I've long believed that the main problem on the roads is power wielded with impunity by the users of motor vehicles. This is broadly in line with the line taken by the Road Danger Reduction Forum. So when its esteemèd chair, Dr Robert Davis, seemed to undermine the essential fairness of the principle that the user of greatest power must take the greatest care on the roads:
(PL="presumed liability") I thought I would pull him up on it:
I was confirmed in this view a few months ago, watching an interview with Chris Boardman, in the context of the work that he and Carlton Reid did on safe overtaking of cyclists. I've hunted for the clip and can't find it again, but in it, almost as an afterthought, the TV journalist interviewing him asked "And what about strict liability?" Chris Boardman astutely illustrated the justice of the principle by the example of a collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian. Although fatal cycle-pedestrian collisions are rare—the UK numbers are in single figures every year (and sometimes zero)—compared with the 2,500 or so deaths involving a motor vehicle, this actually makes them a better exemplar for the establishment of the principle.
Presumed (or "strict") liability is the principle by which, in the event of a collision, the user of greatest power is considered to have civil liability for any resulting damage. Now here in France, the loi Badinter (1985) states:
"Les victimes, hormis les conducteurs de véhicules terrestres à moteur, sont indemnisées des dommages résultant des atteintes à leur personne qu'elles ont subis, sans que puisse leur être opposée leur propre faute à l'exception de leur faute inexcusable si elle a été la cause exclusive de l'accident."
[The victims, except for the drivers of motor vehicles, will be compensated for their personal injuries, without having to face claims that it was their own fault, with exception of an inexcusable fault that was the only cause of the accident.]
Finding the passage I quote [and translate] was the usual nightmare on legifrance.gouv, and if you talk to French people about this (and I do) none of them cites the law. But they are aware of it—Badinter is considered a great statesman both for this legislation, and the law he introduced the year previously that abolished the death penalty in France. It is just natural to French people that the user of greatest power has the greatest responsibility, and that considerable ennui will arrive should this principle ever be breached in a serious way.
This seems to me what should be aimed for: a clear principle established by the law, together with reasonable trepidation of the consequences of breaking it. It does seem to result in generally better driving around cyclists in France compared with the UK.
It may be of tactical advantage to use the infrequent case for illustration, as long as it successfully establishes the principle. So yes! Strict liability for cyclists too!