Strict liability: why it’s a life-saver

Tufty Club book cover (RoSPA)

Whenever ‘strict liability’ is mooted, UK motorists react with horror. Yet it’s normal in the Netherlands for cyclists (and pedestrians) to be given this sliver of protection.

Who is at fault in bike v car smashes? In the Netherlands, it’s always the motorist at fault.

In this very short video, Hans Voerknecht, International coordinator, Fiets Beraad (‘Bicycle Council’), explains how this works in practice.

‘Strict liability’ doesn’t mean ‘terrorist cyclists’ smashing into static cars for compensation payments: motorists are not liable in these cases. But, when moving, motorists have a duty of care not to hit vulnerable road users.

The UK is only one of four Western European countries that doesn’t have ‘strict liability’ to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

Strict liability entitles a crash victim to compensation unless the driver can prove the cyclist or pedestrian was at fault. In the case of children and the elderly, or those with physical or mental impairments, motorists would be liable irrespective of the victim’s actions.

Strict liability encourages more careful driving (and cycling, because a cyclist would be deemed to be at fault for crashing into a pedestrian). Strict liability would be a matter of civil rather than criminal law so would not affect criminal prosecutions.

Strict liability is supported by: The Environmental Law Foundation; Safer Streets Coalition; Play England; Roadpeace and CTC.

For more on strict liability, read what Roadpeace and CTC have to say. There’s also an excellent 2007 article in New Statesmen by Mark Lynas. The comments section after the article contains poignant contributions from the families of some road smash victims.

Sadly, the comments were later added to by some incredibly unfeeling motorists. And, of course, as is almost always the case, there was a ‘get orrrrffffff my road, I pay for it’ comment:

“Motorists pay for the roads so if you don’t drive then don’t complain about the cost (we pay more than the government spends on roads so we subsidise public transport).” ‘Rixington’.

‘Road tax’ mentioned in parliament by org that ought to know better

Taxes and charges on road users

On this day last year, Peter Roberts, Director of Drivers’ Alliance Ltd, a membership organisation opposed to road pricing and pretty much anything that slows down motorists (including traffic lights and speed cameras), said there was such a thing as ‘road tax’ while giving his point of view in a Transport Committee meeting.

On 17th December 2008, Graham Stringer MP (Labour, Manchester Blackley) said: “We have talked a lot about the magnitude of the tax-take from motorists. What is a fair method of taxing?

Part of Peter Roberts’ reply was: “I think there is an argument to remove VED, take away the road tax, if you like, and place that on to fuel.”

He knew what VED is, but couldn’t resist sub-titling it as ‘road tax’.

The slip-up can be found in the House of Commons Transport Committee’s ‘Taxes and charges on road users’ report, published in July.

The Drivers’ Alliance as you’d pretty much expect isn’t terribly pro-cycling

One of its bloggers calls cyclists “lycra uniformed eco-fascists.” Bizarrely, this blogger then goes on to say such cyclists “cause the bulk of potential danger on our urban roads, civilian pleasure cyclists are hardly ever a problem.”

Civilian? Is this a war?

If so, Peter Roberts is the one of the generals and Jeremy Clarkson is Chief of Staff.

Roberts doesn’t like the idea of the EU Fifth Motoring Directive, the rule – common throughout much of the EU – that says an HGV has to be operated to be mindful of cars (and other, smaller road users); a car must be operated to be mindful of cyclists and pedestrians; and bicycles must be operated to be mindful of pedestrians.

In the event of a collision between an HGV and a car, the HGV driver would have to prove he wasn’t at fault. Ditto for motorists who prang cyclists and cyclists who prang pedestrians: the strong must always bend to the weak.

Roberts is having none of this:

“Just how will this insane idea help cyclists improve their road skills when they are effectively immune to traffic laws and will always get compensation in the event of an accident whilst the car driver is left to pick up the costs and repair the damage to his/her car?

How many ‘accidents’ will there be whilst a stationary car is at the traffic lights and a cyclist ‘collides’ with it damaging the car whilst the ‘victim’ on the bike claims thousands in compensation for their ‘injuries’?

Nice.

PS
The links to Driversalliance.org.uk require registration.

