The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07934, in the name of Alison Johnstone, on strict liability. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament believes that the number of fatalities and injuries to pedestrians and cyclists on Scotland’s roads, including in the Lothian region, is unacceptably high; recognises that the Scottish Government has funded a number of national cycle safety initiatives; notes that versions of a strict liability rule exist in the civil law of many European countries; notes that a number of walking and cycling organisations support the introduction of such a law in Scotland; understands that a petition by Cycle Law Scotland on this topic has secured nearly 5,000 signatures; considers that a stricter liability rule could have positive benefits for the safety of more vulnerable road users as part of a package of measures, and would welcome further debate on this proposal.
I feel privileged to be able to raise the issue of strict liability in the chamber and to contribute to the debate on stricter liability for our roads. I thank the members who signed my motion to enable the debate to take place and those who are in the chamber this evening.
Road safety is an important issue, because we all understand the benefits—indeed, the necessity—of more people, young and old, walking and cycling whenever possible. Cycling and walking are not niche activities—they are for all—and those who understand the positive impacts that active travel can have on the health of our population and our economy do not want Scotland to miss out.
At 1 o’clock tomorrow, prompted by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, hundreds of people will gather outside the Scottish Government offices at St Andrew’s house to call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney, to double investment in walking and cycling from the current level of 1 per cent of the transport budget. They will do so because, although the benefits of increasing the number of folk who walk and cycle are numerous, current levels of investment keep us from realising them. I will be at St Andrew’s house tomorrow, because I believe that investment in such activities has many positive environmental, social and economic impacts. We have the cost benefit analyses to support that.
I also believe that the concept of stricter liability in Scottish civil law, which we are debating this evening, has the potential to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, and to get more people active. I am not alone: Spokes, CTC Scotland, Sustrans Scotland, pedal on Parliament, Scott and Jenny Hastings, the Andrew Cyclist Charitable Trust and Scottish Cycling, among many others, would like the law of liability on the road to be changed to mirror European legislation that places the onus of responsibility on the least vulnerable.
We know that people do not cycle because they do not feel safe: 88 per cent of respondents to the cycle action plan for Scotland said that they would like to cycle more often, but many are deterred by traffic speed, proximity and volume. Those are real fears, because 12 cyclists have died on our roads already this year, despite a background of declining casualty figures for other modes of transport. Last week, following the release of Transport Scotland figures, a national newspaper headline proclaimed that Scotland is the deadliest place to go for a walk. There is a real need to make our roads safer for vulnerable groups and to ensure that they feel safe, too, within a culture of mutual respect.
Stricter liability is not a magic remedy, but I believe that it is an important part of the jigsaw; infrastructure, cycle training and driver awareness raising are vitally important, too. Sharing road space with much larger vehicles is the norm for many pedestrians and cyclists, but stricter liability is an inexpensive change that we can make now to help make the transition to a cycle and walk-friendly nation; it is a tool to make behaviour change.
Cycle Law Scotland is mentioned in my motion and I thank it for the briefing that it provided for the debate. What it and the 5,000-plus people who have signed its petition propose for most situations is presumed liability in road accidents. That concept simply shifts the onus of proof from the vulnerable to the powerful so that, if a cyclist is injured in a collision with a motor vehicle, the motorist will be liable for the cyclist’s injuries unless the motorist can prove that the injuries were caused or contributed to by fault on the part of the cyclist.
I have listened carefully to what the member has said and I have looked at the issue. She referred to liability and education, but I draw her attention to people in my constituency who produced a petition and have spoken to me regarding cyclists who go on to pavements and are a danger to pedestrians and cyclists, and who are not educated about using the road. I would like to see more emphasis put on those issues as well.
I accept the member’s points. The highway code must be adhered to by all road users. Cyclists are not immune from ensuring that their behaviour is as good as it should be in that regard.
Stricter liability would not give cyclists immunity, because they would still have their obligation to ride in a safe and proper manner and in accordance with the rules of the highway code. If they did not follow the rules, it could easily be argued that they had contributed to their own injuries and therefore shared liability or, indeed, were wholly liable.
Stricter liability would not affect the important concept of being innocent until proven guilty, which is central to our criminal law but not civil law. In fact, stricter liability already exists in Scotland in consumer product regulations, dangerous animal laws and workplace regulations. Cycle Law Scotland’s proposals would simplify and speed up the claims made when accidents happen and shift the burden of proof to the driver of the more powerful vehicle.
As a city councillor in Edinburgh, I was contacted by an elderly man who was involved in a collision with a cyclist on Bruntsfield links. If stricter liability existed in civil law in Scotland, the cyclist would be liable for the injuries caused, whereas we currently have a situation whereby both parties seek to prove that the other is at fault.
What happens elsewhere in the world? The situation here in Scotland is unusual. In Europe, only Malta, Ireland, Romania, Cyprus and the United Kingdom have no form of strict or presumed liability in road accidents involving vulnerable road users. Every other country does have that, which suggests that the proposed change is hardly a drastic or radical move.
I have not been called to speak in the debate, but I have done some background work on the issue. Can the member tell us which countries that have strict liability have better safety records for cyclists? It seems to me that there is no correlation between having a strict liability law and safer highways for cyclists.
It is fair to say that the Government has produced some statistics, but the desk-based research from Transport Scotland was fairly limited in scope. It did not involve speaking to anyone in a nation that has strict liability or seeking a comprehensive overview of the systems’ impact for pedestrians and cyclists. Perhaps the minister could address that in his closing speech.
It is important to say that we will not change the world overnight with the stricter liability policy alone; it is part of a mix of measures and part of the safer roads culture jigsaw that we need to bring about for a walking and cycling nation in which vulnerable road users and pedestrians are protected and people feel safer on the roads.
Changes to civil law to improve road safety must not be off the table at this early stage in the debate. I am interested to hear the minister’s response to the speeches. I urge the Government to reconsider its opposition to the idea and to take an approach of openness, so that the idea can continue to be debated.
A step change in road safety will come from redesigning our roads and junctions so that they prioritise pedestrians and cyclists, from proper on-road cycle training and from a culture of mutual respect and tolerance on the shared space. Stricter liability would contribute to a better culture on our roads, in which vulnerable users are better protected.
I congratulate Alison Johnstone on bringing this important debate to the chamber.
