The Alliston case: after the verdict

The previous post  has had more views than any other in our history. We have received significant support for its content in comments and on Twitter, and also – as one must expect in the age of social media – abuse and insult. Although readers will judge for themselves, it is striking how the insults have been based on a lack of evidence and – above all – misreading of what the piece was about.

So, to repudiate the insults, let’s clarify what the piece was – and more importantly was not – about. We can then move on to an assessment of where we are now after an extraordinary week.

The piece was written before the verdict in the trial of Mr Charles Alliston. This meant we could not legally comment on whether he was guilty of the offences he was charged with. One accusation made on twitter ( from Richard Williams‏ @richw1986 ) was that “Moreover – my point is more that by trying to defend a guy who doesn’t deserve it you’re not encouraging sympathy toward cyclists who do imo”. As I replied, “There is not one single thing in my piece which tries to defend him or his actions.”


What we said

The essence of the piece was as follows: along with other colleagues in the transport and road safety fields, we were struck by the way that a pedestrian death, unlike the 99.4% that don’t involve a cyclist, had caught the attention of the media and also a manslaughter charge. For some of our colleagues, like the officers in West Midlands Police

If only every road death had this much media coverage….our roads might be safer as a result.

I wanted to go further than voicing such a sentiment, by analysing why this has happened. My argument was, and is, that we see significant double standards applied here. Their use is based on a failure – or refusal – on the part of the media, the legal system, and our culture at large to recognise road danger as a serious social problem. Were it to do so, and apply the same focus to other pedestrian deaths as in the Alliston case, we would have:
• massive media concern,
• higher chances of prosecution,
• more serious charges brought,
• higher chances of securing guilty verdicts (with juries less likely to identify with errant drivers)
• and far more serious punishment
in the 99.4% of cases of pedestrian deaths where motorists and motorcyclists are involved.

The reason for stating this is not vindictiveness. Indeed, the point of drawing attention to the double standards is to focus on what happens before such deaths occur. Our aim is to move towards proper social concern for behaviour with a potential to endanger others, in order to avoid deaths and injuries. This is likely to involve far more law enforcement, and penalties of a minor nature for errant behaviour prior to crashes, as well as highway and vehicle engineering designed to protect the more vulnerable road users. But whatever the measures to be taken, the point is to return our attention to the principal source of danger on the road – and the fact that it has never really been taken with proper seriousness.

To a large extent this simply means viewing safety on the road with, to take a rough example, the sort of rigour to be found in places governed by Health and Safety at Work – hardly a very radical objective. But it would require a massive change in the dominant attitudes towards motor vehicle use, opposing the current acceptance of endemic rule and law breaking by drivers. Indeed, it is precisely because of this tolerance of what to us is intolerable that we have had the focus on the exceptional case of a cyclist causing a pedestrian death.

Only a bigot or anybody who hadn’t read the post could fail to see that argument and that we were in no way exempting Alliston from responsibility.

We also voiced a concern that cyclists as an “out-group” were being lumped together and targeted with negative stereotyping and stigma – with a dangerous propensity to increase already intolerable danger to them. Why – particularly when there had been no guilty verdict – should this mean we were excusing bad cycling or that we were supposedly and wrongly “speaking for cyclists”?

The widower of Kim Briggs, Mr Matthew Briggs, while calling for changes in the law to incorporate “causing death by dangerous cycling”, made it absolutely clear that he was not targeting all cyclists. Regrettably, numerous commentators (ab)using the tragedy of the loss of his wife were not so civilised. We have had the spectacle of abuse of all cyclists, from the convicted drink driver Andy Kershaw, through a grandstanding MP mouthing half-baked insults, to the extraordinary spectacle of the grotesque “Mr Loophole” attacking the “epidemic” of cycling.

The misconstruing of what we said is but a part of the wave of prejudice we have witnessed. Indeed, our prediction that this episode would be about diverting attention away from abuse of motor vehicles on to a vulnerable out group appears to have been at least partly fulfilled.

Finally, the disgusting suggestion was made that we had no sympathy for the loved ones of Mrs Briggs. Anybody aware of the work of myself as Chair and other members and supporters of Road Danger Reduction Forum know the work we have done, particularly in co-ordination with our friends in RoadPeace, to support road crash victims. Above all, our professional and voluntary work is based on making life safer for road users, particularly pedestrians.

Mr. Briggs, in his comments on his aims for the future, has talked about his objective of avoiding other families having to go what his has done. The obvious thrust of the previous post, and of all the work of the RDRF, is that we want incidents involving pedestrian death to be taken more seriously, and that the behaviours leading up to them are reduced, with those responsible for them held accountable.

This seems to us to be the best way to recognise the death of Mrs Briggs. It will work for others in her position to be protected from road danger, and for when it does result in injury or death, to be properly treated by society

After the verdict: what we do think

It’s worth reading this  analysis of the case, this piece  and in particular the detailed exposure of double standards involved here.