To Buff or not to Buff, that is the question

Bloody cyclists. Don't pay road tax blah de blah



test

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Classic ‘get out of my way, pay road tax’ letter

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C Baxter from Cambridge has a bee in his bonnet. In fact, he nearly had a bike on his bonnet, but was “too polite” to go the whole hog. In a letter to the Cambridge News, published on Wednesday, he complains of a cyclist who swore and shouted at him but then – with no hint of mea culpa – gives away why the cyclist might have been angered in the first place.

The letter is an absolute classic of its type. It bears dissection, paragraph by paragraph.

One Friday morning I was travelling by car into Cambridge and at the sharp bend at Newnham I overtook a cyclist. I looked in my mirror and saw him pointing his finger to his forehead and shouting to me.

Mr Baxter (for convenience, let’s assume C Baxter is a man) is hung by his own noose. At a sharp bend he overtakes a cyclist. Why not wait until after the bend? It appears Mr Baxter cut in front of the cyclist, a fact not lost on the cyclist who uses the ‘are you crazy?’ hand signal to point out to Mr Baxter there was little need to pass at the point he did.

I drove slowly and opened my passenger’s window and told him he should use the cycle lane.

Mr Baxter, upon seeing the time-honoured hand-signal doesn’t drive on, impassively. He slows down, waits for the cyclist to pull up to his left side, winds down his passenger window and then lectures the cyclist on getting off the road and on to a cyclepath.

He said it was up to him to choose the road instead of the bicycle lane.

Never a truer word spoken. Cyclists have to keep this right because cyclepaths don’t go everywhere (roads tend to) and because not every cyclepath is safe and usable. Many are afterthoughts, even in Cambridge. Many are strewn with broken glass, even in Cambridge.

He then started swearing and shouting at me and I told him I was going to report him to the police but he wanted to use the road while the cycle lane was empty, does not pay any road tax, is not insured and misbehaved like a complete lunatic.

No need for shouting or swearing but, if a driver cuts you up, slows down to remonstrate with you and then tells you this stretch of tarmac is apartheid-style off-limits to bikes, you might be a bit miffed, too. Mr Baxter then ups the ante, saying he’s going to report the cyclist to the police. What, for cussing or not using an “empty” cycle lane? Then comes the throwaway road tax gibe, followed by a no insurance statement without any evidence whatsoever. Cyclist could have been a CTC or British Cycling member, thence covered by third-party insurance.

He then drove in front of my car and started braking, about four times, while he still swore and shouted at me.

Mr Baxter had slowed down to confront this cyclist and is now wondering why the aggrieved cyclist is taking direct, non-violent action.

I could have easily knocked him over but I was too polite to do so.

This sounds like Mr Baxter thought about bumping into the cyclist but wasn’t prevented from doing so by fear of prosecution for dangerous driving or causing death or disfigurement to the soft and squishy human ahead of him, but because Mr Baxter minds his Ps and Qs.

I travel daily into Cambridge and I have seen a lot of dangerous situations with bicycles. It is not only the young students but the over-40s think they own the road on a bike.

I wonder how many of the dangerous situations Mr Baxter has seen have been views in his mirror as he overtakes cyclists on sharp bends?

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Cyclists are hit with sticks when they should be fed with carrots

Driving while distracted with cellphone

There’s a strong economic argument for paying people to cycle (it happens in Denmark, for instance), and to raise fuel taxes to force motorists to drive less.

Cycling is healthy, green and low impact; driving leads to obesity, is carbon-wasteful and destroys roads.

‘Smart taxes’, first advocated by early 20th Century English economist Arthur Cecil Pigou, need to be levied to correct such imperfections. Activities that have high external costs to society – such as getting in a car for every short journey – need to be reined in by being made much more expensive.

Cycling, which has many benefits to society, needs to become much more financially attractive. The UK Government’s Cycle to Work salary sacrifice scheme is just the start. Let’s pay cyclists to cycle. Let’s put a monetary value on the concept of One Less Car.

Pie in the sky, of course, no Government – not even one with a commuter cyclist as Prime Minister – would ever dare risk the wrath of the motoring public. But without financial – and infrastructure – disincentives, motorists will continue to clog up the roads; kill fellow motorists, cyclists and pedestrians; and burn precious fossil fuels.

