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Cycling accidents: the legal standpoint

When the clocks changed in October, we looked at what cyclists can do to make themselves more visible on the roads as we move into winter.

Road Safety Week

Now that it is Road Safety Week, we look at where cyclists stand legally if the worst happens and they have an accident because someone failed to see them. The most important point to note about legal liability for any accident is that every case is different and will always turn on the particular facts. That said, there are some common themes that crop up in cycling accidents.

One of the most obvious is cars pulling out of side roads or onto roundabouts into the path of cyclists that they haven’t seen. In general, the normal rules of the Highway Code will apply and if the cyclist has right of way and the other driver simply hasn’t looked properly, then it’s they who are likely to be held liable.

However, there are other legally interesting scenarios of cycling accidents that can occur when motorists don’t see cyclists, which we will look at below.

Overtaking stationary traffic

As discussed in in our earlier article, collisions often happen when cyclists are positioned somewhere where drivers don’t expect them, such as overtaking a line of stationary or slow-moving traffic. Although some people will try to argue otherwise, cyclists are allowed to do this. In fact, Rule 151 of the Highway Code says that motorists in slow traffic should “be aware of cyclists and motorcyclists who may be passing on either side.” However, the general principle that the courts apply is that this is a ‘dangerous manoeuvre’ and one that should therefore be undertaken with care.

Traffic queues

If we assume that cyclists filter past with the queue of static or slow traffic to their left, the major hazard that facing them is cars turning right out of the line, thus cutting across your path. The Highway Code states (at Rule 167) says that a road user should not overtake traffic where they might come into conflict with other road users, including “approaching or at a road junction on either side of the road.” But does this mean that a cyclist filtering past a line of stationary traffic who comes to a junction must simply stop and wait? No, this would be going too far – however, they should satisfy themselves that no vehicle is turning into that side road before passing.

Who is to blame when cycling accidents occur in these circumstances? As always, these cases depend on the individual facts but the starting point is usually that both parties are 50 per cent to blame, following the 2003 motorbike case of Pell v Moseley. This is on the basis that the turning vehicle should have checked their mirrors and blind spot for traffic before turning – but equally that the cyclist should have been wary of overtaking a vehicle that might be turning right.

Specific circumstances of cycling accidents

Something that will affect how much blame is attributed to cyclists is the extent to which they should have been aware of the possibility of a car turning right and anything that might have put them on warning of this.

The most obvious example is that the car is indicating to turn right, although this will still depend on how far in advance the signal is given and whether it might have been hidden by other vehicles. Other warning signals include a car being positioned to the centre of the road or a gap in the traffic in front of a car, suggesting that traffic has moved on while the car waits to turn right. These should all potentially alert cyclists that a car might be turning and if proven, could mean that the cyclist is more culpable. A cyclist that overtakes a car positioned in the centre of the road, clearly indicating right and with no traffic in front of it will usually struggle to win their case.

Cycling accidents and U-turns

A variation on this theme is vehicles performing U-turns as a cyclist overtakes. This is broadly the same principle as a vehicle turning right but with the important difference that there is no junction there  to suggest that vehicles might be turning. Furthermore, a vehicle performing a U-turn – rather than moving to the crown of the road to turn right – where they will be visible to a cyclist will generally move to the left instead to allow room to turn, making them less obvious.

In theory, a safely executed U-turn need not be any more dangerous that a right turn but generally, these are an unnecessary manoeuvre and historically, the courts have often imposed a higher duty on drivers making U-turns that those simply turning right.

The 2006 case of Davis v Schrogin concerns a motorcyclist overtaking a line of traffic, from which a car pulled left and then executed U-turn. At this point, the motorcyclist was so close that he had no opportunity to stop or take evasive action and collided with the car. This case is often interpreted as meaning any cyclist or motorcyclist hitting a car performing a U-turn will be blameless. This is almost certainly incorrect, but it is authority for the argument that if an overtaking motorcyclist or cyclist has no warning of the U-turn and is so close as to be unable to respond, then the car driver will be wholly to blame.

As above, every accident is different – and this is especially the case with cycling accidents, since they tend not to fit into the ‘standard’ types of accident that solicitors and insurers are used to dealing with. For this reason, anyone who has been involved in a cycling accident should get specific legal advice from a solicitor experienced in bicycle accidents (such as Lyons Davidson).

For more information on any of the issues raised in this article or to talk about a cycling accident you have had, contact personal injury Solicitor (and keen cyclist) Matthew Lelliot, by emailing mlelliott@lyonsdavidson.co.uk or call 0117 904 5714.



Posted on Nov 23rd, 2017 by Lyons Davidson