or a pedestrian, the cyclist or pedestrian needs to make a case against the motorist to claim on the motorist’s insurance. If they choose to do this, and the insurance company contests it, then the injured party has to take the case to civil court for a decision.
Strict Liability rules already apply in many European countries, and in Canada where it is referred to as “reverse onus”.
Of course as soon as you mention “strict liability” in Australia, motorist lobby groups mistakenly claim the change means drivers would automatically be considered at fault or guilty. I have even been accused of wanting to throw away the rule of law and the presumption of innocence, simply by raising the possibility of strict liability.
The key point is that the strict liability rule is concerned with civil law. Drivers would not be criminalised by the introduction of strict liability, as it would only apply to insurance claims – in the same way that the “give way to the right” rule applies. However motorists would be encouraged to adopt a duty of care for others when driving near vulnerable road users in crowded city streets.
In criminal law, drivers in collisions would remain innocent until proven guilty.
From the glass half empty perspective, strict liability could eliminate some of the biases against the vulnerable and protect road crash victims who are often left with no resources to rebuild their bodies and lives after a crash.
From the glass half full perspective, a greater sense of duty of care towards other road users would help reduce the number of crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians and create a safer environment for everyone.

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