I will preface my remarks on my own research by talking about issues that relate to the cycling action plan for Scotland, in which comparisons across countries are made. It might be described as a desktop survey, but it was hindered by differing circumstances, such as different legal approaches to liability, different laws on road speeds, different cycling cultures, different geographies and many other factors that we have been told about. The issue is not as clear cut as it might be. The correlation between accidents and liability is difficult to prove in any of the figures that I have seen.
I am pleased that Alison Johnstone suggests at the end of the motion that
“a stricter liability rule could have positive benefits for the safety of more vulnerable road users”.
If stricter liability in Scots law is being discussed, I will be interested in what the minister says. Stricter liability needs to be investigated, because we do not know enough about it yet. The motion also says that stricter liability could be
“part of a package of measures”.
As I suggested, other countries have had different rates of development and have different laws. In December 2009, when I and other members of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee attended the climate change conference in Copenhagen, Cathy Peattie and I met the political head of the Danish Cycling Federation and the head of transport at Copenhagen Kommune to discuss such matters.
It was interesting to hear what those people said about the development of cycling. They said that, when more people cycle, there are fewer accidents proportionately—we would agree with that. They said that cycle lanes encourage people to cycle and are most effective when they are physically raised out of the way of other traffic rather than simply painted with lines on the road. They also said that electric bikes are used on hills there and they encouraged people to use them here.
Traffic experiments to make people aware of cycling were seen in Copenhagen as an important approach. Lines on the road to show people where they are supposed to go are used temporarily, to stimulate the debate and encourage people to see cycling in a different light.
The number of deaths and serious injuries among cyclists there has fallen significantly in recent years, but the crossing by cyclists of a line of traffic—in Denmark’s case, that involves a left-hand turn; in our case, it is a right-hand turn—is very difficult even for people in Denmark to deal with. Making it possible to separate cyclists and other road users requires more investment than has been applied even in Copenhagen.
In Copenhagen, it is emphasised that, where possible, traffic planning to remove or mitigate conflicts between cyclists and road users is a good idea.
Copenhagen has a culture of innovation in relation to cycling, which I would like to see here. Initiatives include competitions to encourage bicycle sharing, adjusting traffic light cycles to allow cyclists a clear run on busy streets and redesigning local train stations to allow sunken bicycle parks.
Many such measures are part of the measures that we need to look at in the debate. I hope that we will hear from the minister on some of those points, which would strengthen the case for cycling more than the partial way in which stricter liability might strengthen it.
I commend Alison Johnstone for achieving a debate that examines the safety of pedestrians and cyclists on Scotland’s roads.
The Government quite properly encourages a healthy lifestyle and is keen to encourage cycling and walking on our public byways. That is entirely right and reflects the approach of previous Administrations.
Statistics covering the past 10 years make for dire reading, as the minister will know. The statistics that I obtained show that 88 cyclists were killed in the 10 years to 2012 and 1,408 cyclists were seriously injured during the same period—and those numbers could be multiplied many times to reach the number of those suffering slight injuries. We are dealing with a serious public safety issue.
I acknowledge that the Government currently spends around £60 million a year examining active travel and infrastructure, and I know that the minister recently announced an additional £20 million to be spent over the next two years. One hopes that that spend will focus primarily on road safety issues and the protection of cyclists and pedestrians. Any increase in funding is a matter for the minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth under the current budgetary arrangements. It will be interesting to hear from the minister what he might achieve in that regard.
Although this has not been directly alluded to, I have discovered that strict liability seems to polarise public opinion. There are those who are very supportive of the concept; equally, a number of people are vehemently against the notion that strict liability should be introduced in Scotland. I understand both opinions.
Like Maureen Watt, I searched the material provided to find a link between the introduction of new legislation and a fall in the number of accidents and injuries; unfortunately, no such link is entirely obvious. I would be interested to hear whether the minister would undertake to achieve a better understanding of the implications for road safety of strict, or stricter, liability, so that a more informed approach could be taken and we could address whether improvements could be achieved.
The motion provides a good linchpin for discussions around safety. It would be useful for the minister to commit the Scottish Government to take matters forward by bringing together key stakeholders and any experts whom he can access with the intention of establishing consensus around future recommendations. That would allow us to achieve consensus in the chamber on whether legislation was necessary, desirable and effective and would create a means of providing safety for those people who seek to use our public highways for walking or cycling.
Importantly, there is no doubt that the minister and his Government are going some way to encourage the development of cycling across Scotland, about which they are very enthusiastic. However, they have a real responsibility to take on board the issues that the motion raises, with a view to pulling together a positive way of taking them forward and coming up with a better way for the future.
The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Because of the number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion under rule 8.14.3 to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Alison Johnstone.]
Motion agreed to.
I begin by thanking Alison Johnstone for bringing the debate to the chamber. As the motion states, the number of fatalities and injuries to pedestrians and cyclists on our roads is unacceptable. According to statistics from Transport Scotland, 898 cyclists were injured on our roads in 2012, which represents a 9 per cent increase on the 2011 figure. There were also nine fatalities last year. Furthermore, although the same statistics revealed a welcome 5 per cent decrease in the number of pedestrian casualties in 2012, a shocking 54 pedestrians were killed and 1,950 injured. Given those worrying injuries and worse fatalities, it is clear that more must be done to improve road safety, particularly for the most vulnerable users. On that, there is no division of opinion in the chamber this evening.
The thorny question is around what should be done. Strict liability has been described as a road safety measure, but I do not accept that the introduction of strict liability will necessarily make roads safer or lead to fewer accidents. In fact, it could encourage irresponsible cyclists—despite the hierarchy of road users, cyclists are perfectly capable of causing a multiple pile-up—to be even more irresponsible, secure in the knowledge that the presumption of fault will lie with the driver.
I understand the member’s point, but I am talking about the irresponsible cyclist who has little regard for road users, and I rather feel that strict liability would send them the wrong message.
Strict liability places the onus on drivers to prove that they are not responsible or at fault, rather than there being an assumption that both parties are innocent of fault until fault is otherwise proven. That imposes an unacceptable and unjustifiable pressure on drivers who might not be able to prove that they are not responsible for an incident. There are therefore unintended and adverse consequences associated with the introduction of strict liability.
