The case of a cyclist Robert Hazeldean who collided with a pedestrian – whilst she stepped out onto the road whilst looking at her mobile phone has created a lot of media interest – especially with Hazeldean facing a legal bill of up to £100,000
It touches on a few trigger points for modern life.
- People distracted by mobile phones.
- Litigation culture which encourages people to sue, even if they are wholly or partially to blame. (and penalising those who fail to counter-sue)
- Conflict on the roads between different groups – cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
As a cyclist, you might assume if you follow the rules of the road and if a distracted pedestrian steps out in front the law would protect you. But, in this case, the judge ruled that cyclists
“must be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways.”
Third Party Insurance
The easiest take away from this case, is the desirability for cyclists to get third party insurance. One of the easiest ways is to get it through membership of a cycling organisation like British Cycling or Cycling UK. I used to be covered through British Cycling, but since I am not racing, I have allowed my membership to lapse (though I could have got their commuter license). As a direct result of this case, today I signed up to Cycling UK. £46 a year seems a reasonable investment, and you get to support a cycling advocacy organisation too.
It’s difficult to accurately pass judgement on a case, where you only hear third party snippets. But, I instinctively prefer to side with the cyclist and not the pedestrian distracted by their phone. However, whatever the fairness or justice of the case – it is a reminder that, as road users we need to be careful.
The judge also made the comment
“Even where a motorist or cyclist had the right of way, pedestrians who are established on the road have right of way.”
Personally, I wasn’t fully aware of this, even though in practise I cycle like it is the case. Riding around Oxford, I constantly have the motto that I expect pedestrians and road users to behave in unexpected ways. This expectation that pedestrians may step out into the road without looking, has saved many potential collisions. Oxford is a town of tourism and so this kind of situation happens really quite frequently. From one perspective, we can complain the pedestrian should have looked, but being in the right is not much compensation if you are nursing a bruised knee or (as in this case, much worse)
Of course, it also leaves a lingering sense of unfairness, when motorists who are involved in fatal accidents can be given very light penalties, but a cyclist who didn’t counter-sue because he hates the culture of litigation is left with a huge bill. (As is often the case, the only winner is the lawyers…)
It is worth pointing out that collisions between cyclists and pedestrians are rare and they can cause the cyclist to be seriously injured as well as the pedestrian.