Justice on the Roads

22 Mar

A repost from the Solihull Bicycle Campaign vault – April 2015

March 2015 proved to be a sobering month in regards to safety on the roads, beginning with a texting van driver being cleared of responsibility for the death of a cyclist. A trial that Bez from the Beyond the Kerb blog systematically pulled to pieces in two well-researched and though out posts (first here and second here), bringing into question the very effectiveness of our justice system.
Alongside this the bereaved family of Michael Mason have been battling uphill for the right to an inquest into his death, as evidence emerges that the police failed to refer the case to the crown prosecution service. In addition to this a study led by Rachel Aldred found that the majority of cyclists experience danger and near misses on a daily basis and cyclists are systematically marginalised.

These incidents are no means isolated or unusual, for decades the UK has been weighting the judicial system against the most vulnerable users of our roads. This was originally caused by the government’s need to encourage people to drive by underplaying the danger that motor vehicles have the potential to cause, this in turn led to society being able to collectively look in the other direction when cars are seen to cause danger. Since then this social need to avoid demonising the method of transport that so many now rely on has become firmly entrenched in society and any attempt to bring possible issues to light risks being labelled as ‘war on the motorist’.

The vast majority of people from all walks of life now travel by car or at least associate it with the pinnacle of personal transport. This prevalence of drivers has created a system that is inherently biased against those that do not travel by motor vehicle. Which is why so many struggle to be able to put themselves in the shoes of those that cycle, from engineers not being able to design usable infrastructure to drivers not understanding the need for space, from advocates for shared space to evangelists of protective equipment and hi-vis there is a systematic failure to recognise the needs and requirements of those that travel by bicycle. It is no different in the justice system: how can a policeman understand why close passes are so terrifyingly dangerous when they’ve never cycled on the roads? How can a judge or coroner realise the futility of helmets and hi-vis clothing if they’ve never been overtaken by a lorry? And how can a jury do any less than put themselves in the shoes of the driver if their only experience of the road is from behind a windscreen? Everyone who has driven on the road has made an lapse in judgement that could have been a lot worse, so when presented with a driver that has been involved in a collision, even if the charge is horrific, some amount of empathy for the driver will be present.

However, there still is hope, as more people get out on bicycles the entrenched views will begin to be diluted. As well as this the CTC’s road justice campaign continues to push ever gradually forward in combating lenient sentencing and protecting those that need it the most. And as always let us hope that we can eventually reach out to those in power and deliver infrastructure for cycling that will prevent any more tragic deaths on the nations roads.

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