Petrol should be a lot more expensive than it is. Vehicle Excise Duty should be massively hiked. As it is now, it’s a blunt tax. It costs the same to tax a car that drives 150 miles a year as a car that drives 15,000 miles a year. VED is no disincentive to driving. [And, as the rest of this site was built to point out, VED is not a ‘road tax’, it doesn’t fill a ‘road fund’ to maintain or build roads].

And it shouldn’t be the motor industry propped up with ‘scrappage schemes’ it should be the bicycle industry.

All airy-fairy, lentil-loving ideas, of course. Daily Mail readers would have punched through their computer screens by now. Or wet themselves laughing.

But our finite globe can’t cope with more and more cars.

Higher ‘gas taxes’ might seem a radical concept but it’s relatively mainstream among economists, especially those who admire Arthur C. Pigou. Members of the so-called Pigou Club – including cross-party, big-hitter economists – advocate taxing “negative externalities” and subsidising “positive externalities.”

A good, recent example of a Pigovian tax was the new ‘green road tax’ system to be introduced in the Netherlands. It was later withdrawn following complaints from motorists (the Netherlands isn’t just a country of bicyclists, it has a severely congested road network). Motorists would have had to pay according to distance driven. The reasoning was that it’s only fair that heavy users of the road (in both senses of the word) pay more than those who often leave the car at home. Congestion and the environment were both taken into consideration in the putative scheme. Driving a 4×4 on a city road in rush hour would have attracted more of a charge than driving a 2CV out in the sticks. The system should have started in 2011 for freight transport and was to be expanded to include cars in 2012.

Drivers were to be charged an average 3 Euro cents per kilometere. The tax should have increased every year until 2018, when it would have cost an average 6.7 Euro cents per kilometere to drive in the Netherlands.

The Dutch Government argued its new tax would have benefitted 6 out of 10 drivers, with those driving the most and at peak hours bearing the greatest burden. But Dutch motorists talked down the plan and so will be faced with extra road congestion for all in the years ahead.

Pig off
Economics teacher/blogger and time trial cyclist Tejvan Pettinger, found via Rainmiles, is a proponent of a Pigovian subsidy for cyclists. On his blog, he writes:

“Cycling creates positive externalities (Benefits to the rest of society, not felt by the personal users). This means the social benefit of cycling is greater than the private benefit. If I cycle, other people benefit in the form of less congestion, less pollution, healthier society…

“Cars should pay road tax and petrol tax because they create negative externalities; the social cost is greater than the private cost. The tax system is a way of making motorists pay the true social cost.

“I would argue that lorries and heavy goods vehicles should pay extra taxes because they create the most negative externalities and the social cost is higher than driving.

“If cyclists were subsidised it would encourage more people to take up cycling to work. This would help city centre transport systems and quality of life.”

On a blog posting about iPayRoadTax.com, Pettinger said:

“Cyclists are often criticised for not paying ‘road tax’ and [iPayRoadTax] is a worthy campaign to raise awareness that we all effectively pay for the road and its maintenance. It helps to provide a defence against aggressive motorists who would like to see cyclists pushed off the road, because occasionally they have to slow down to overtake someone.”

He also quipped he’d like to see a jersey emblazoned with his economic manifesto: “Higher Pigovian taxes for motorists! Subsidies for cyclists! Let’s try and achieve a Pareto optimal outcome on our roads!”

Not all cyclists own cars

My other car is a bicycle

I’ve taken a bit of stick on a variety of cycling forums – including comments on stories on this site – for appearing to suggest that only those cyclists who also own cars (and hence pay Vehicle Excise Duty) are covered by the iPayRoadTax.com campaign. I apologise if this has been the impression given.

The site is not about taking sides or making sure only one sub-set of cyclists can assert their “rights” on the road. iPayRoadTax.com highlights that ‘road tax’ doesn’t exist; motorists do not pay into a ‘road fund’. As road tax doesn’t exist, those cyclists who do not pay VED are not disadvantaged by the iPayRoadTax.com concept.

iPayRoadTax.com is a useful, shorthand way of expressing a number of interlocking concepts, it’s not a campaign for “motoring cyclists”.