Cycling UK says once again: Road Victims are Real Victims!

Alongside its launch of the Civil Liabilities Bill, the Ministry of Justice is once again threatening to burden cyclists with legal fees should they seek compensation for injuries caused by negligent drivers. Cycling UK’s message remains loud and clear: Road Victims are Real Victims!

Last year, the Ministry of Justice faced criticism by Cycling UK and the wider active travel community for its proposals to raise the small claims limit for road traffic accident personal injury claims from £1000 to £5000, which would leave cyclists and pedestrians unable to claim legal expenses from a negligent driver (in reality usually the driver’s insurer) should they make a successful compensation claim valued within this band.

The proposals were withdrawn, but have been brought forward once again alongside the Civil Liabilities Bill. Although the Bill itself would not raise the small claims limit, the Government has been clear that it intends to do so through secondary legislation as part of these wider changes, which it claims are intended to “deliver on a manifesto commitment to tackle the issues behind the continued high number and cost of whiplash claims”.

Should the changes go ahead as planned, many cyclists and pedestrians who suffer injuries as a result of negligent driving would now have to cover their own legal expenses

Keir Gallagher, Cycling UK Campaigns Officer

However, this justification does nothing to explain why cyclists and pedestrians’ right to full compensation should come under fire. It is extremely rare, almost unheard of, for a cyclist or pedestrian to suffer whiplash following a collision. Instead, when a driver pulls out without looking and collides with a cyclist, or knocks them into a lamppost when turning left without indicating, the most common injuries suffered are broken collarbones, wrists and arms – all of which usually see compensation claims valued within this £1000-£5000 band.

Should the changes go ahead as planned, many cyclists and pedestrians who suffer injuries as a result of negligent driving would now have to cover their own expenses, such as medical reports, which can cost up to £800, and legal fees, which could cost thousands of pounds. This would make a significant dent in the actual value of any claim and, in some cases, could even cost the claimant more than they receive in compensation.

These changes would affect a staggering 70% of all cyclist compensation claims, radically changing the legal landscape to one which leaves cyclists and pedestrians’ legal options after a crash torn to shreds, and suggests that, in the eyes of the Ministry of Justice, they are victims unworthy of full and complete redress.

Access to justice under threat

The move therefore represents a clear-cut denial of access to justice – one which is not justified by any evidenced argument – cyclists are not even mentioned in the Bill’s 50-page impact assessment, which includes an assessment of the secondary legislation changes to the small claims limit.

To avoid risking legal fees, claimants’ only alternative would be to represent themselves, but compensation claims for moderate but non-life-changing injuries to cyclists and pedestrians are seldom simple and straightforward, and the Government’s own research has shown that self-representing claimants are less likely to be successful in court than their legally represented counterparts.

In road traffic accident claims, cyclists and pedestrians will often find themselves facing insurer’s lawyers, who will be highly experienced in defending potentially negligent drivers in a complex area of law. Furthermore, the claimant might be a child or elderly person who needs legal help to present their claim. Young, old or in-between, victims of negligent driving deserve full compensation, which they will not receive should they have to pay legal costs.

Selling this as a measure to reign in excess whiplash claims is a smoke and mirrors exercise for a cheap headline. Cheating victims of full compensation, while insinuating that the small claims reforms are designed to tackle fraudulent claims, is at best cynically misleading.

For now, the Civil Compensation Bill and accompanying small claim limit changes are in their early stages, and Cycling UK will be keeping a close eye on developments for the next few months. However, if the government continues down the path it has now once again begun on, we will have no choice but to fully relaunch our Road Victims are Real Victims Campaign, which last year saw 6000 people support our consultation response to the plans.

We need your support

In the hope of resolving this rapidly, Cycling UK is already taking action – we have asked to meet with the Ministry of Justice, as we did last year, to try to make them see sense and ensure new legislation protects our most vulnerable users of our roads.

We are also calling for your help: Catherine West MP has submitted an Early Day Motion (EDM) to parliament which would exclude cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians from the proposed changes, but that motion needs widespread support from MPs to succeed!

We have therefore prepared a draft editable letter, which you can send straight to your MP (and share with your friends!) to request that they sign the EDM and stand up for vulnerable road users across the country.