The case of R v Alliston  was heard in the Old Bailey before Her Honour Judge Wendy Joseph QC and brought to light an apparent gap in legislation which may result in a new offence of causing death by dangerous cycling. In the following months after the conclusion of the trial, government ministers commissioned an independent report to be carried out to address road safety issues relating to cycling and consider whether there is a case for this new offence to be implemented.
The Defendant, Charlie Alliston, was cycling in London on 12 February 2016 when he hit Kim Briggs as she crossed Old Street causing her to sustain severe head injuries which resulted in her death a week later. He had been travelling at 18mph on a second hand fixed-gear bike which did not have a front brake (contrary to Pedal Cycles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1983 as amended in 2015). As his saddle was more than 635mm from the ground, there was an additional requirement that he must have a braking system on the front wheel.
The jury found the Defendant not guilty of manslaughter but guilty of causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving, contrary to Section 35 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The Defendant was sentenced to 18 months detention in a Young Offenders Institution.
Since the trial, there has been much debate about whether the legislation which is in place suitably deals with circumstances where a cyclist causes death or serious injury. When considering the sentencing guidelines for wanton and furious driving, the offence carries a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and in comparison to sentences that can be expected for a conviction of manslaughter, there is no doubt that there is a significant gap between the existing offences which has been considered to be too wide.
‘Wanton and furious driving’ stems from Victorian age legislation and was originally drafted to deal with reckless handling of horses. Case law, R v Parker  50 J.P. 793, later confirmed that the offence of wanton and furious driving can apply to pedal cycles as well as other vehicles. It has since been used in circumstances such as R v Alliston because there is no cycling equivalent to the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.
The most comprehensive pieces of legislation which deal with cycling offences are the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Road Traffic Act 1991 which include dangerous cycling, careless or inconsiderate cycling and cycling under the influence. Other road traffic offences often require the driving of a ‘mechanically propelled vehicle’ and therefore do not apply to bicycles.
The independent report concludes that there is a strong case for a change in the law. If it is introduced, it would bring cycling in line with serious driving offences. It is clear that road safety is paramount, be that dealing with dangerous and reckless motorists or cyclists. For now, we wait for further recommendations in relation to whether this new offence will be written into legislation.
If you would like to read the independent report in more detail, you can visit the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cycle-safety-review
For further help or advice, please contact our specialist transport and motoring solicitors on 01908 202150.