Sunday, 20 September 2009

Utter madness

The Times has an article that claims the Government is considering changes to the civil law so that, in the case of a traffic accident, the person who drives the more powerful vehicle is seen as being the guilty party. It is then up to them to prove otherwise. This has mainly been introduce with respect to cyclists on the road.

According to the article, the reason for this bizarre proposed change is:
The move, intended to encourage greater take-up of environmentally friendly modes of transport ...
I am a walker, and I also do some cycling (as the weather was nice we both cycled to the Hiltingbury fair today). As such, I have got a great deal of experience on all of the main forms of road transport. My over-simplified summary of what I have see: There are terrible cyclists, pedestrians and drivers on the road. However, there are also thousands of brilliant ones as well. In this area of North Baddesley, children on those small-wheeled bikes ride on and off the pavement, sometimes jumping off the kerb into the path of traffic. Then again, there is also some interesting driving exhibited as well, from the minor infractions (failure to indicate) to the serious (exceeding the speed limit).

Unfortunately, at times I am guilty of all of these (as are most drivers, probably). It is so easy to let your speed creep up to 35 MPH in a 30 MPH zone, or just run a light that is changing to red as you are a few yards away. However, I see a difference between occasional, accidental incidents such as these and the people who routinely drive badly.

This proposed change is vastly unfair. My dad (a pensioner) driving his Range Rover will be judged guilty by default in any collision against a boy racer in souped-up hatch. The assumption that the size of your engine has a relationship to the cause of an accident is, frankly, a vast over-simplification. I drive a 1.4-litre automatic Honda Jazz, so am hardly a boy racer ;-)

There is also the question of how people will take advantage of this. There is a scam where some drivers brake suddenly and heavily at junctions, causing the car behind to crash into the back of them. They then claim that they are injured, and get very large compensation awards from the insurance of the driver of the rear car. This was because the assumption by insurance companies was that, in the case of a read-end shunt, it was the fault of the driver of the rear car. This fraud was so widespread that insurance companies were considering changing this assumption. I can see this new change giving fraudsters a whole new area to exploit.

I think the main reason that I dislike this proposed change to the law is that it confuses two issues. The first is nominally a 'green' issue - that more powerful cars cause more pollution. The second is the responsibility for an accident. Since there is no causal connection between the two things, then it is wrong to make a connection.

There is a connection between the power of the vehicle and the damage that can be done by it. But since you can be driving a powerful car perfectly safely and still have an accident that is not your fault, under this change you will have to prove that it was not your fault. Quite simply, this is not right.

A much better job would be to further strengthen the application of existing driving laws in two areas:
  1. Uninsured drivers. The number of uninsured drivers has increased by 33% over the last year, up to a fifth of all drivers. It is illegal to drive without insurance, and this should be stamped down on, hard.
  2. Drug driving. This is a massive problem. From the BBC News website:
    The Department for Transport (DfT) estimates that one in five drivers or riders killed in road accidents may have an impairing drug - legal or illegal - in their system.
Additionally, I would stamp down on cyclists riding bikes on pavements on roads with a 30MPH speed limit. It is done all the time, and is dangerous for pedestrians (I have nearly been hit on several occasions). However, I would also allow cyclists to ride on the pavement in 40MPH zones or above. The traffic speeds are so much higher in these zones and the consequences of a cyclist being hit so much the greater. In my experience, the pavements are also less used. It would be the responsibility of the cyclist to ensure that they ride safely.

These are, in my opinion at least, much more important areas to be looked at before this fraudulently 'green' policy.

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