However, unlike in this last article, we don’t want to dwell on issues around the evidence on matters such as stopping distances. We accept the verdict and see it as our job to press ahead for reduced danger on the roads. When asked on BBC Radio London if we would accept cyclists coming under legislation relating to deaths caused by dangerous or careless driving, I said yes. We have always wanted all people endangering others to come under the operation of the law; however they are getting about (although we would be circumspect about potentially criminalising pedestrians with some sort of “jay walking” legislation).

So we support the statement by Cycling UK, which is worth reading carefully:

Ducan Dollimore, Cycling UK Head of Advocacy and Campaigns said:

Riding a fixed wheel bicycle on busy roads without a front brake is illegal, stupid, and endangers other road users especially pedestrians. Charlie Alliston’s actions had tragic consequences for Kim Briggs’ family, and it was entirely right that this led to his prosecution.

“The fact that he has been convicted of an offence dating back to legislation from 1861, drafted in archaic language, will doubtless lead some to argue that the laws on irresponsible cycling should be aligned with the laws on irresponsible driving. The reality is that the way in which the justice system deals with mistakes, carelessness, recklessness and deliberately dangerous behaviour by all road users has long been in need of review.

“In 2014 the Government acknowledged this when announcing a full review of all motoring offences and penalties, but then waited three years to launch a limited consultation last year which closed six months ago, with silence ever since.

“To ensure that there is consistency with charging decisions, and with how dangerous behaviour on or roads is dealt with, it is vital that the Government ends the delay, and gets on with the wide scale review that politicians from all sides, victims’ families and various roads safety organisations have tirelessly demanded.”


In a similar vein, LCC issued a statement:

So let’s note and celebrate that it’s the cycling organisations that are making a commitment towards reducing the danger presented to pedestrians. This involves pushing for a legal framework which will make it more likely that those responsible for road deaths (and injuries) are more likely to be charged, to be charged with an offence that reflects the seriousness of their behaviour, and to be more likely to found guilty and receive a sentence commensurate with the actual and potential damage that their actions have caused. We have been supporting the campaigning objectives that Cycling UK describe above, and see it as a key feature of road danger reduction.

By contrast, the official “road safety” industry has been conspicuous by its absence in the media storm of the last few days. Of course, so too have the official motoring organisations. (And anyway, can you imagine them being required to issue statements on the responsibilities of motorists after a road death caused by a driver?)

So we shouldn’t need to repeat this, but suspect we may have to, so here goes: The RDRF, along with the rest of the road danger reduction movement, is and has been working since its inception for a much enhanced system of enforcement and sentencing governing the behaviours of road users which potentially threaten others. The attentions of this system will include others such as cyclists, but because of their smaller numbers, and more importantly because of their lower weight and speed and thus destructive potential, will form a small part of its overall focus. This focus will prioritise those with the greatest lethal potential, namely the drivers and riders of motor vehicles.

To illustrate the task we have, let’s look again at a case which was heard in an adjacent court at the same time as when the Alliston case was heard.


The case of Jessica Wells

  Photo: Daily Mail

According to the Daily Mail,22 year old Wells was riding her motorbike at 44 mph in a 30 mph area “weaving in and out of traffic”, overtaking a lorry and undertaking a learner driver moments before hitting and killing 80 year-old Ian Rose as he got off a bus. Ms Wells had noticed a speed camera and checked her dashboard in a way which distracted her at the moment of collision. (It may be of interest that both prosecution and the media report highlight this last fact, possibly implying that the speed camera was a problem. Maybe that is being too cynical.)

Wells was given a suspended sentence, with the judge pointing out that she had shown remorse, was aware that she taken a life (“a fact you will have to live with for the rest of your life”) and that it was “clear…that you are a sympathetic and compassionate young woman”.
Comparison with the Alliston case, which was being heard in an adjacent court at the same time, is instructive. Despite her behaviour being far more potentially lethal, there was a lower charge (causing death by careless driving as against manslaughter), what is likely to be a lower sentence, and – above all – far less media attention. Some of this can be put down to the contrast between the personalities involved, with one being sympathetic, the other (to put it mildly) unsympathetic. Some of it is due to a willingness to show remorse – although I’m not sure this should weigh that heavily when it comes to the severity of the collisions.

The point from this and many other comparisons is that double standards rule in a way which diminishes the prospects of serious commitment to tackle danger on the roads to the detriment of its actual and potential victims in the future.


Any hope?

All of this leaves us, as I concluded in the previous post, with an awareness of bleakness of the prospects facing people in the road danger reduction movement for a civilised approach to road danger.

Nevertheless, there are positive signs. There has been plenty of much needed mutual support voiced on social media. There have been thoughtful and well-crafted posts, threads and comments. (I modestly hope these pieces are part of that).

It also shows that safety on the road is not about abstract engineering or policing projects. It is about questioning the unquestioned, criticising an uncriticised status quo. It means addressing a culture where drivers are supported in the “rights” to drive where, when, why and above all how they want. That’s an important lesson to learn.

