Dangerous cycling can kill people. Last year a woman named Kim Briggs stepped into a road in central London and was struck by an 18-year-old cyclist who had no front brake. She died of her injuries. As dangerous driving offences apply only to motorists, the cyclist had to be convicted for an offence falling under an act from 1861: that of “wanton and furious driving”. After protests that the penalty was not tough enough, a government in search of popularity is looking at extending dangerous driving offences to cyclists. But hard cases, however terrible, make bad law.
Simple physics means such accidents are, if tragic, extremely rare. Bikes are slower and weigh far less than cars: of the 400 or so pedestrians killed on the roads each year in the UK, about one or two are struck by bicycles. Cyclists are mostly at risk themselves: in 2015 100 of their number were killed in road accidents, and about 18,800 injured. If road laws are to be updated, there may be more pressing priorities, too. Recent figures showed that 10,000 drivers are still on the road with 12 or more points on their licences, due to a loophole in the law. Magistrates are allowed to be lenient with motorists if a driving ban would cause them to lose a job. More pedestrians are killed in collisions with HGVs than cyclists but the focus isn’t on them. Walkers’ safety is what we should focus on. Cyclists are also mostly well behaved. When people break the rules on a bike, such as skipping lights, they are easily spotted. There’s an anonymity afforded by driving – many motorists surreptitiously drive and text. There’s no obvious case to levy the same sanctions on different modes of transport. While there may be an argument for new laws to protect vulnerable road users, justice cannot be blind to the fact that drivers in charge of a car, weighing more than a tonne, pose a different threat than cyclists atop a bike, which is one-hundredth as heavy.