A presumption that drivers are liable if they are involved in an accident with a cyclist is not likely to encourage the mutual respect that should be present between road users. It might even make what is, in some cases, an antagonistic relationship worse. The introduction of strict liability will not change the behaviour of the irresponsible drivers on our roads or encourage safer driving among those who already have no thought for other road users and who cause accidents.
All road users should be held equally responsible for road safety and consequently equally potentially liable for an accident. That basic overriding principle should not be deviated from merely to bring Scotland and the UK into line with the rest of Europe, regardless of the assertions that the introduction of strict liability in Denmark and Holland has resulted in a decrease in the number of accidents.
To make roads safer, especially for cyclists and pedestrians who are more vulnerable, all road users must be encouraged to act responsibly. Rather than debate the introduction of strict liability, therefore, we should concentrate on other measures to achieve that objective, such as reducing the speed limit to 20mph in residential areas, increasing enforcement in relation to cyclists and drivers who break the law, delivering better road design with dedicated cycle lanes, and undertaking more education of and awareness raising for cyclists and drivers so that they have a better understanding and appreciation of each other’s needs on the road.
There are responsible and considerate drivers and cyclists on the road. We need to tackle the irresponsible road users in an effort to change their unacceptable and dangerous behaviour rather than focus on the introduction of strict liability, with the adverse consequences that are associated with it.
I apologise to members as I have to leave early to attend other parliamentary business at 5.30. Colleagues can be assured that I will look at all the speeches in the Official Report.
I congratulate Alison Johnstone on bringing the debate to Parliament. Her motion states that the Parliament
“would welcome further debate on this proposal.”
I too would like to see further debate on the issue.
Last night, I arrived in Edinburgh at about 9 o’clock and, as we all know, it gets a little bit dark then—it is that time of year. Tiredness got the better of me and I took a taxi from Waverley station to the Canonmills area. On that short journey, I spotted two cyclists on the road without lights, and three pedestrians crossed the road in front of the cab in what I thought was a rather dangerous manner. I am not a driver but I am often a passenger, and such behaviour seems to be becoming the norm.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that I often see drivers acting dangerously in relation to pedestrians and cyclists. I truly believe that common courtesy and common sense need to be put into practice by all who use our highways and pavements. Whether they are pedestrians, cyclists or drivers, people should always be aware of others and treat them with respect.
The debate is around the civil law, yet every single constituent who contacted me today about the debate has brought up a criminal matter. In particular, people raised the tragic death of Audrey Fyfe and the related court case. Many of my constituents believe that the perpetrator got off far too lightly and that the sentence was far too lenient. I share my constituents’ views: at the end of the day, if somebody killed two folk with a shotgun, they would be unlikely ever to get a shotgun licence again, so why would a driver who had killed somebody get a driving licence again?
The problem is that most of the difficulties lie with the criminal law and, unfortunately, the Parliament does not control all aspects of road traffic legislation.
I hope that the member recognises that, in raising the issue, the objective is partly to contribute to a positive culture change on our roads as regards the relationship between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. It does not need to impact on sentencing—if we can address that culture change, we may see fewer such cases in future.
I thank Mr Harvie for that contribution. I hope that there can be a positive change and that we see from everyone the common sense and courtesy that I mentioned. However, a lot of the heat around the debate comes not from the civil law but from the criminal aspects of the issue. I have had mail from quite a few constituents in which the Fyfe case featured very highly indeed. I do not think that we can divorce the civil aspects from the criminal aspects. That is why I say that this Parliament should have all the powers over road traffic legislation.
I thank Alison Johnstone once again for bringing the matter to Parliament. In my opinion, this is the start of a debate about not only the civil aspects but the criminal aspects.
As others have done, I congratulate Alison Johnstone on securing the debate. At the outset, I acknowledge that I do not have the cycling credentials of Alison Johnstone or of my colleague Sarah Boyack. Back in 2007, when I was Sarah Boyack’s election agent, it used to infuriate me that she insisted not only on cycling to each engagement, but on doing so without a helmet. She would try to convince me that she was actually safer without a helmet, but I was never convinced. My attitudes to cycling have changed over the years—I will come on to that in a second—but it is important to acknowledge Alison Johnstone’s and Sarah Boyack’s long-standing interest in cycling as a policy issue.
Margaret Mitchell and Rob Gibson mentioned Copenhagen. While I was exploring that fantastic city earlier this year, I found myself in the middle of a march, but could not work out what it was about because all the signs were in Danish. I followed the march round to the Christiansborg palace, by which point I had worked out—I thought—that the demonstration must have been the Danish equivalent of pedal on Parliament. However, after stopping some people on the march to ask what they were campaigning for, it turned out that all the teachers were locked out and were striking. It happened that they all had bicycles because that is how intrinsic cycling is to daily life in Denmark. That taught me that what we really need in Scotland is a cultural shift, so that cycling becomes something that the majority of people do. However, we are a long way from that point.
Frankly, it is people like me who need to be persuaded that cycling is a safe activity. After this year’s pedal on Parliament, I purchased a bike and I now cycle fairly regularly, but I cycle only to two places. One of those is Portobello beach, which I can cycle to from my house entirely off road, thanks to the Restalrig railway path and all the public investment that has gone into off-road cycling paths in Edinburgh. The other is my gym, for which I need to cross only one main road, which I can do by pushing the bike over the street. There is no way I would cycle to work, because that would involve cycling up Easter Road in the morning at peak times; it is just too dangerous. Until I can be persuaded that cycling is safe, or we invest in the infrastructure such that cycling becomes obviously safe for everyone, I do not think that we will meet that challenge.
I pay tribute to all the cycling campaigners who regularly contact MSPs on various issues relating to the cycling agenda. Cycling is probably the single biggest issue in my inbox and is paralleled only by equal marriage in terms of the strength of feeling and regularity of contributions that I receive. People have written to me regularly about active travel for a number of years, but many are now writing about strict liability. However, I get the sense that some people within the cycling community are not utterly convinced that strict liability is the answer; rather, they see a need to speak out about the sense of anger and frustration within the cycling community about the number of accidents and deaths. Too many people find themselves at risk when trying to cycle to their work because our roads just are not safe.