Since the early days of motoring – albeit with notable resistance from time to time – drivers have endangered others and largely got away with it. All we are seeing now is an outburst of the continued refusal to accept responsibility and deflect attention on to a (relatively) minor type of danger coming from a politically powerless out group. There is no reason to see the events of the last week as a particularly downward turn just because of a greater number than usual of bigots crawling out of the woodwork.

So we carry on. One last repetition: Carrying on the struggle seems to us the best way to recognise the death of Mrs Briggs. It will work for others in her position to be protected from road danger, and for when it does result in injury or death, to be properly treated by society.



54 thoughts on “The Alliston case: after the verdict

  1. gazzadawes

    That’s a good response. I have a few points around this case and others
    I do agree that the laws around cycling and road use need to be updated. I don’t think there’s necessarily an issue with using a law from the 19th century, but the legal terms of “careless” and “dangerous” need to be more properly defined and be available to be used against all road users if needed.

    One thing not often mentioned is that whilst this was a tragic outcome for Mrs Briggs and her family, it is quite possible that the cyclist could have suffered a head injury and died as a result. Cyclists are as vulnerable in collisions as pedestrians, unlike drivers. I wonder what would have happened in that event. This potential mortality is one of the reasons why we don’t need a jaywalking law

    The media itself has not brought up any parallels with cases involving drivers and pedestrians, and this is another are where parity is needed. I was surprised to read that the jury being instructed to put aside prejudices. As well as the Wells case highlighted in the article, there was a case at the same time here in the North East of a driver who didn’t see and killed a pedestrian. I’ve linked the articles. But he basically didn’t see her and ran over and killed her. Defence gave all kinds of spurious reasons to explain away his distraction. He was cleared anyway

    I am of the opinion that had Mrs Briggs been hit by a car, the driver would have probably been completely cleared due to her stepping into the road without looking.

    I hope that as the dust settles that this case will eventually bring some changes to the law and the justice system so that everyone involved and affected by tragedies such as this receive fair and appropriate treatment and justice

    1. Andrew Deighton

      I’m sorry, but I have to point out aomething I see as an error in your reasoning there. If a car had been involved in the Alliston incident, it would probably have resulted in jail if it was obviously unroadworthy.

      If Alliston had had a front brake, he probably would never have faced charges.

      Personally think Alliston’s behaviour after the crash may be partly explained by shock and lack of legal advice. So it puzzles me that it is being held as such a huge factor.

  2. Dave H (@BCCletts)

    It might be instructive to re-construct this fatal crash noting all the factors reported, but substituting a motor car for the bicycle.
    Mrs Briggs was distracted, we are lead to believe by using her mobile phone, such that she stepped into the carriageway without adequately checking for moving vehicles.
    Mr Alliston travelling on the carriageway noted this, and twice gave an audible warning of approach (which for a motor car would be normally be a horn or klaxon)
    At the same time Mr Alliston assessed that a collision might be avoided by altering his direction of travel, as well as his speed of travel.
    Regrettably when Mrs Briggs became aware of the approaching vehicle she moved suddenly and in a direction opposite to that she had been moving.
    This unfortunately meant that she moved back into the Mr Alliston’s altered path as he attempted to avoid a collision between his vehicle and Mrs Briggs

    Replace bicycle with a car, and a driver knocking down and killing a pedestrian who stepped into the carriageway, failed to hear the horn sounded – twice – and then moved unpredictably and into the path of the car, with the driver already trying to avoid a collision, and it seems most unlikely that any case might be brought against the driver.

    Richard Madeley and many many others displayed a complete ignorance of civil law and the liabilities linked to collisions between all road users. Cyclists AND pedestrians have always been liable for any harm to persons or property arising from their movements on the public highway, and the law sensibly, over many centuries, recognises that the scale of any civil claim arising from a pedestrian of cyclist colliding with someone or something is so small that in most cases they can carry their own liability. A small number of vehicles are legally NOT insured, indeed it you can drive a car without an insurance policy BUT in its place you must have a deposit, in cash, of a sufficient amount to cover a likely liability – last I checked it was £0.5m, well beyond the means of most currently wanting to own and drive a car. The law on motor vehicles, right from the first Motor Car Act in 1903 recognised this issue and placed the caveats we still have today to manage the use of motor cars, notably that the vehicles can be identified by a registration plate, that the keeper of the vehicle must have insurance or a bond to cover their liability, and that the driver MUST, in the event that the PRESENCE of that motor vehicle causes harm to persons or property give the necessary details required for a civil claim.

    In practice most pedestrians and cyclists do have insurance when going about their daily journeys, through their household and possessions insurance policies, they would also be held to account for any harm they caused through a civil claims court.

    1. rdrf Post author

      Insurance is an interesting issue. My view is that as it stands it can be seen as negative because it insures drivers AGAINST their obligations. That doesn’t mean doing without insurance, just reducing the proportion of payment for injury to others (I am not so worried about damage to property). And then we have a couple of million or thereabouts uninsured drivers.

      Worry about all that before worrying about cyclist insurance. Or pedestrian insurance.

      1. Albert

        If that’s the case then we wonder why cars etc have insurance.

