The age old debate of “cyclists verses motorists – who’s to blame” is alive again with the ever growing number of people choosing to ride instead of drive. New evidence from Perth suggests that cyclists are to blame for a major portion of serious and fatal accidents. We have explored the recent media-hype around this data, road tolls, as well as looking at the legal ramifications of applying Victoria’s suggested ‘driver always at fault’ policy.
All road users have responsibilities but there are also additional road-sharing obligations depending on whether you drive or cycle. For motorists, this includes knowing the road rules that apply to cyclists and respecting their rights. For cyclists, it means riding predictably and clearly indicating any intention to change direction. According to RACQ, common accidents involving cars and cyclists are caused by motorists:
- Failing to give way to cyclists when exiting side streets and driveways;
- Turning right or left and cutting off a cyclist on the kerb side;
- Overtaking too closely to cyclists.
Bicycle riders are vulnerable road users and are much more likely to be injured in the event of a crash than motor vehicle occupants. European research suggests that:
- the risk of being killed per traffic kilometre travelled is more than seven times higher for cyclists than for car occupants
- the severity of injury sustained in crashes is much higher for cyclists
So why are there so many accidents involving cyclists? Is it because motorists are not familiar with the road rules and don’t know the rights of cyclists? A survey conducted by the RACQ of more than one thousand motorists found:
- 55% were unaware its legal for cyclists to ride two abreast; and;
- 52% were unaware its legal for bikes to be ridden on footpaths;
- Nearly 75% were unaware that cars are allowed to cross double lines to pass cyclists; and
- Only 27% were aware that cyclists can ride across pedestrian crossings.
The RACQ believes motorists should sit a written refresher test every five years, with a greater understanding leading to less stress and aggravation.
But is it all the motorists fault? An analysis of fatal and serious crashes between bikes and cars in Perth over the past five years showed:
- cyclists were at fault in 54 per cent of crashes;
- motorists were at fault in 39 per cent of the crashes;
- no one was at fault in seven per cent of crashes; and
- six of the 16 cyclists killed during that period weren’t wearing helmets.
A recent independent report presented to VicRoads has suggested that Victoria should introduce “strict liability” where drivers are automatically at fault if they collide with a cyclist. Strict liability means that if an accident were to occur between a motorist and a cyclist the motorist would always be liable (even if the cyclist was in the wrong). In this situation the 54% of cyclists mentioned above would be able to bring a claim for compensation despite the fact that they caused the accident. Perhaps the thinking behind adopting such a principle is to make drivers more cautious around cyclists, ultimately leading to fewer accidents.
If the same principle was introduced here in Queensland what would this mean for us? Currently drivers have a duty of care to cyclists and other road users however cyclists also have the obligation to follow the same road rules as motorists and take reasonable care for their own safety.
Should an accident occur, an injured cyclist must prove that the motorist was at fault, to be successful in recovering compensation for their injuries. However the Court also recognises that cyclists are more vulnerable and that motorists can cause much greater harm. If a cyclist is partially at fault for an accident then the Court will assign a proportion of the blame that the cyclist and motorist each contributed to the accident and the cyclist will only be able to recover damages to that extent.
If strict liability was adopted and cyclists were automatically absolved of any liability then they could be wholly at fault and still be awarded 100% of their compensation. Strict liability would therefore change the law with respect to Queensland’s ‘fault’ based system and it would undoubtedly lead to an increase in the number of claims for compensation being made.
Whether you are for or against cyclists being allowed to ride on the roads we can all agree that cyclists are here to stay. Cycling promotes good health and aids in reducing congestion on our roads and therefore should not be discouraged.
With this in mind the RACQ has the following tips for motorists when sharing the roads with cyclists:
- allow cyclists at least one-metre leeway when overtaking;
- be aware that bicycles are not as stable as other vehicles and that they may need to suddenly veer away from rough road edges.