“It’s just like when you get rear-ended, isn’t it?”

“So why isn’t there some rule that if you hit someone more vulnerable then you need to justify it, a bit like that rule about how if you rear-end someone in a car, it’s presumed to be your fault?”

A question posed to me by someone yesterday, as we walked back from the station. And I didn’t have a good answer, even though it does seem pretty obvious: she went on to describe it pretty much exactly like the basic idea of ‘strict liability’ (there’s a good RoadPeace paper here): why is it not the assumption that if you are in an incident with a more vulnerable party, you need to prove that it isn’t your fault? So cyclists involved with a pedestrian would have to demonstrate that the incident was caused by the pedestrian, as would cars involved with cyclists, or trucks with cars.

Of course, strict liability probably won’t on its own bring about the kind of mass cycling that would make our country a better place, but everywhere that does have mass cycling also has strict liability.

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One Response to “It’s just like when you get rear-ended, isn’t it?”

  1. PaulM says:

    It’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it? I suspect that the vast majority of motorists would agree that rear-ending is correctly deemed to be the faul of the following driver – and insurance companies have been having a harder time lately finding counterparties who will accept a “knock for knock” settlement in these cases.

    Rear-ending is no doubt responsible for most of the whiplash claims made by car occupants against the other driver’s insurance – the ones that are not fraudulent anyway. I have been on both the claiming and defending end of such claims, all in the same incident, when I was shunted from the rear (while stationary) and propelled into the car in front.

    You can quite reasonably say that actually, it isn’t always the following river’s fault, entirely. The leading driver may be driving erratically, or have stopped very suddenly without good reason, for example if intending to give that twerp who is tailgating him “a bit of a fright” (definition of Phyrric Victory?)

    But, the response will be, and it is an unanswerable one “then you shouldn’t have been so close that you couldn’t react in time”.

    Now ask the same people if they think you should apply a similar principle, that you should be mindful of the fact that the machine you are operating has lethal capabilities, therefore you should handle it with extreme care, just as (hopefully|) you would a loaded shotgun, and consensus dries up.

    Finally, strict liability is not about mass cycling. It is about vulnerable people, which pretty much means anyone seeking redress for injury or damage which is not covered by their motor insurance poiicies (the policy covers the car, not the occupants) but particularly pedestrians and cyclists, being able to get that redress without having a mountain to climb to get it. If you look at it that way, then the only people who can reasonably object to it are commercial vehicle operators and their insurers.

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