There has also been some legitimate criticism of the Government’s plans around the nice way code campaign, on which I would like to hear Keith Brown’s comments tonight. There is a sense that some of the things that the nice way code has been encouraging cyclists to do actually put them in greater danger. Unless we get a sense of community among cyclists, drivers and all other users of our highways system, we will not get to the critical point that is necessary to drive cultural change.
I conclude by saying that I am grateful to a couple of my constituents, who are avid cyclists, who have offered me free cycling lessons to try to improve my cycling confidence. I may well take them up on that offer, but I think that, first and foremost, we need to have a serious conversation about what safety on our roads means. I welcome the debate and, once again, I congratulate Alison Johnstone on bringing it to the chamber.
This is an important debate, which I congratulate Alison Johnstone on bringing before Parliament this evening. As an early co-signatory to Ms Johnstone’s motion, I am pleased to add my voice to those of colleagues of all parties who believe that now is the time to have a debate not just on cycling safety generally, but on the role that stricter liability could play. Stricter liability may be a matter concerning the civil law, but I stress that it is not an abstract or arcane subject, because it concerns the safety of our fellow citizens, a number of whom—let us not forget—have sadly lost their lives in recent years. As such, there can be no more important subject to come before us.
I acknowledge that there is no consensus on the issue at the moment and I recognise that the law could be changed only following extensive consultation, active engagement with all stakeholders and a full and frank debate about what any proposed change would mean in practice for cyclists, pedestrians and road users.
However, I believe that the basic proposition behind stricter liability is a fair and sound principle on which to proceed. It is the legal norm in many European countries including Denmark, France and the Netherlands, all of which have a record on cycling that we in Scotland would wish to emulate.
The Scottish Government maintains that the
“data does not supply robust evidence of a direct ... link between strict liability legislation”
and the statistics on those who are killed or seriously injured. Maureen Watt pointed that out in her brief intervention. However, the fact remains that as part of a series of measures, such as 20mph zones in residential areas and more awareness training—points that Margaret Mitchell made—strict liability legislation has helped to initiate a step change in the culture towards cycling and cyclists in the countries that have adopted it.
Part of the context for the debate is the Scottish Government’s ambitious target to ensure that 10 per cent of all journeys are made by bicycle by 2020. That ambition is at the centre of the Government’s “Cycling Action Plan for Scotland 2013” and is embedded in a range of Government policies. Spokes, the Lothians cycle campaign, put it rather well when it stated:
“We believe that the single most essential measure for achieving this goal”—
that is, the target of 10 per cent of journeys by bicycle—is to ensure
“that road conditions are, and feel, safe and welcoming for making everyday trips to work, shops, school and leisure by bike. In this way more cycle use should be encouraged, whilst at the same time reducing cycle casualty rates—and ideally absolute casualty numbers.”
I know that the Minister for Transport and Veterans is actively engaged in the safety agenda. In March 2012, he said:
“Scotland’s roads are perfectly safe when everyone uses them responsibly and with respect for each other.”
That is precisely what the debate seeks to highlight and what I think stricter liability could contribute to.
We would do well to reflect on the experience of other European countries and to take on board the views of our constituents. A number of my constituents have contacted me in recent days to make the following points: that stricter liability in civil law is the proper approach for a mature socially conscious nation because it addresses the unacceptable impact of the current system on our most vulnerable road users; that stricter liability will help to promote the idea of Scotland as a cycle-friendly nation and will show that Scotland is leading the UK on cycle safety; that the UK is one of only five countries in Europe that do not operate a system of strict liability, as Alison Johnstone said; and that stricter liability helps to build a culture of greater respect among road users, as is seen on the continent.
The tenet of protecting the vulnerable by way of stricter liability is not new to Scots law and can be found in consumer protection regulations and regulations concerning control of dangerous animals. I therefore believe that it has an important contribution to make. We have an opportunity to extend and develop that long-standing principle and to serve and protect our cyclists and pedestrians better. Across Europe, stricter liability is an accepted state of affairs. Although, as Rob Gibson said, there is variation in how the regulations are applied in individual countries, reflecting the individual cultures of those countries, it is seen as a key element within a package of measures for encouraging safer road use for cyclists.
As the deputy convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on cycling, and as one who attempts to cycle in Edinburgh—not as much as I should, but I try—I welcome this members’ business debate, which has been brought to the Parliament by Alison Johnstone. One of the valuable things that a members’ business debate does is get us asking questions in the lead-up to it. It focuses our minds as briefings come in, and it forces us to prioritise an issue among many others in our busy schedules. Over time, we have had an interest in the issue that we are discussing today. I hope that we will also learn from the debate, as I am doing. When a change of the law is mooted, as in this case, a members’ business debate perhaps forces us and our parties to work towards a position on the issue. For all those reasons, I thank Alison Johnstone.
Before I come to the issue of presumed or strict liability, I want to make some remarks about active travel and cycling more broadly in the context of climate change targets, congestion and tourism. If we are to meet our climate change targets under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, we should do so in ways that benefit people on all incomes and in all parts of Scotland. As I am sure all members will agree, modal shift to public transport such as trains and to active travel is essential. Alison Johnstone’s motion stresses that
“a stricter liability rule could have positive benefits for the safety of more vulnerable road users as part of a package of measures”.
I recently met a constituent who cycles to work in Dumfries. Because of that, theirs is a one-car family. However, roads really need to be safer for cyclists—and, indeed, pedestrians—as vulnerable users, if we are seriously to implement the active travel plans that the Scottish Government has.
Rural links are also important. There are many parts of South Scotland where people could not possibly cycle, even between towns and villages. That is an important issue and we are working on it on the old Wishaw road between two villages in my constituency.
Further, as a former primary school teacher, I am keenly aware of the opportunities for pupils to cycle to school. However, poor maintenance and difficulties with sections of road around schools make that pretty scary for pupils and mean that parents and families do not want to commit to it. Some people would not like to make short journeys to shops or evening classes just down the road on a bike, either.
In the cross-party group on cycling, Alison Johnstone, Jim Eadie and I have raised the possibility of an award for different models of infrastructure and segregated cycle lanes, which we have highlighted to the minister. That is important, but as one constituent highlighted to me in the lead-up to the debate, segregated cycle lanes are—of course—not possible on all roads.