        Uninsured drivers don’t excuse cycling offences.

        And pedestrians are not vehicles, so that point is a bit silly really.

      2. rdrf Post author

        I have pointed out the problems with motoring insurance: in its present form it insures AGAINST responsibility. It needs to have a smaller proportion of damages (where personal injury is involved, I’m not concerned about property damage). Then you have the point that 1 – 200,000 drivers in London alone don’t have this thing which is supposed to make them responsible motorists.

        Who said that didn’t excuse irresponsible cycling?

        I’m just trying to focus on who/what threatens people on the road.

      3. Dr R Johnson

        It is a nonsense to state that insurance insures against responsibility. For one thing, it does not address the criminal aspect and for another, any insurance is only viable where reasonable care is exercised.

        Chair RDRF replying in comment: I don’t think it is “nonsense”

      4. Mark Williams

        You’re going to need better reasoning than that to disprove RDRF’s argument.

        That the criminal ‘aspect’ is independent of civil liability is practically a tautology, so it’s a bit difficult to understand why you would raise it or where you are heading with this. If insurance became invalid when unreasonable [lack of] care was exercised, it would be effectively pointless. Which is why it doesn’t: the insurer cannot wriggle out of their obligation that easily. Of course, a successful claim against you and paid on your behalf when you were not exercising reasonable care might well effect the ‘viability’ of any future policy. Although not by as much as you might expect—they usually still want your business.

        You may find it instructive to consider the premium for third-party risks—excluding incidental damage, theft and administration costs, etc.—for cycling it is pennies, but for motoring it is thousands of times more expensive… Rest assured, the insurance cartel never takes a loss on either—by design—and even hedges against the possibility!

      5. Richard

        Compulsory insurance would be a great idea for cyclists, it can’t stand against obligations because we have criminal laws, once of which surprise surprise means that it’s an offence for motorists not to have insurance. A loophole in the law means that cyclists don’t have to have it, which means that they don’t have the same responsibility, as this case shows.

      6. rdrf Post author

        No it wouldn’t! See my comments about how 3rd party insurance for drivers is in fact a way of insuring them AGAINST responsibilities, and Mark Williams’

      7. Giles

        As someone involved in motor insurance, I can say that insurance does not take away responsibility, otherwise the law would not insist upon it. Cyclists should carry third party insurance, it is there for a very good reason.

      8. rdrf Post author

        “As someone involved in motor insurance“. So there wouldn’t be an extra deterrent if you had to shell out the full range of costs from your own pocket, risking loss of car and maybe home?

        I’m not saying there shouldn’t be 3rd party for motors (and have it for cycling BTW), but it is not IMO about taking more responsibility.

      9. Mark Williams

        ‘The law’ insists on it to ensure that somebody is readily responsible, not necessarily the individual guilty party. Prior to that, motorists would frequently just say: oh, I can’t afford to make good the considerable losses I’ve caused, so you’ll have to bear them yourself. As vast amounts of damage were being done (and still are) to costly public infrastructure such as bridges, you can imagine how untenable that situation was!

        A more robust position would be that everybody should have such insurance. On highways, that includes walkists and horsists, too. Those currently clamouring for only cyclists to have it in response to this case shall probably be disappointed when they discover just how cheap a human life is considered to be ☹.

    2. Dr R Johnson

      Even where a cyclist is insured, there is still the problem of identification as cycles are not yet registered and there is a strong incentive, seen quite often, for the culprit to ride away.

      1. rdrf Post author

        So…motorists have number plates, and if we see them breaking the law we can contact the police and they will be arrested? Do try this and let us know how you get on.

      2. Richard

        The reg number is quite a handy way of reporting offences, if you’re polite and concise on the phone then this is helpful. Of course, it only applies to motor traffic, since cycles aren’t registered.

      3. rdrf Post author

        You CAN in principle report (see in London, and the programmes of close passing policing will make it a little easier for those cyclists who have video evidence. However, the chances of prosecution are pretty small unless there is additional evidence such as video and/or good quality witnesses.

        The arguments that drivers have number plates and are therefore properly regulated is, I’m afraid, nonsense

      4. Giles

        Not only can you report a motorist through registration (not a cyclist of course) “in principle”, but also in actuality, as thousands do up and down the country every day.

        Even those who like to go on exercises with helmet cameras must necessarily take down the registration plate of the motorists who they wish to persecute, so their argument that registration is ineffective is not a very good one, really.

  3. toby josham

    The Guardian did an article discussing this and it makes the point that he may not have been able to stop even with the front breaks.

    What he was convicted of was causing bodily harm by “wanton and furious driving” for riding at 18 mph in a 30 zone, on a green light when a pedestrian stepped out into the road. What he is actually guilty of is riding a bike that isn’t road legal and being involved in, NOT causing, but being involved in a collision with the pedestrian.

    That conviction, in my opinion is purely due to the break being removed, and this maybe justified and reasonable, however with the break fitted maybe he would have stopped, maybe not. If the pedestrian, Mrs Briggs, had looked then this DEFINITELY wouldn’t have happened.

