Speech: Strict Liability

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, I wasn’t able to give my speech in support of the introduction of Strict Liability during my colleague Alison Johnstone’s Members’ Business debate on October 29th. In the interests of transparency, I’ve reproduced my planned comments below:

I welcome the opportunity to speak during this member’s debate about the proposal to introduce stricter liability in Civil Law in order to protect those considered as vulnerable road users in Scotland.  I thank Alison Johnston for bringing the proposal to the chamber through her strict liability motion.  I, like members who’ve spoken before me today, believe that stricter liability would have a positive effect on the health, wellbeing and safety of Scotland’s cyclists and pedestrians.

Too many cyclists have already been killed or injured on Scotland’s roads.  In 2012, there were 901 cyclist casualties, up by 9% from 2011.  Of these casualties, 167 were seriously injured, and there were 9 deaths.  Both of these figures were up from 2011.  That indicates the scale of the problem, and the situation is clearly not improving with another 13 cyclist deaths this year.  The problem is one that affects the whole of Scotland, from Alison Johnston’s Lothian constituency to my own constituency in the Highlands and Islands.

We must look to support stricter liability and its underpinning philosophy to have the interests of vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, given priority over drivers of motor vehicles.  In Scotland, and the in UK in general, we’ve fallen behind most of our European neighbours where drivers are already required to prove they were not at fault in civil cases.  In many European countries, the responsibility is on the driver, it is easier for cyclists and pedestrians hurt in collisions to receive compensation more quickly, and the roads are made safer for everyone involved.  This includes cyclists and pedestrians, who always come off worse from a collision with a motor vehicle.  Stricter liability would help cyclists and pedestrians to receive just recompense and therefore have access to rehabilitation schemes far quicker than at present, and it would foster a culture where the onus is on driver to keep a proper look out for vulnerable road users.  By improving cycle safety, Scotland could show itself to care about the safety of its citizens on the roads, and to have a mature and socially conscious response to the tragedy of death and injury in cycling incidents.

I believe that Scotland could, and should, work towards becoming a cycle-friendly nation.  The UK is one of only 5 countries in Europe that does not have stricter liability in Civil Law.  In Denmark for example, measures have been introduced to create a positive cycling culture.  There, all victims of motor vehicle accidents are entitled to compensation under the law, and anyone buying a car must also buy third party liability insurance which provides cover for strict liability in accordance with the law.  By following the examples of Denmark, France and the Netherlands, it would indicate to the rest of Europe that Scotland welcomes cyclists.  It would encourage more Scots to get out there and cycle for leisure, for health or for competition.  I acknowledge that the Scottish Government has already funded a number of national cycle safety initiatives, but believe that the government can do more and look to introduce stricter liability to protect Scotland’s vulnerable road users and to foster a ‘cyclist friendly’ culture.

There is support from a range of walking and cycling organisations for the introduction of stricter liability in Civil Law.  Notable supporters of stricter liability include Pedal on Parliament, SPOKES, CTC Scotland, celebrity chef Nick Nairn and Paralympic cyclist Karen Darke.  Before the summer recess of Parliament, I spoke with Brenda Mitchell of Cycle Law Scotland, who is doing excellent work in raising awareness amongst MSPs of the issues relating to strict liability.  Cycle Law Scotland have launched a Campaign called ‘Road Share’, which promotes stricter liability for the protection of cyclists and other vulnerable road users who are involved in road-traffic collisions.  Cycle Law Scotland has really driven forward the issue of stricter liability and I think that members should look to support to the work of that organisation if they’ve not done so already.

I, for one, will continue to support calls for stricter liability, and will work with MSPs, walking and cycling organisations, and individual citizens in doing so.  I support Alison Johnston’s motion and look forward to the day that cyclists and pedestrians have the protection that they need and deserve.  The Scottish Government can play a key role in working towards such a goal, and I look forward to proposals that further promote the protection of cyclists and pedestrians on Scotland’s roads and streets.