In the lead-up to the debate, some people have also said to me that some cyclists are casual about maintaining equipment and have suggested MOTs for cyclists. Others—all motorists, with the exception of one—have said that they saw this or that pushy cyclist doing something casual or dangerous but, as I replied to them, there are, for sure, also many dangerous motorists on our roads.
Lighting is an issue. On leaving the last CPG on cycling and going back to my flat, I saw two cyclists without lights wearing dark clothing; it was lucky that I saw them.
Last summer, I was pleased to be asked by Cycle Law Scotland to give out cycle helmets at a primary school in Galashiels. Many a beaming child came up to receive their helmet, but I wondered for how long they would be wearing them.
There are many issues around cycling that need to be addressed, but none of them negates the necessity for us to have, at least, a real assessment of stricter liability.
Last week, I was on holiday in France. Before that, I had thought that stricter liability was okay for Copenhagen in Denmark or for Holland, but although France does not have massive infrastructure for cycling, there has been a stricter liability law there since 1986 and I understand that, since its introduction, fatalities and injuries have decreased greatly.
Cyclists have a right to be there—their right is equal to that of other road users. They are vulnerable. Responsible cyclists deserve the protection that stricter liability might provide. I hope that my party will consider that as a possibility, although there is a lot more assessment to be done.
I, too, congratulate Alison Johnstone. Of course we say yes to there being too many fatalities and serious accidents, yes to Government initiatives and yes to improving safety for cyclists on and off our roads, but I say no to strict liability. Or is it strict liability? I will be pernickety. We are moving from strict liability to stricter liability to presumption of liability.
My understanding is that strict liability means that there is no defence. It is used in product liability—for instance, if somebody opens a can of beans and there is a bit of a mouse inside. It does not say that there is a bit of a mouse on the ingredients in the can of beans. That is strict liability. I think that Alison Johnstone is referring to a presumption of liability. If we are going to talk about the law, we should be specific. We have a muddle of terms being used.
I also say to Kevin Stewart, who has left, that the sentencing of someone in a criminal case is based on the degree of culpability, not the consequences of what they do. Somebody could run into a lamp post without due care and attention and kill nobody or do the same and kill somebody. The consequences are different but the culpability remains the same.
We are thinking of trying to shift the onus from the facts and circumstances of every case as to who or what is liable. We seem to be forgetting contributory negligence, which is often split 50:50 or 75:25. How will that be worked in?
Let us examine the principle. If we extend it to a collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian, the presumption of liability would be on the cyclist. Why not go further? Why not extend it to a collision between a Mini and a minibus, a minibus and a Megabus, or a panda car and a pantechnicon? What principle is in operation? This is a serious issue. Is it about the greater power of the vehicle?
Just to be clear, we are not talking about different sizes of motorised vehicle; we are talking about protecting the most vulnerable road user. To be absolutely clear, we are talking about a pedestrian who is in a collision with a cyclist or a cyclist who is in a collision with a motorist, not one car in a collision with a smaller vehicle.
I am talking about a principle in law. The principle here is that, in a collision between a more powerful user of the road and a less powerful user of the road, the presumption goes in favour of the less powerful. If that is the principle in operation, we should look at applying it elsewhere. Scots law operates on principle.
By the way, Cycle Law’s briefing referred to UK law. Much of the law in Scotland on delict and negligence is Scots law, which is very different indeed.
Let us take a multiple collision. A car shunts into the back of another car, which shunts into a cyclist, who shunts into another cyclist, who shunts into a pedestrian. Where does the presumption land there? Where is the presumption of liability in that particular incident? Answers on a postcard.
Let us think about the other unintended consequences. I am just testing the principle. All motorists carry compulsory insurance. If we introduce a presumption that the cyclist is not liable and the presumption of liability falls on the user of the road—the motorist or the lorry driver—insurance premiums will rise because all these issues will be brought to the insurance companies to deal with. Will it therefore follow that all cyclists will require to have third-party insurance so that we can have a knock-for-knock negotiation, as happens at the moment?
All I am doing is raising the issues. Having been knocked off my bike by a motorist, I have no difficult whatsoever arguing about the lack of safety on the road, whether in urban areas or in rural areas, where one can turn a corner and find cyclists riding four abreast and one has to watch what one is doing. That is not the issue. The issue is about changing the law and the consequences of doing so to the law and to insurance.
I add my congratulations to my colleague Alison Johnstone on securing the debate. I am very pleased to have heard so many positive comments from around the chamber, notwithstanding the previous speech, which it seemed to me was really expressing frustration at the fact that we have not come here with a single, specific, fully developed proposal but, rather, that we are opening a debate. Alison Johnstone’s motion clearly seeks further debate on this general area.
Over the years, I have taken part in many debates on active travel—walking and cycling—and at times I have felt just a tiny wee bit of a fraud. Although I was a regular cyclist as a student in Manchester, when I cycled up Oxford Road and Wilmslow Road, which at the time was the busiest bus route in Europe—it felt pretty dangerous—in Glasgow I was frankly scared to cycle.
I did not want to cycle in Glasgow because I saw the state of the roads, with the potholes forcing cyclists in and out and in and out in busy roads; the lamentable state of cycling provision, such as the appallingly inadequate cycle lanes, some of which simply disappear in the middle of the road for no apparent reason; and the behaviour of some motorists. However, this summer I took the plunge and swapped my bus pass for a bike and I could not have been happier since. It is a hugely positive change in the way that I get about, and I will count it as an unhappy day if I find myself still reliant on the services of First Glasgow.
The scenes that I have experienced are mixed. I have seen cyclists occasionally shooting a red light or cycling somewhere they should not, including the pavement. To be honest, I understand that they sometimes do that because they would not feel safe otherwise; they do it to maximise their safety because of the state of the provision that has been made available to them, not to try to pose a threat to others or because they are being reckless with the safety of others.
Far more often than seeing a cyclist shooting a red light, cycling on a pavement or cycling at night without lights, I see motorists trying to get through lights before or just after they have changed—trying to take the last little opportunity to shoot through lights—cutting each other up, or cutting up cyclists. My personal favourite is motorists’ failure to indicate. That is so common in Glasgow that, to be frank, one does not pay attention to the little blinking lights, because they will not say what the vehicle will do. There is no correlation between what people use their indicators for and which direction the vehicle will move in.