    1. Andrew Deighton

      Actually the prosecution carried out experiments suggesting that the bicycle could have stopped if it had front brakes. I doubt if your type of argument would help an HGV driver if he had no brakes and killed someone. Alliston should have had front brakes.

      1. Simon

        But if he had had two brakes, he probably would have done the same thing. If you’ve ridden in the city, if you are going to stop every time someone steps out into the road some distance ahead of you, then you’ll never actually get anywhere. He did what most cyclists would do: warn the pedestrian (a bell would have been more polite than shouting swear words), slow down and steer around the pedestrian. He obviously did not give enough space to the pedestrian, so when she did not move as he expected, he hit her. Really I don’t think it has anything to do with his brake.

        A car/HGV does not have the option to go around the pedestrian: it’s a completely different situation. The car is so wide that a motorist would have to stop or hit the pedestrian.

    2. Simon Carter

      The full text of the “wanton and furious driving” law includes the words “or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever”. I agree it seems a fairly obscure law under which to prosecute a cyclist in the 21st century, but it’s also clear that riding a bike with only one brake is clearly a case of wilful neglect or misconduct so I’ve got no issue with him being locked up for it in the absence of any more relevant law under which to prosecute.

      I’d take issue with some of the statements in that Guardian article about braking. How much braking power you can apply before going over the handlebars depends significantly on how you’re set up on the bike, how your weight is distributed and how well you brace your arms. The 0.5g figure quoted for maximum deceleration should therefore be taken with a pinch of salt. It is also pretty obvious that if the main limiter on braking is going over the handlebars, then a rear brake is also less effective than a front since when you brake hard the rear wheel starts to lift and loses traction, so simply halving the braking power for a missing front brake as they do in that article isn’t accurate. A good bike handler will tell you that the best way to do an emergency stop on a bike in dry conditions is to do all, or nearly all, of the braking with the front brake. See

      None of this takes away from the responsibility the pedestrian bears for stepping out without properly looking. But riding without a front brake is extremely dangerous and should be strongly discouraged, hopefully this will make a lot of people think twice about it, as I see a significant minority riding this way (and steer well clear of them).

  4. Mary Handy

    No doubt the jury also considered the lack of a “break”, even if the armchair hacks at the Guardian beg to differ.
    There seems to be denial going on here, a motorist who failed to slow down, shouted obscenities at a pedestrian and then collided with that pedestrian would have the book thrown at him and imagine the furore if the vehicle was found to have had part of its “breaking” system removed by the driver.

    1. rdrf Post author

      We don’t know about “obscenities”.(ERRATUM: Apparently I’m wrong on this) On a very minor point, he didn’t remove a brake.

      Ms. Handy, the whole point I have been wearily, but persistently, making is that drivers colliding with pedestrians DO NOT “have the book thrown” at them.

      Here is a very well known case of 4 cyclists killed by a driver without adequate tyres and getting a fine and some penalty points. Hardly” book thrown”.

      1. Albert

        We do, or at least the court does.

        Motorists are regularly prosecuted, indeed they do have the book thrown at them.

        Even they didn’t, that should not be used to excuse this disgraceful incident, which seems to be happening here.

      2. rdrf Post author

        No, they don’t. See the cases I mention, which are quite typical. Nobody in their right mind could call them “book thrown at them”. For example As said numerous times, we’re fine with punishing errant cyclists as part of a legal framework which punishes according to level of endangering and prioritises accordingly.
        I think you need to look at why you think anything that has been written is an attempt to excuse Alliston.

      3. Dr R Johnson

        The obscenities which he shouted are well documented and he admitted them in a tweet. He had time to shout them twice, but seemingly “not time” to stop. So, “we do know about” the obscenities. It happened, so no more pretending, please.

        There was no front brake on the bike.

        A motorist who behaved in the same way would be facing a manslaughter or death through dangerous driving charge.

      4. rdrf Post author

        I take your word for the obscenities, I have corrected this.
        I didn’t say he didn’t have a front brake.
        A motorist who behaved in the same way (hitting a pedestrian at under 20 mph with some part of their vehicle not roadworthy) would NOT have faced manslaughter charges. Probably not even causing death through dangerous driving. Maybe not even causing death through careless driving. See for a not untypical example.

      5. Dr R Johnson

        I agree that a motorist who behaved in the same way as this cyclist would be likely to have the book thrown at him. I am aware of at least two cases where this is so, unfortunately.

        (Reply in comment by Chair RDRF): So you DO agree?

      6. Andrew Deighton

        Let’s say you bought a second hand car, and the front brakes were faulty to a degree that should have been noticable (but an 18 year old was somehow ignorant of legal obligations) – you can’t tell me that blasting a horn at a motorist in the road, swearing, failing to stop, and running them over would be likely to create a ‘manslaughter’ charge. It might even be ‘careless’ as opposed to ‘dangerous’ driving. Yes the motorist would be in trouble though.

      7. Dr K Havisham

        Yes, quite right. A motorist who behaved in the same way would face DTDD or DTCDunder the Road Traffic Act, so I too agree that a motorist behaving in the same way would have the proverbial book thrown at him or her.

