The case of a mother killed by a cyclist riding an illegally configured bicycle recently reached its conclusion. The culprit was handed a prison sentence after being found guilty under a law originally intended for horse and carriages.
Damian Ryder, a Road Traffic Accident Associate at Simpson Millar, discusses the forthcoming government review set in motion by this tragic case.
Bike Lacked A Front Brake
The case of Kim Briggs, who was hit by a cyclist riding a track bike, has received plenty of press over the course of the last few months. The cyclist was riding a bike that wasn’t road legal – an unmodified track bike lacking a front brake.
Despite the fact that Mrs Briggs was killed when the bike collided with her, the cyclist was cleared of manslaughter and convicted of the offence of causing bodily harm by ‘wanton and furious driving’. For this he received a prison sentence of 18 months.
What Is Wanton And Furious Driving?
The charge of ‘wanton and furious driving’ dates back to 1861, a time when bicycles had not long been invented and were therefore still as rare as hen’s teeth. At this time, the main mode of transport was still the horse and carriage.
The criminal charge was drawn up as a deterrent against people who recklessly drove horse and carriages without due care or attention:
‘An offence against the public police may be committed by any person wantonly and furiously driving or riding on the highway, so as to endanger persons passing […] subjecting the offender to an imprisonment, with or without hard labour, not exceeding two years.’
Why Was The Cyclist Charged With Wanton And Furious Driving?
The cyclist found guilty in this case was cleared of manslaughter, but the charge of causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving still stood.
The reason this archaic law was applied in the Kim Briggs case was because, presently, there is no cycling equivalent of the motoring offence of dangerous driving. Wanton and furious driving is the closest available charge.
What Is The Purpose Of The Government Review Into Cycling Law?
The government review is a direct response to the case involving the pedestrian killed by the illegal cyclist. There was frustration that the maximum sentence that could be applied was no more than 2 years and Mrs Briggs’ widower called for a change in the law, including the introduction of a new charge of causing death by dangerous cycling.
The case for new legislation was pushed by the Member of Parliament for the victim’s constituency, Labour’s Heidi Alexander, and the review announced shortly after.
With the help of independent legal advice, it will look into ways that the UK’s cycling laws can be updated to bring them more into line with driving offences. It will also look at cycling safety in relation to motorists, with the number of cyclists and pedestrians injured or killed by drivers disproportionately higher.
Mr Briggs, who welcomed the government’s response, said:
“What I want is for the police and CPS to have a coherent law to be able to reach for in the future … Just because what happened to Kim is rare, it doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a remedy in law.”
The review is expected to report its findings in the new year.
Damian Ryder comments:
“Some thought the charge of manslaughter in this case, along with the possible maximum sentence of life imprisonment, to be too excessive. Others thought that the charge of wanton and furious driving and its maximum sentence of 2 years were too lenient.”
“These extremes highlight the present inadequacies in UK law when it comes to those cyclists who disregard the safety of pedestrians.”
“A change is perhaps long overdue. Although it won’t bring back Mrs Briggs or change the circumstances for anybody else who has been injured in a bicycle collision, it may offer some small comfort that people have been listened to and action is being taken.”
If you are a pedestrian who has been injured by a cyclist on the road, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact Simpson Millar’s Road Traffic Accident department today.
0808 129 3304