It’s a reasonable enough question, sometimes asked innocently, and sometimes as part of a very large dose of “whataboutery”, sometimes more of a statement than a question:
What happens when a cyclist causes a fatal crash where the driver, or other car occupant dies?
This question is often asked as part of an argument used to justify cyclists being required to take a test, have licences, take out insurance or have numberplates, but sometimes it’s raised as an issue of itself. The chain of possible events is reasonable enough – the cyclist is being reckless in some way, or possibly they are cycling at a “normal” pace, but they don’t have any lights, or maybe they emerge (from the pavement of course) into traffic, causing one car to swerve. The consequences of this swerving at that the car either crashes into another car, or that the car hits a tree, or other stationary object, thus causing the driver or passenger to die.
Can this actually happen?
I’ve been blogging about road safety and cycling for nearly a decade now, and campaigning for nearly 30 years. We know as a matter of fact that if a cyclist crashes with pretty much any one or any thing, it’s going ot make the news. I’m only aware of one such case which fits the description above, and it’s so rare that I can’t even find the original article. Needless to say, it dates back to around 2009, and in this case the driver was making an overtaking move, into oncoming traffic. The cyclist was deemed to be partly at fault because he had no lights, and the driver only saw him very late, this swerving into the path of another car.
The cyclist in this case was also under 16, and therefore he didn’t stand trial for his part in the crash. The coroner’s report simply stated that his lack of lights was a factor in this crash, and that ultimately, the driver died because his car hit another vehicle at speed.
There must surely be other cases of similar incidents happening around the world, but I have still not come across any. The nature of the way transport news is circulated on social media suggests that if such an incident occured, it would be shared widely regardless. It’s probably fair to suggest that this happens worldwide once or twice per year, and no more.
What about pedestrians killing motorists?
I read about a case a couple of years ago, where a drunk pedestrians was put on trial because he was standing in the middle of the road, causing a driver to swerve off the road and hit a tree, thus killing their passenger. This was also a bizarre occurence, and I remember struggling to find the story again a few months ago. Now I’ve managed to find the article again, and it shows that this was actually the first time a pedestrian has been put on trial in the UK for causing the death of car occupants. It also shows that the jury voted 10-1 to acquit the pedestrian. The suggestion from the article was that the car was being driven through the edge of a large
Laws based on Whataboutery
Cyclist can and do injure other road users, an in the UK there are typically 2-3 cases in any year where cyclists will fatally hit pedestrians, although there are very few statistics on blame in these situations, given that they are relatively rare.
Call for better awareness on the part of any road user, or simply for everyone to “share with care”, are reasonable, but need to be kept in context. What is the outcome of any such call? Sadly, nobody really wants to hear it when cycling advocates merely re-state that the law as it stands is adequate when it comes to dealing with cyclists who injure or kill. Yet, as the reality of prosecutions already show us, a cyclist who injures is far more likely to find themselves in court than a driver who does the same.
To suggest that we need any further changes based on the one or two edge cases where a cyclist might actually cause the death of a car user would be nothing more than extreme whataboutery. But since some people do ask the question, I hope these two cases give some kind of answer.