The Liberal Democrats are due to discuss proposals to encourage cycle use as a means to achieve the transition to a zero carbon Britain at their conference in September.
Lib Dems' September conference will focus heavily on cycling

The Lib Dems have clearly taken on board the great benefits that cycling brings to society, in particular: the health and wellbeing benefits of becoming more active; alleviation of congestion on the roads; reduction in the use of fossil fuels and air pollution; and benefits to the economy. 

Cycle reform policy motion

The conference will look at a policy motion [2] presented by Dr Julian Huppert MP, on how to reform cycling by making it safer and more appealing. The motion closely reflects the recommendations made in the Get Britain Cycling report (due to be debated in Parliament [3] on September 2nd). 

The motion includes proposals to improve cycle infrastructure, promote cycling and improve cycle safety. Proposals include: promotion of cycle hire schemes; creation of secure cycle storage facilities at all UK train stations; incorporation of cyclists' needs into new transport and infrastructure projects; 20mph as the standard speed limit for residential streets; provision of level 1 and 2 Bikeability training in all schools; and the inclusion of cycle safety in the national driving test and HGV driver training.

Of particular interest is the emphasis on the need to improve access to justice for victims of road collisions, which CTC is pressing for via the Road Justice campaign [4]. The Lib Dems are calling for a review of existing road traffic laws and their enforcement to ensure driving that endangers cyclists is dealt with seriously. Also highlighted is the need to introduce ‘proportionate liability’, or, as it is known more widely, 'presumed liability'.  

Presumed liability

Under current English law, the victim (i.e. the injured cyclist) is responsible for proving the driver's negligence in order to obtain compensation for damages. Under a presumed liability system the defendant (and their insurance company) would be presumed liable for damages caused, unless they could prove the victim had been at fault. Variations of the presumed liability law exist in almost all other European countries - the UK is one of only 5 European countries that does not have some form of the law.  

Many claim this concept contradicts the legal principle that defendants are ‘innocent until proven guilty’. This is a misconstrued claim – presumed liability affects civil law, not criminal law, therefore, it in no way contradicts this criminal law principle.  

The advantages of this system are that victims can focus on recovering from injuries caused in a road crash rather than fighting a drawn out compensation claim and that compensation claims will be sped up, allowing damages to be awarded sooner, thus aiding victims' recovery. Some argue that a presumed liability law would encourage drivers to drive more safely around vulnerable road users (children, cyclists, pedestrians and motor-bikers). For more see CTC's briefing on compensation for injured cyclists [5].

Presumed liability would not solve the problem of lenient sentencing of drivers who hit cyclists. A review of existing road traffic laws, as proposed by the Lib Dems, would need to include a review of sentencing guidelines for dangerous and careless driving offences if the issue of lenient sentences is to be tackled. The Road Justice campaign is calling for sentences that reflect the severity of the offence committed and discourage bad driving, specifically: long driving bans; extended re-tests; and custodial sentences for those who flout bans.