Cycling has always been a staple part of UK culture, whether as a form of off-road adventure or as a primary form of transport. It beats the traffic and improves your fitness, so what’s so bad about it?
For the same reason for you hesitate in letting your teenager drive on the main road for the first time, the concern is not the cyclist, but often the unpredictable environment riders can expose themselves to when cycling, whether it be in the form of drivers or unexpected obstacles.
How prevalent is personal injury related to cycling?
Each year in the UK, there are approximately 19,000 reported cycling accidents according to the 2014 report by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA). A staggering 3000 of those accidents result in death or fatal injuries, and these are just the reported figures. A survey by the Department of Transport revealed that there is a general perception by 48% of cyclists and 67% by non-cyclists that it is too dangerous to cycle on the roads. This leaves us wondering, why?
This could be because there has been a general increase in the number of cyclist fatalities (up 8% in 2014 from the previous year). The most common sources of accidents arise as a result of conduct by other road users, road conditions/obstacles, and defective cycle equipment. The most significant danger to riders involves a collision with another vehicle. These incidents make up 84% of reported cycling accidents.
The ROSPA report breaks down the frequent types of injuries that arise to include the following:
- Limb injuries are one of the most common, with approximately 40% relating to arm injuries and 25% involving leg injuries. This ranges from muscle and/or joint damage to fractures and broken bones.
- Head injuries are another common form of trauma and account for approximately 40% of adult cycle injuries. Head injuries can range from a minor concussion to serious skull fractures. It is significant to note that a study of fatal cycle accidents in London revealed that approximately 70% fatal accidents were related to head injuries.
- Chest and abdomen trauma account for around 5% of injuries.
It is important to acknowledge that the effects of a cycling accident can extend further than physical injuries; it can cause mental distress for those directly involved in the accident and for their families.
It is this general increase in accidents coupled with the public perception that cycling is dangerous, that has driven the call for road safety for cyclists. This was further fuelled by the series of five cyclist deaths within nine days in London in November 2014. Campaigners have been pressuring the Mayor of London to improve cycling safety in London, starting with a review, especially given that cycling has tripled in London over the past ten years. There are many sections of the city, such as the Vauxhall junction, that have layouts which leave cyclists vulnerable to accidents. While the Vauxhall junction is due to be redesigned into a two-way traffic lane with separate bike lanes, there are still sections of the city that many cyclists are petitioning to address.
How do I make a personal injury claim?
If you have had a cycling accident and have suffered injuries, you may be eligible to make a personal injury claim; if you can show the injuries you sustained were as a result of negligence by another person.
Negligence in cycling accidents involves two main elements: a duty of care towards others on the road and a standard of care.
- The duty of care requires that drivers take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to others on the road; this includes not only cyclists but also other drivers, property, and pedestrians.
- The standard of care deals with the minimum level of care and skill required in fulfilling the duty of care. For drivers, the minimum standard is the care and skill of an ordinary driver, which means that there are no exceptions for inexperienced drivers.
As a rule of thumb, negligence claims require you to show fault on the part of the person causing the accident. Normally in accidents involving the collision with a vehicle, the starting point will be looking at whether there have been any breaches of the Highway Code. If a breach is found, it is often relied on to establish liability.
Because of this need to prove fault, it is important that if you are involved in a cycling accident that you take the right steps to ensure the success of potential claims. If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an incident, make sure you:
- Call an ambulance or see an appropriate medical practitioner right away if you have been injured, and make sure you keep any associated medical documents.
- Ask any witnesses to provide you with contact details.
- Where possible, gather evidence by retaining photos of the accident scene and any damage to the bicycle.
Will the person who caused the accident have any defences?
The main defence available to the person who caused the accident is contributory negligence. The argument of contributory negligence does not oust liability, but instead attributes fault proportionately so that it can be taken into account when allocating compensation. For example, if an injured cyclist was checking his phone at the time of the accident, the courts will determine a percentage figure for contributory negligence based on what is “just and equitable.” So in this instance if the court finds that the cyclist is 70% liable for their injuries, they will receive 30% in damages.
A common argument to contributory negligence in cycling accidents is the failure to wear a helmet. Currently, Rule 59 of the Highway Code states that cyclists “should wear a cycle helmet that conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened.” Therefore whilst it’s important to wear a protective helmet, and wearing one will help the case, the wording does not make the rule mandatory.
However, the case law on the use of helmets is still not clear and there seems to be a spectrum on the obligation to wear a helmet. The High Court case of Smith v Finch rejected contributory negligence on the grounds of not wearing a helmet, as the particular injuries suffered by the claimant could not have been prevented by its use. While this comment was made in obiter and cannot be relied on as authority, this shows the Courts leaning towards an attitude in favour of causation. So contributory negligence arguments where no helmet was used may not hold up if the injuries sustained in an accident were not to the head.
Case law in the area of helmets is still unsettled and will be until there is a case directly related to the issue, or until the Highway Code makes helmet use mandatory.
When should I make a claim?
Personal injury claims generally have a three-year limit beginning from the date of the accident. However in cycling accidents where you may need to rely on bystanders as witnesses and fresh evidence, time may be of the essence. If you have suffered personal injury as a result of a cycling accident, obtaining prompt legal advice may assist your claim.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a cycling accident you can find out more here or phone our office on 020 3588 3500 to speak to one of our personal injury solicitors.
Have you been injured in a cycling accident? If you have any thoughts on this article please feel free to write them in the comments section below.