Presumed Liability: Who Benefits?

Topically for me, Denmark got a mention during this UCL Cycling @ Lunchtime talk about presumed liability (gets into its stride at 7m45s) although that wasn’t what made it memorable.

Derek Halden, presenting on behalf of Road Share (a campaign rather than a charity – at least under that name) gave a fairly factual explanation of what PL is, what it isn’t, and how it would help victims like a 13 year old Scottish girl who had to wait 10 years for a claim of compensation to be settled. But for one thing. Something that acted like a magician’s misdirection or one of Lynton Crosby’s dead cats. The suggestion that introducing PL reduces casualties.

As I recall, my twitter timeline erupted into a polarised slanging match. Nobody was thinking about victims – people ‘encouraged’ by the authorities and various cycling orgs to get on their bikes in a transport system that’s stacked against them when it goes wrong – because they’d moved on to a cerebral pissing match about what works best in the absence of any hard evidence to prove or disprove where PL ranks.

Based on that my conclusion is this: DON’T DO IT.

No matter how much you qualify the statement by pointing out that it’s a correlation rather than a proven cause, don’t suggest that simply by introducing a legal framework to look after victims it will prevent them becoming victims in the first place. Regardless of how good safety stats are in some of the places where PL operates, there are still people there being knocked off their bikes or their feet. They are the people who need presumed liability and would suffer most if it didn’t exist. Don’t lose sight of who it actually benefits.

And that was despite a slide devoted to how PL is misrepresented and misunderstood(!) and which had the best piece of advice I’ve seen for some time…

“Systems thinking needed.”

More on that to come [insert link here].

2 thoughts on “Presumed Liability: Who Benefits?

  1. rdrf

    I have spent my career ( as a campaigner, academic researcher and transport planner) laying into people who say that the evidence proves that casualties will be reduced by doing what they advocate.

    But, in this case, that is not a reason for not supporting PL. Firstly, it does help some people who have been hurt. Also, in the same way that you can’t prove that PL reduces casualty rates, it isn’t impossible to think that a version of PL might help reduce danger from motors to cyclists and pedestrians. it depends how you do it. It depends on whether it is restricted to civil law, and how it is publicised.

    Another good thing is that it raises the issue of who is responsible for danger being introduced into the highway environment.

  2. Kevin Hickman Post author

    Giving some thought to when it’s best to personalise the road danger/safety debate with the ‘who’, and when it’s better not to and stick to the ‘what’, is something that might help avoid a lot of ultimately pointless hot air. For example, should we be asking who or should we be asking what “is responsible for danger being introduced into the highway environment?” Is there a difference? Where does each get you with the people you’re hoping to influence?

    And while we’re asking questions – I’m 100% behind introducing presumed liability in the UK, but at the same time cringe at the choice of the term ‘Road Share’ as a banner for it. Does the name matter? I don’t know how many people identify positively with it or how many don’t. I wonder if ‘Road Share’ know?


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