The time is right for Scotland to introduce presumed liability – Jodi Gordon

The law must be changed if we are to encourage safe active travel by bike, writes Jodi Gordon

Jodi Gordon, Cycle Law Scotland

In May, Grant Shapps, UK Transport Secretary, announced that active travel (cycling and walking) would be put at the heart of the transport infrastructure agenda – with a pledge of £2 billion for England to be spent on making roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Alongside infrastructure, there was mention of introducing “legal changes” to protect the most vulnerable. This is not a new conversation; cycling and walking groups have been lobbying for some time. The emphasis for change now is to look at a “green” recovery from Covid-19 and help ease pressure on public transport while social distancing measures are in place to protect public safety.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Transport is a devolved issue and Michael Matheson, Transport Secretary for Scotland, announced £10 million worth of funding for “a new infrastructure programme for pop-up walking and cycling routes or temporary improvements to existing routes”.

During this period of lockdown, there has been a considerable rise in people taking up cycling. For the most part, roads do not appear the same threat they were pre-23 March. With motor vehicle use significantly reduced, people seem to feel safer on their bicycles.

This change illustrates that plenty of people would be willing to use cycling as an alternative means of transport if they felt safe and secure once “normality” resumes. The benefits of cycling are extensive and well-documented; health, the environment and mental health to name just a few. The main benefit, post-Covid-19, is the ability to socially distance on a bicycle when directly compared to the use of public transport.

Cycle Law Scotland, through the Road Share campaign, introduced the call for Presumed Liability in Scotland back in 2013. Seven years on with over 11,000 signatures on its petition website, the Scottish Government has consistently failed to consider this change in law by following our European neighbours.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of presumed liability, the UK is one of only five European countries who don’t have it in some form. The others are Ireland, Malta, Romania and Cyprus. It is designed to protect the most vulnerable road users in Civil Law.

Currently in Scotland, following a road traffic collision, it is for the injured party to prove fault on the part of another. With presumed liability, the burden is shifted so the driver of the motorised vehicle – via their insurer – must prove the more vulnerable road user acted in such a way that they caused their own incident.

There is no country in the world with high levels of safe active travel that does not have some form of presumed liability. While infrastructure is key to making cyclists feel safer on the roads, it cannot be dealt with in isolation. There are many routes where segregated cycle lanes won’t be possible. For active travel to be at the heart of transport infrastructure, there needs to be a measured consideration of effective and respectful road share. That’s why, more than ever, it’s the time for presumed liability to be seriously considered and progressed by the Scottish Government.

On the whole, people are more vigilant when it comes to sharing the same space with others. If we can translate the concept of sharing space safely on our roads, attitudes towards cyclists will hopefully change for the better.

Jodi Gordon, Cycle Law Scotland