      8. rdrf Post author

        They don’t. I have given a few recent examples of how they don’t have the book thrown at them. The facts are clear.

      9. Dr R Johnson

        Yes, the law operates to prosecute careless motorists and there are at least two statutory provisions for this. These provisions are invoked quite frequently, so it is worrying to see someone trying to argue that motorists are “never prosecuted”.

      10. rdrf Post author

        I didn’t say never.

        In terms of this happening relative to the frequency of law breaking, I should say hardly ever (breaking speed limits being the most obvious example). The provisions are not, in terms of the amount of law breaking, “invoked quite frequently“.

        There is also a persistent tendency for sentencing to be lenient, on top of a persistent tendency for juries ( made up of “there but for the grace of God go I” jurors) to fail to convict.

        You don’t recognise this. The persistence of prejudices like yours is why I have written the last two posts – to challenge these prejudices which hold that drivers (a) have their danger to others taken seriously in the media (b) that serious attempts are taken to reduce this law and rule breaking (c) that appropriate prosecutions are made (d) that chances of guilty verdicts are reached without excessive prejudice by jurors sympathetic to rule/law breaking driving (e) that adequate sentences are given – which should not be draconian but less lenient than those I have indicated in the cases mentioned.

        If you have managed to get a Ph.D or medical doctor status then you should be intelligent enough to know this. Which suggests, yet again, that the problem is the blanket bigotry which excuses the rule/law breaking, criminally negligent, careless, dangerous or just plain bad driving.

  5. Lawman

    Your comparison between the Wells and Alliston cases really highlights the central issue here which everybody sort of acknowledges but mostly ignores in their attempts to put forward their own biases in favour of cars/cyclists/pedestrians (whichever group they feel they most belong to).

    Long ago – when there was no such charge as death by dangerous driving – motorists were charged with manslaughter too. And the convictions were so (relatively) rare that the laws of death by dangerous / death by careless were introduced, these laws having a lower threshold and being more acceptable to juries who feel that manslaughter too serious a charge.

    And you know what, cyclists were also charged with manslaughter too! Look at the Times Archive and you will find several examples (one dates back to 1900). Every single one appears to have ended in acquittal.

    No doubt a jogger who knocked over another pedestrian at speed might be charged with manslaughter too if it was a) an unlawful act b) their behaviour was obviously dangerous carrying a risk of harm and c) the victim died as a result (this being the test Alliston’s jury had to consider).

    I doubt you are arguing that because cyclists are inevitably less involved in serious accidents such as this they should be treated more leniently. In reality, it is precisely because there are far fewer cyclists like Alliston that the charge of death by dangerous cycling does not exist.

    The rarity of this event is also a major reason this case was so big in the media. That is why News is called News, because it is (at least in recent memory) new and interesting and raises issues that people get all worked up about.

    Unfortunately Alliston also embodied the stereotypical bad cyclist – male, happy to ignore the laws of the Road, aggressive and eager to cast the blame elsewhere when confronted with an allegation he was at fault.

    If Alliston had not been Alliston and Kim Briggs had not been Kim Briggs (if the victim had been John Doe, for example) then it seems unlikely this case would have garnered so much attention and cyclists might not feel so aggrieved that the prosecution chose to use a law that it felt best reflected the incident. One could of course argue that the judge can take the death of Mrs Briggs into account when sentencing for wanton and furious riding, but Imagine if you were the victim’s family – would you really feel that an offence of causing actual bodily harm by furious riding adequately reflected what happened?

    1. rdrf Post author

      I’m not quite sure what you’re saying here: is it that you think Manslaughter should be used in all cases of death?

      My view is that it shouldn’t , except possibly in very extreme cases, or in ones where there has been deliberate attempt to go out and hurt specific individuals (there used to be a charge of “use of a vehicle as a weapon of offence” which has now disappeared.

      Anyway, all of this needs to be reviewed in the manner which Cycling UK and ourselves and others such as RoadPeace have been arguing for , for some time now.

      For what it is worth, all of this needs to be related to laws enforceable before people get hurt or killed. this is such a massive task that prioritisation is obviously a necessity.

      1. Albert

        The law certainly need reviewing, cyclist need to be brought within the Road Traffic Act- the situation at present isn’t fit for purpose and was designed for penny farthings (1861 remember) and a time when cyclists respected pedestrians, which is sadly not the case now.

      2. rdrf Post author

        If you bothered to read either of the posts you would see that we have been pushing for review of the law. Do try and read before you comment.

      3. Mark Williams

        Ironically, ‘Penny Farthings’—which hadn’t been invented in 1861 anyway—famously have not very good front brakes, if any. Everyone else knew to keep out of their way…

        In any event; be careful what you wish for. Bringing cycling ‘within the Road Traffic Act’—which it already is in other regards, but not currently the ‘death by …’ offences—might result in rather too many cyclists receiving lesser charges (or none at all), make available to them the arsenal of motoring precedents/ standard defences and getting off with slaps on the wrist. See Dave H’s comment. I’m moderately sure that was not what you had in mind? You would probably do better to support the long-standing RDRF et al campaign as-is rather than trying to knee jerk your own.

