Pedal power gets a boost

PEDAL power has seemingly turned to political power this week, with European law potentially set to make motorists responsible for any accident involving cyclists.

By Debbie Watson

PEDAL power has seemingly turned to political power this week, with European law potentially set to make motorists responsible for any accident involving cyclists.

As a war of words breaks out between the two-wheelers and the four-wheelers, Debbie Watson reports on the controversial highways debate.

SO just who wields the power on Britain's road ways?

Is it A, the two-wheel push-bikes on which the environmentalists have been begging us to commute for years?

Or, B, the fuel-guzzling fume-spouting cars on which the vast majority of the population still resolutely rely?

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Well, given the latest stirrings from within the European Commission, its pedal power that could soon reign supreme.

According to early reports on a new legal proposal, it's highly likely that Britain's motorists will soon be made to carry the can for all accidents involving cyclists – even when the bike rider is in the wrong.

Innocent until proven guilty?

Not so, say the likes of motorist body, the RAC Foundation .

"This potential change is really worrying us, and we know it's going to come as a big cause of frustration to motorists," commented Foundation spokesman, Edmund King.

"What we're looking at is a fundamental change to a principle that's existed for a long time in British law.

"We've always understood that a person should be innocent until proven guilty, but this is effectively changing the judicial system."

The Foundation says the change could mean our insurance premiums increase by 10 per cent.

As yet, the law is still not set in concrete - the proposals are yet to be debated by the European Parliament.

"We're not clear how this is going to make any difference to safety," added Mr King.

"All we can see is that there's going to be a potential for unethical cyclists to make bogus claims against innocent motorists.

But some cyclists are just as baffled by the perceived advantages as the average motorist.

Judith Gunion has every reason to want safety and cycling provision improved – she's a daily user of the roads, is ever aware of the increase in traffic and she suffered numerous injuries in an accident two years ago.

"In all honesty, I'm not sure why we cyclists are meant to be seeing this as a reason to celebrate," she said.

"Is it going to make drivers more aware of us? – I don't think so.

"We are simply going to end up getting the blame for this financial increase. It's going to increase the bitterness that motorists have for cyclists and increase the potential for road rage against cyclists by drivers – and that's already bad enough."

Judith, 55, suffered a broken jaw, cracked cheek, severe cuts, and a break in her upper arm when she was struck by a lorry's trailer as she cycled through an Ipswich cycle lane.

She's not convinced that a higher insurance cost to that motorist would have prevented the accident in the first place.

"We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said. "It wouldn't have made any difference on that day.

"I can just see it making motorists more angry."

"My attitude is that there are good cyclists and bad cyclists, just as there are good and bad motorists.

In Ipswich, cycling has been encouraged as the better way to travel to and from work but travel by bike accounts for less than two per cent of all journeys undertaken in Suffolk each year.

Suffolk's local authorities have committed a great deal of time toward making roads safer and more accommodating and introduced services like Buscycle.

And yet, despite these best intentions, the authorities are obviously well aware

of the implications of a new 'guilty motorist' law.

"We support all safety conscious cyclists and other road users and are working hard to give people in Ipswich real and safe transport choices," commented an Ipswich Borough Council spokesman.

"However, while we welcome measures to make cycling more

attractive we could never support irresponsible cyclists who flout the law

and endanger pedestrians and others."

Clearly it's one of the most controversial suggested changes to hit the legal agenda in recent times.

And, without doubt, it won't be resolved without a substantial war of words.



-What the European Commission report says: "Motor vehicles cause most accidents. Whoever is responsible, pedestrians and cyclists usually suffer more.

"In some member states the cyclist is covered by the insurance of the vehicle involved in the accident irrespective of whether the driver is at fault."

- The proposed law is understood to be aimed at harmonising car insurance terms across Europe.

- It is believed that the British Government will now fight for its right to opt out of the legislation – but European officials are adamant that the law should be imposed Europe-wide.

- The proposals have been drawn up by from the Internal Market Directorate of the European Commission and will be debated by the European Parliament in the autumn.

- The RAC Foundation claimed insurance premiums could jump by 10 per cent, adding about £50 to the price of the average comprehensive motor policy.

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