Cyclists should be “presumed” innocent in any road accident to help encourage more people to ride to work after lockdown, says former Olympic champion and cycling tsar Chris Boardman.
Mr Boardman, a former world record holder and now Manchester’s first cycling commissioner, said Britain was one of only five countries in Europe that still placed the burden on a cyclist to prove a driver was at fault if they sought to sue.
He urged the Government to change law to introduce “presumed liability” under which any road accident would be presumed to be the fault of the car, bus or lorry driver unless they could prove otherwise.
He said this would give more reassurance to cyclists, many of whom might be novices to the roads or simply nervous about riding in urban traffic, as well as helping to meet the Government’s “instruction” that people should avoid using public transport.
“We need legislation that properly values people travelling actively,” said Mr Boardman in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. “Nearly all other countries have done this, to put a duty of care in their legislation for everyone on the roads to look after a more vulnerable road user.”
He said the UK, Malta, Cyprus, Romania and Ireland were almost the only countries in the world which did not have presumed liability - all of which had among the highest death and injury rates for cyclists. Last year 19,000 cyclists were injured or killed on UK roads.
“Using a car is the best way to commit a crime because the penalties are so light relative to the damage caused,” said Mr Boardman.
He said the legal change was needed to help persuade more people to take up cycling as a quarter of households nationally and a third in Manchester relied on public transport to get to work because they did not have a car.
The average commute was three miles “too far to walk but an easy 20 minute trundle on a bike.” He added: “If I don’t create an option other than public transport to get to work, is the Government saying that you can’t have access to work because you haven’t got a car?
“If you don’t create an option, you are penalising the poorest third of households.”
Car usage has fallen by 60 per cent, while cycle trips had risen by 42 per cent. With fewer cars and a renewed appetite for cycling, Mr Boardman said it was an ideal chance to experiment by redesigning roads to give cyclists more space.
“You can do that immediately with planters, paint and cones. You can put them in as an emergency measure and if they are wrong, then you can take them away and do something different. It is the most effective form of consultation: people can try before they buy,” he said.
He also called for a rethink in the way new road schemes were decided so that it was less based on reduced car journey times and more geared towards the environmental, health and wellbeing benefits of cycling and walking.
He said it would be “negligent” of the Government not to take advantage of the social changes flowing from the pandemic to create a sea change in Britain’s approach to cycling and walking.