Comment: Driver liability would protect cyclists

Picture: Ian Rutherford
Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Are we all completely comfortable with the sentencing of Gary McCourt? Having been found guilty of causing the death of a cyclist, McCourt was given 300 hours of community service.

It was the second cyclist killed by McCourt’s careless driving, but in his summing up the judge cited a “momentary” lapse in concentration.

He even suggested that the cyclist (an experienced bike rider) should have taken greater personal responsibility by wearing a helmet.

While a civil lawyer, not a criminal one, I am very uneasy about this and the messages it sends out to road users.

One of the big hurdles we have in making cycling safer in Scotland is overcoming the attitude of drivers and this case makes excuses for bad driving.

It is a fact that when a bike is hit by a car, the cyclist can suffer serious injury, even death, while the motorist remains shielded by their metal shell. We all share the road and motorists have to be aware of the more vulnerable road user, as the impact of any collision will invariably be worse for the cyclist.

Here a lack of attention, which led to a person’s death, has been given as a mitigating factor.

We hear so much about road cyclists jumping lights – being “law-breakers” – but bad driving goes unnoticed all the time and this is a consequence of that.

Criminal law is not providing the deterrent or the sanctions to curb bad driving habits. In this case, the driver was found guilty of causing a cyclist’s death, but can 300 hours of community service really act as the kind of punishment to make others think twice about their own responsibility?

We need a different approach. By introducing strict liability in civil law, alongside a range of cycle safety measures, I believe we can begin to bring about behavioural change on our roads.

On the Continent, strict liability has been shown to promote a culture of cycling, which brings with it a healthier nation.

Most importantly, however, cyclists are the vulnerable road users and we should remember that.

• Brenda Mitchell is a personal injury lawyer with Cycle Law Scotland and a campaigner for strict liability.