There is a real need to address the responsibility that people feel. The responsibility that somebody feels when they are moving a tonne or two of metal through the streets must be substantially greater than the responsibility that somebody feels when they are moving a couple of tens of kilos of metal through the streets. Moving a bicycle through the streets at a modest pace is still a significant thing to do and it bears a significant responsibility, but it is clear that the responsibility of somebody who is driving a couple of tonnes of metal through the streets at a much higher velocity must be greater.
Unlike Margaret Mitchell, I do not think that an approach to stricter liability of whatever formulation we end up debating would suddenly encourage cyclists to be much more irresponsible. The logic of that, because of the hierarchical nature of the issue, is that it would encourage lots of pedestrians to run all over the roads and cause accidents. I think that the approach would send a signal to people that cycling matters, that cyclists’ safety matters, and that every road user is responsible for their impact on other people.
The change would do one crucial thing, which is one of the most important things that we can do to make cycling safer in Scotland: it would get more cyclists out on the roads. It would normalise cycling and make it impossible for any driver to regard cyclists as an inconvenient and unnecessary intrusion into their private use of road space.
I, too, congratulate Alison Johnstone on securing the debate. I was very pleased to have been able to support her motion.
The debate is absolutely not about cyclists against motorists—for the record, I am both a cyclist and a motorist—but about how the law should protect vulnerable road users and how we can best encourage cycling.
Notwithstanding what we have already heard, Conservatives are actually very pro cycling. The UK Government is investing more in cycling than any previous British Government did, and London, led by Conservative mayor and cycle fanatic Boris Johnson, is very much leading the way in cycling investment in the United Kingdom. By 2015, London will spend more than four times per head on cycling what is spent in Scotland.
We have already heard about the clear benefits of cycling to both cyclists and non-cyclists alike, which I will not repeat. We know that Scots want to cycle. In 2010, the Scottish household survey found that 35 per cent of Scottish households have access to a bike, and the UK has one of the highest numbers of bike sales in Europe. The numbers of people who cycle to work and school are steadily rising, but we continue to have a woeful cycling rate compared with the rest of Europe. The European Union has an average of 7.4 per cent of journeys made by bicycle; in the UK, the figure is just over 1 per cent.
The main barrier to increasing cycle rates is a perception that the activity is dangerous, but that perception is not accurate. The risks of cycling are roughly comparable to those that are faced by pedestrians, and its health benefits vastly outweigh its risks. However, the perception certainly exists. Indeed, just last week, The Herald reported that 56 per cent of cyclists and non-cyclists who responded in a poll believed that the roads were unsafe for cycling. One way to change that perception would undoubtedly be to introduce a law of strict liability.
There are missed conceptions about the strict liability.
I think that I am about to deal with the member’s point.
Strict liability would not result in motorists becoming automatically liable; nor would it result in drivers being sent to jail. It would apply only to civil cases and would establish only a presumption that could be disproved in court, which is why I prefer to use the term presumed liability. Importantly, that would apply equally to cyclists in an accident involving them and pedestrians as the more vulnerable road user.
Presumed liability exists in the vast majority of other European countries without adverse and unintended consequences and in countries with significantly higher cycling usage and better cycling safety than Scotland.
Presumed liability should be considered because there is a good argument that it is fair, it would make our roads safer and it would encourage cycling. It is fair because it acknowledges that there is a clear imbalance of road users, and those driving a vehicle that is capable of causing harm to others should exercise caution. In virtually every collision between a car and vulnerable road user, it will be the pedestrian or the cyclist who is injured. It is therefore reasonable to place a greater burden of proof on the motorist.
I fail to see how anyone who accepts that cyclists have an equal right to be on our roads cannot support the introduction of legal safeguards that address the imbalance. Indeed, careful and observant motorists following the highway code have nothing to fear from the introduction of presumed liability.
I agree with the motion that presumed liability is not a panacea for cycling safety; it can only be one part of a raft of measures. The best way to improve safety is to increase cyclist numbers, and we can do that through proper infrastructure investment, including in junction safety, full segregation and additional cycle parking spaces, as well as in schemes to encourage cycling to work, such as the bike to work scheme. More cyclists on our roads are good for cyclists and non-cyclists alike. That should be an aspiration of this Parliament.
I, like others, congratulate Alison Johnstone on securing the debate. I do not agree with what Cycle Law Scotland is calling for but, like other members, I recognise the need to arrive at a safer co-existence between the various road users through a package of measures, which to be fair, is what the motion calls for.
Encouraging more people to feel able to get on their bike is important from health and climate change perspectives. However, in seeking that, we must examine in a balanced way the relationship between pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle users. Sadly, the petition to which the motion refers can hardly be described as balanced in its consideration of that relationship.
I am a car user whose very mixed experience of cyclists’ conduct on our roads leaves me believing that, although we must consider how we arrive at a better, safer interaction between cyclists and vehicle users, what the petition calls for is wrong-headed.
Claudia Beamish mentioned rural links. The constituency that I represent has a number of paths and lanes placed at the disposal of cyclists that allow proficient and not-so-proficient cyclists to either pursue what is an interest for them, or to commute to and from work relatively safely. As Nigel Don, my North Angus colleague has highlighted previously in the Parliament, there remains scope to connect even better our counties, towns and villages to the benefit of cyclists. However, we still have many instances in which cyclists, vehicle users and pedestrians have common usage of routes and where problems arise.
My most striking and direct personal experience of cyclists has been here in Edinburgh, generally in close proximity to the Parliament, and that experience reaffirms my belief that what is being called for by Cycle Law Scotland ought to be rejected.
A bustling, major city such as Edinburgh must be incredibly intimidating for cyclists, as Kezia Dugdale highlighted. The conduct and attitude of some drivers towards cyclists leaves a great deal to be desired. However, let us be clear: those taking to the roads on bikes are also of very mixed ability and attitude, so to introduce a presumption of liability against motorists involved in incidents with cyclists is—against that backdrop, and unless other measures are taken—unjustifiable. Of course, we need to better protect vulnerable road users, be they on foot or on bike, but surely we must recognise that there are cases in which in those vulnerable road users cause the very incidents that lead to their sustaining injuries, yet Cycle Law Scotland wants us to start from the premise that the driver is automatically deemed to be at fault and it is up to them to prove that they were not.