      4. Dr R Johnson

        What he said sounded reasonable, it seems a bit silly to suggest that someone should read before they post, particularly given that you clearly had not read yourself when you made the mistake about the obscene words uttered by the offender.

        Let’s try to keep this discussion mature,please.

      5. Andrew Deighton

        trying to seriously hurt individuals with a car – is almost certainly murder or attempted murder. I don’t see that killing using a car is excluded from constituting manslaughter, but as you say, there would have to be some extreme negligence – why drunkenness, having a race, very excessive speed are not extreme – is not clear (maybe juries see it as partly ‘normal’)

      6. rdrf Post author

        “Driving at” implies deliberate intent, which is irrelevant to the discussion.

        You can go through numerous cases of pedestrians being hurt or killed where there is no prosecution. This is imply not a debatable point.

  6. A Salter

    I agree with Lawman that the media coverage of the Alliston case is evidence not so much of double standards as of the old “man bites dog” aphorism – the more so when, as Lawman also notes, the defendant seemed a carefully crafted cartoon character (skull tattoo included).

    I also question the argument that a motorist would not have faced charges in similar circumstances. That often to seems to be advanced (a) without regard to the fact the bike was not road-legal (because of the absence of a front brake) and (b) on the assumption that Alliston could not have stopped or slowed substantially more if he had had that brake. The police evidence on that may yet be the basis for an appeal. But the argument from Martin Porter that Alliston only had 6.53m in which to act has been questioned (by me and others) as it seems totally at odds with what others reported – including Alliston’s own report. So it seems to me the proper comparison on the basis of the evidence against Alliston is a motorist driving/riding a vehicle without front brakes who collides with a pedestrian who stepped out into the road who probably would not have died if the motorist had had and used road legal brakes.

    Against that background, let’s look again at the comments made on the Wells case. I see nothing in the report to suggest her bike lacked a front brake. That seems to me likely to explain the lack of the manslaughter charge Alliston faced: manslaughter requires gross negligence. So the charge Wells faced was similar to that of which Alliston was convicted – both carrying a maximum sentence of 2 years.

    The rest of the comments then seem to be about the media coverage and the sentence. On the former, it seems to me Wells might have attracted more coverage if she had no front brakes, had shouted “get the f*** outta my way”, and posted that she treated the roads like a racetrack.

    As for the sentence, we don’t yet know Alliston’s. But we do know that judges are *required* to take into account various factors. One which you did not mention is that Wells admitted causing death by dangerous driving. I think that important enough to bear emphasis: she accepted responsibility for the death of the pedestrian; she did not put relatives etc through the stress of a trial.

    That seems to me to offer an alternative narrative of the Alliston case – which you could have started before the verdict and developed after – one which stressed:
    it has no winners; but
    it does at least show that cyclists *are* subject to the law and may face prosecution if they cause death or injury – as of course they should
    shows also that the law on cyclists needs to be brought into line with that for motor vehicles (as Mr Briggs has now called for)
    shows (yet again) that there is alienation between many cyclists on the one hand and motorists and pedestrians on the other which is good for no one.

    It seems to me that might just possibly have offered a chance of as tiny step towards convergence rather than divergence. And I mean divergence between cyclists and pedestrians, not just between them and drivers.
    But then much of the response to cases like Alliston makes me wonder if many cyclists – and especially their advocates– want that divergence. Some of the things done for cyclists and the way they do them seem to point that way. Another, recent example is the handling of the proposals for the Thames foot tunnels.
    (NB “no consultation has been undertaken or considered necessary”.)

    1. rdrf Post author

      Thanks for your detailed comments here.

      My view is still that the reason for coverage of the Alliston case as opposed to others involving pedestrian death is NOT the unusual nature of the case, but thoroughgoing bias which accepts rule and law breaking by the motorised, and therefore less so from others. It is deeply embedded in our culture and is a key barrier to reducing danger on the road.

      There are problems with dwelling on the detail of each case, particularly details of matters such as stopping distance. Essentially that it is always going to be difficult to generalise from two cases out of so many (including incidents where no prosecution is brought). Nevertheless, I don’t believe the Wells case is unusual, and I mentioned it because it was heard at the same time in an adjacent court, and therefore a good illustration of my view. An illustration is not scientific proof, but still useful.

      My view is that Wells was at least as life threatening in her behaviour as Alliston – in fact I would say far more. He has been warned that he faces jail, she has been let off. This is because, in my view, of entrenched lenience in coverage, sentencing and other aspects of motorist law and rule breaking. let’s compare further:

      1. Actual behaviour. She was travelling on a heavier vehicle at 44 mph ina 30 mph area. he was on a lighter vehicle at much lower speeds. That makes her a lot more of a threat to life and limb. It’s basic physics. Nothing more, nothing less. You make much of the brake question. That is a specific fact of negligence, but only a part of what was involved. (Essentially that comes down to what we might politely call a negative attitude.) A pedal cycle without one of its braking systems ridden at less than 20 mph is still far less of a problem than a motorcycle ridden at 44 mph.

