Support shifts gear on road liability law

Motorists and cyclists must have equality, says drivers' spokesman. Picture: Esme Allen
Motorists and cyclists must have equality, says drivers' spokesman. Picture: Esme Allen
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MOVES for a radical change in the law which would force motorists to prove their innocence when faced with accident compensation claims from cyclists or pedestrians is gaining political support.

Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone won cross-party backing for holding a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament tonight.

Labour MSPs are expected to support her motion in favour of a “stricter liability” rule to shift the burden of proof in civil cases from the cyclist or pedestrian to the motorist.

The move follows a series of road accidents in which cyclists have been killed.

Stricter liability would mean that instead of the cyclist or pedestrian having to prove the motorist was at fault, the onus would be the other way round.

Ms Johnstone said similar laws applied in most European countries, but so far the Scottish Government had not shown any interest in the idea.

She said: “The number of fatalities and injuries to pedestrians and cyclists on Scotland’s roads is unacceptably high. Adopting stricter liability for road traffic collisions would send out a very clear message regarding the importance of drivers looking out for cyclists and pedestrians.”

Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said she believed there was merit in the stricter liability proposal.

She said: “Edinburgh has a huge cycling community, and we want to see as many people as possible take to two wheels rather than four, both for their own health and the vitality of the city – but it has got to be safe to do so.

“There have been too many incidents recently where cyclists have been killed or injured because of other people’s bad driving and if you look at the sentences handed down it does not give much confidence that the justice system takes this type of incident seriously enough.”

Aileen Brown, whose mother Audrey Fyfe, 75, was killed while cycling in Portobello, said a move to stricter liability would change the way people think. Gary McCourt escaped with 300 hours’ community service and a five-year road ban after causing Mrs Fyfe’s death by careless driving.

Ms Brown said: “There will always be cases where the driver has grounds to challenge it, but this move would send out the correct message.”

A petition by Cycle Law Scotland calling for a move to stricter liability has secured more than 5000 signatures.

However, Neil Greig, head of policy in Scotland for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said stricter liability undermined the principle that everyone was innocent until proven guilty.

He said: “Our view is that fundamentally everyone is equal on the roads whereas this approach seems to suggest you are guilty when you’re potentially innocent.

“It’s also probably ahead of its time in Scotland. It works in Europe because they have separate facilities and well-designed roads where it’s clear pedestrians and cyclists have priority. We don’t have that yet in Scotland. We need to have the infrastructure first.

“We promote the idea of sharing the road safely and we believe everyone should take responsibility for their own behaviour. No-one should have extra protection in law.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com