Cycle Law Scotland is not talking about automatic liability; it is talking about presumed liability. There is no automatic assumption that the driver is at fault. The approach recognises the vulnerability of some road users. It is inherently dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists to share the road with motorised vehicles, which is why there should be a different approach.
I take the member’s point, but the starting position is a presumption that the driver is in the wrong. I raised that very point with Cycle Law Scotland, which told me that it recognises that a cyclist might be negligent, but it would be up to the motorist to argue that point. I was told that in the case of young or elderly cyclists or pedestrians, the driver would need to establish a degree of recklessness on the part of the injured party. I am not quite sure how that sits in terms of natural justice.
If we are to accept that what the petition calls for is justified, we must believe that cyclists are rarely, if ever, at fault in traffic accidents, when the reality is that the behaviour of cyclists on our roads often leaves much to be desired, just as the behaviour of drivers does. In the course of the past few weeks, for example, on London Road, just a short distance from here, I have twice witnessed a cyclist jumping off the road and on to the pavement to get round a queue of traffic, before diving back on to the carriageway in front of moving vehicles.
Unlike Cycle Law Scotland, however, I do not deem it appropriate to tar one group of road users with the same brush. If we are to get more people cycling safely on our roads, we need to create a culture of respect among the people who use the roads, in which everyone is required to behave responsibly and everyone is held equally to account when they cause injury or damage through carelessness.
I agree with Alison Johnstone that a jigsaw of measures is required to get us to that point. We must take a balanced approach. Measures might include the introduction of a cycling proficiency examination that cyclists of all ages must pass before they take to the roads, and, as Christine Grahame said, a requirement for cyclists to carry third-party liability insurance to cover damage that they are found to be responsible for inflicting on vehicles and pedestrians.
There is a considered debate to be had on the issue. This afternoon’s good debate has kicked that off and I look forward to its continuation.
Sometimes when a member is called to speak at the end of a debate they feel that everything that could have been said has been said. However, coming in at the end of a debate also enables us to reflect on what other members have said. I thank Alison Johnstone for bringing the debate to the Parliament. It has been a good debate, because it has illustrated the range of views that there is, even among members.
Let us reflect on why the debate has been brought. It has been brought because of the terrible toll of cycling injuries and deaths on our roads, which Graeme Pearson set out at the start of his speech. That is why the petition has been raised. People are looking for a better way to protect cyclists and pedestrians on our roads. That is the motivation and that is where we should start the debate.
Today should be the start of the discussion, not the end. Graeme Pearson suggested that the minister bring together stakeholders to discuss the matter. We talk about investment in our roads and pavements, about trying to get the number of cyclists up and about specific types of route, but we tend not to talk about the wider culture and legal environment in which we use our roads. From that perspective, the debate has been useful. It would be good if the minister could look at research from other countries and consider the impact of different legal environments and frameworks. I am not suggesting that the minister says yes or no today; I ask him to think about how we take the debate forward and consider the issue.
Strict liability is a contentious issue. I have raised it in discussions with people who instantly say yes or no to it. The people who reject the idea do so very stridently. We need to have a broader discussion before we say yes or no, which is why I am grateful to Alison Johnstone for structuring her motion in the way that she did and enabling us to have the debate. The cross-party group on cycling has a particular role in taking the matter forward, but the minister could lead a debate on the issue, in a cross-party way. We will not all agree on the last dot and comma, but we can at least take the debate forward.
For me, anecdotally, our streets feel more confrontational. We know that, statistically, more people are cycling. That is definitely a good thing and we are on the right trajectory. Jim Eadie talked about the Scottish Government’s desire for more people to cycle as part of their daily business. However, there are major challenges. Although more and more people are cycling, the changes to our road infrastructure to facilitate that have simply not kept up. That is why the package of measures that Alison Johnstone mentions in her motion is important. We need to look at investment in our streets and roads, but we also need to look at the culture. It has to be a package.
Sandra White mentioned the pavements issue. It would be useful if the minister was to commission some research on that because—again, anecdotally—I am convinced that more and more people are cycling on pavements and doing so in a way that is not safe. I have heard of pedestrians being injured. When people are in pedestrian mode, it is incredibly irritating for them if someone cycles past them on a narrow pavement. However, that behaviour speaks to the anxiety that led to the petition coming in front of us—the anxiety of cyclists who are worried about their safety on the roads. Patrick Harvie was right. Regular cyclists have good days, but also pretty unpleasant days, when they get into work having had two or three near misses. Even when cyclists are trying to be aware and to cycle in the right way, it is not a guarantee of safety.
It would be useful to have more research—not just on the generality, but research that teases out some of the issues that we have debated tonight. When I cycled to a hospital recently, I found that the route was just not there for cyclists and the environment was very unfriendly. As well as generally improving cycle access, we need to look at key institutions and ask how easy it would be for people to use their bikes to get there, either to work in them or to visit them.
I want to briefly mention the nice way code, which Kezia Dugdale mentioned.
It is important to consider how we view cyclists and to make sure that the advice is right. For example, the advice about not riding on the inside of vehicles cuts across a street layout that has cyclists, at a junction, on the left-hand side. It often ends up with cyclists having to overtake a long vehicle, potentially going into oncoming traffic, and then weave back. Nothing annoys bus or lorry drivers more than cyclists cutting back in.
It has been interesting to hear the diverse views that exist in the Parliament on the issue. I confirm—as some people doubt it, I am sure—that I take road safety issues very seriously and I agree that one death on Scotland’s roads is one too many. We do all that we can, where there is an evidence base to suggest action, to implement measures to reduce road casualty figures in line with our road safety framework and the targets to reduce casualties.
I should first set out the Scottish Government’s position on liability in relation to road traffic accidents. In 2010, the “Cycling Action Plan for Scotland” committed Transport Scotland to looking at incidents of killed or seriously injured—KSI—cyclists and to examining the implementation of liability laws in other countries to see whether there was any evidence to suggest that the intervention reduces cycle accidents and fatalities.
As was noted in the refreshed CAPS document that was published in June, we have not been able to establish a robust evidence base that links liability laws to cycling accident rates. The research, which has been circulated and is available via the Scottish Parliament information centre, looked at various countries across Europe and their cycle fatality rates between 1990 and 2010 and compared them with figures for the UK and Scotland.