      2. The attitude issue. His general approach appears to be at fault, and it’s right that we should see that as wrong. Although we don’t know yet, the judge has warned that he will face a custodial sentence. She (apparently) felt remorse and pleaded guilty, although she wouldn’t appear to have had much choice in the matter as she so obviously was at fault. Her BEHAVIOUR – as oppose to attitude – was far worse. She was breaking the speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic, and not looking ahead just before the impact. I would far rather have someone with a bad attitude and less dangerous behaviour than someone with a pleasant temperament carrying out far more life threatening behaviour.

      She did not shout at her victim because she was going to fast to do so and not looking where she was going. That makes her worse in terms of her illegal danger to others than Alliston.

      Remorse is always brought in as a mitigating factor, and I suppose it should. But I’m not sure we should spend so much time on it: the driver who knocked me down in 1981 was remorseful, but I’d far rather he had been looking where he was going in the first place. the I wouldn’t have been seriously injured and he wouldn’t have had his points and fine.

      So I think your “proper comparison” is wrong. For us it is rule and law breaking behaviour which endangers others.

      I am sorry I have to repeat the point – yet again – that we want a legal framework which appropriately punishes law and rule breaking and that cyclist should be in that. And at the moment cyclists are indeed subject to laws.

      On the convergence/divergence issue: I’m interested in the fact that “pedestrians”, as you define them, are in with “motorists”. I think you’re referring to your personal approach, and those of pedestrians who have accepted the dominant car-centred culture, as being in line with what all too many drivers feel is appropriate behaviour. That behaviour is not good for pedestrians, and it isn’t good for cyclists. (It isn’t good for car occupants either, but I’m not sure the average driver has enough interest in reducing their “freedom” and convenience when they have so relatively little to lose.)

      I am afraid the divergence is between those of us who wish to reduce danger at source – which is primarily from the (ab) use of motor vehicles – and those who accept the status quo. That status quo is particularly unsatisfactory for those outside motor vehicles, particularly pedestrians.

        Mayor’s Strategy:

      You also refer to consultation exercises and the supposed Mayoral commitment towards cycling. There is precious little being installed for cyclists (so far some 0.145% of roads in London have segregated cycle tracks, with the target of going up to 0.545% unlikely to be met), with denial of the results of consultation involved in withdrawing such projects (e.g. Westway cycle track). Due to not least to pressure from cyclists, we have seen removal of motor traffic from Bank junction, with pedestrians the main beneficiaries.

      You don’t refer to the case of Karol Michta in the previous post, even more gruesome than the Welss case: no national media coverage, no custodial sentence.

      You haven’t bothered to answer my question as to how you would implement a healthier sustainable transport policy.

      You haven’t answered the question about pedestrian responsibilities.

      1. A Salter

        I wish to comment only on the 2 questions you say I failed to address.

        transport policy

        I am sorry I did not tell you how I would implement a healthier sustainable transport policy. I read it as rhetorical. And I am of course not equipped to do devise such a policy and implementation plan. I will say that I am broadly supportive of the government’s plans to increase cycling and walking. That is one reason why I regret the way some of the action on cycling in recent years has, as it appears to me, impinged adversely on walking.

        I accept cyclists and pedestrians can (mostly) share spaces harmoniously – as I’ve seen them do in other countries and even, in the past, in the UK. But the normative behaviours were different. And I doubt those have even moved in the right direction in London.

        pedestrian responsibilities

        I am sorry but I did not – and cannot – see a question as such. I did see and read your comments on them which I found unexceptionable.

  7. neville reason

    I have just spent several minutes reading through many paragraphs written by people who (a were ignorant of the facts (b ‘pontificating’ about an event on the strength of unsubstantiated reports, (c making unfounded assumptions (d commenting on the mechanical functions of the bicycle’s equipment and capabilities, (e do not appear to recognise the importance of the cyclist riding responsibly, meaning being prepared for the unexpected by looking ahead and travelling at a speed at which he or she could stop in an emergency

  8. neville reason

    I’m sorry but I do not understand the meaning of your word “ununexceptionable. Do you mean ‘unacceptable or ‘unexceptional’?

    1. A Salter

      I intended the OED meaning of unexceptionable: “To whom, or to which, no exception can be taken; perfectly satisfactory or adequate.”

      AIUI while “unexceptional” can be taken to be synonymous (as noted by the OED) it can also be taken to be a rather more ambiguous “ordinary” 😉

  9. bikesyuk

    I think we need Cycling UK to actively campaign for the change in the law that Kim Briggs’ widow wants. If the cycling community oppose a change in the law, it will come anyway and be a clumsy anti cycling law that ends up worsening public health in the UK by adding to the hysteria against cycling as an active travel activity. Better to be pushing for it in conjunction with other road safety changes. How we address the issue of juries not convicting clear cases of motoring offences is another issue.


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