On 9th May, Grant Shapps, UK Government Transport Secretary, announced that active travel (cycling and walking) was going to be put at the heart of the transport infrastructure agenda. There was a pledge of £2billion for England to be spent on making the roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
Alongside infrastructure, there was also mention of introducing “legal changes” to protect the most vulnerable. This is not a new conversation and one which cycling and walking groups have been lobbying the UK and Scottish Governments for some time. The emphasis for change now is to look at a “green” recovery from Covid-19 and to help ease pressure on public transport while social distancing measures are in place to protect public safety.
Transport is a devolved issue and Michael Matheson, Transport Secretary for Scotland, similarly announced £10 million worth of funding for “a new infrastructure programme for pop-up walking and cycling routes or temporary improvements to existing routes.”
During this period of ‘lockdown’, there has been a considerable rise in the number of people taking up cycling. For the most part, it seems that the roads do not appear to be the same threat they were pre-23rd March. With motorised vehicle use significantly reduced, people seem to feel far safer on their bicycles.
This change illustrates that there are plenty of people who would be willing to use cycling as an alternative means of transport if they felt safe and secure once ‘normality’ resumes. The benefits of cycling are extensive and well documented. Benefits to health, the environment, mental health are to name just a few. The main benefit in the post Covid-19 world is the ability to socially distance on a bicycle when directly compared to the use of public transport.
Cycle Law Scotland, through the Road Share campaign introduced the call for Presumed Liability in Scotland back in 2013. Seven years on with over 11,000 signatures on its petition website, the Scottish Government has consistently failed to consider this change in law by following our European neighbours.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of Presumed Liability, the UK is one of only 5 countries in Europe who do not have it in some form. It is designed to protect the most vulnerable of road users in Civil Law. The other countries behind the curve are Ireland, Malta, Romania and Cyprus.
Currently in Scotland, following a road traffic collision, it is for the injured party to prove fault on the part of another. With presumed liability, that burden is shifted so that it is for the driver of the motorised vehicle - via their insurer - to prove the more vulnerable road user acted in such a way that they caused their own incident.
There is no country in the world that has high levels of safe active travel that does not have some form of presumed liability. While infrastructure is key to making cyclists feel safer on the roads, it cannot be dealt with in isolation. There are many routes where segregated cycle lanes will not be possible.
For active travel to be at the heart of transport infrastructure, there needs to be a measured consideration of effective and respectful road share. That is why now, more than ever, is the time for Presumed Liability to be seriously considered and progressed by the Scottish Government.
We have all witnessed small acts of kindness over recent weeks. On the whole, people are now far more vigilant when it comes to sharing the same space with others. If we can translate the concept of sharing space safely on our roads, then attitudes towards cyclists will hopefully change for the better.