Comparisons between countries are inevitably hindered, as has been suggested, by the different circumstances in the countries. Each country has a different legal approach to liability as well as different laws on road speeds, different cycling cultures and different geographies, and there are many other factors. As a result, other questions have to be addressed when the evidence is looked at. Between 1990 and 2010, Germany, where strict liability is in place, and Scotland, where it is not, had similar reductions in fatalities. Scotland’s fatality rate reduced more than Italy’s, despite that country having strict liability legislation in place.
Figures on our reported road casualties for 2012 were published last Wednesday and the headline figures, overall, are the lowest since records began. That is obviously better news than if they were higher. However, we know that we still have a long way to go and we take the approach that one death is too many. We also know that there are continuing concerns to address in respect of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, although pedestrians have not been mentioned in the debate as much as I expected. Collectively, we must continue to ensure that everyone plays their part to make the roads safer.
Cycle Law Scotland has been lobbying for a change in Scotland’s civil laws regarding presumed liability for road traffic accidents. Indeed, its representatives have met Transport Scotland officials twice to discuss the issue, and the Government has not turned a deaf ear to the representations that have been made. The argument for stricter or presumed liability is that it would raise drivers’ awareness of vulnerable road users, thereby making drivers more careful. However, from a road safety point of view, there does not appear to be robust evidence to suggest that the number of road accidents would be reduced if the law were changed in such a way.
As has been said, first by Alison Johnstone, there is no magic bullet to improve cyclist safety. Rather than one intervention, a package of measures must be implemented, as the motion states. We are already delivering better infrastructure—although we know that we have much more to do—as well as the cycling training that Alison Johnstone mentioned and the road safety campaigns. The nice way code has attracted criticism from cycling groups, but it is difficult to change the culture. That does not happen overnight. We have seen, through other social marketing campaigns that have been pursued over time, that it takes time to do that. The code is a good step forward and is not one that the Government just dreamed up—it was drawn up with many cycling groups.
On that point, I have different information from Alison Johnstone. I understand that it is not the case that Sustrans supports the change to which she refers. In fact, a number of other organisations—for example, Living Streets Scotland and Paths for All—are against the change that has been mentioned. Perhaps that is worth investigating further.
John Lamont talked about spend per head of population, but he restricted his comments to the Conservative Party and what Boris Johnson is doing in London. Outside London, the spend per head of population in other parts of England is around £1.50 whereas in Scotland this year it is around £4.00 and will be around £6.00 next year—and that does not include the contributions from local authorities. The fact that we have recognised that there is much more to do is reflected in the increasing levels of investment that are being made.
We are delivering better infrastructure. Kezia Dugdale, who has left the chamber, mentioned Easter Road. One of the officials from Transport Scotland who is sitting at the back of the chamber regularly cycles up and down Easter Road and feels that it is a safe road to cycle. Such things are subjective and depend on people’s experiences and perceptions of the environment around them, but other people feel that the road is safe in the circumstances. One of the main infrastructure initiatives that we are delivering, not far from Easter Road, is the Leith Walk initiative. We recently announced support for the City of Edinburgh Council’s initiative to have infrastructure put in there to improve active travel.
I have mentioned the cycling training that we are providing. We are specifically delivering on-road cycling training to improve people’s confidence. In the past, training has been delivered in the playground but that is not a real environment for many parents, and as crucial as getting children to feel that it is safe to cycle is getting parents to feel that it is safe for them to cycle.
Claudia Beamish highlighted problems with the roads around schools. Car journeys to school are often short and quite environmentally damaging. However, it is true to say—I am not passing the buck—that 94 per cent of the roads in this country are controlled not by the Scottish Government but by local authorities. We have a responsibility to help them to improve their roads and there have been initiatives in the past such as safer routes to school. Nevertheless, local authorities and schools themselves have a role to play. Claudia Beamish made a good point about the state of the roads, which should be looked after and kept in good condition. Also, during the winter, we can tackle the perception that the roads might be unsafe because of ice or snow. We are looking at that on a cross-portfolio basis and I have met Paul Wheelhouse, Shona Robison and Alasdair Allan a number of times to discuss that very issue.
We are trying to address the three issues on which Alison Johnstone finished her speech: road safety, better infrastructure and campaigns on cycling training and road safety. We are also encouraging local authorities to implement lower speed limits, not least in Edinburgh. That work involves the three Es—engineering, education and enforcement. On engineering, we are steadily increasing investment in cycling infrastructure. Members may not think it, but we are spending more on that than any previous Government in Scotland. At the first-ever cycling summit on 24 September, I announced £20 million of match funding for local authority-led community links schemes over the next two years, which includes money for tackling problem junctions. On education, we have developed road user awareness campaigns to foster mutual respect, which is another issue that Alison Johnstone raised.
Preliminary results from the evaluation of Cycling Scotland’s nice way code campaign suggest that it has been useful in shifting public perceptions in favour of giving cyclists more space and respect on the road, particularly at junctions, and in leading to an increase in the number of cyclists who say that they feel comfortable cycling on the roads. There has also been an increase in driver awareness of pedestrians. There will be an opportunity to discuss that further at the next meeting of the cross-party group on cycling on 3 December.
We have tried to be as helpful as possible on Edinburgh’s 20mph pilot project, which is being rolled out to all business and residential areas of the city. A 20mph limit has been introduced in other countries such as the Netherlands, where the number of cycling fatalities has reduced as a result. The Netherlands—which I visited to see what is done there on cycling—provides hard evidence of which we should take notice.
I was highly encouraged by the positive engagement that local authorities and other delivery bodies showed at the first national cycling summit that was held last month. For my part, I will continue to seek constructive discussion about what more we can all do to make cycling a more attractive and safe travel option in our communities. The motion makes a plea for us to debate the issue further, which has been echoed by a number of members. I welcome debate on protecting the most vulnerable road users, but we must proceed on the basis of robust data. If people think that the exercise that we said that we would undertake, which we have undertaken and the results of which we have published, is wrong, I would be more than willing to look at other evidence—proper, objective evidence—that suggests that another approach can be taken.
For that reason, although I am supportive of nearly all the statements that are made in the motion, I cannot support it in its current form, given the lack of robust evidence that stricter liability could have positive benefits for vulnerable road users. However, there will continue to be debate on the issue, in which we will continue to participate.
Meeting closed at 18:16.