We are probably more preoccupied with cycling than we should be, and so when we saw last months budget our first thoughts were how might it affect our hobby.
When the autumn budget was released, some of the headline facts were obviously negative. George Osborne announced a spending cut of 58% on cycling from £148m this year to just £60m for 2016.
However buried deep within tweaks and revisions, was a change to the way in which compensation can be claimed in a road collision. An idea which was originally proposed several years ago and roundly dismissed at the time. In short, the maximum amount a person can claim through the small claims court, has been raised from one thousand, to five thousand pounds.
If you are wondering what that means, or why you should care, let me explain.
The change is intended to try and reduce the cost of car insurance. The primary concern, and the target of this ‘small claims change’ is an attempt to discourage phoney whiplash compensation scams. A good thing you might exclaim! Whiplash from an accident is incredibly difficult to disprove, and while the true figures will never be known, the motor insurance industry estimates up to £2 billion is being claimed fraudulently every year through bogus whiplash cases.
At the moment the majority of whiplash claims are for fairly small sums, between one and five thousand pounds. As a result, they fall outside the remit of the small claims court, and instead are picked up by the ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers.
If they are successful in their claim, the lawyers would be able to claim some of their costs from the driver at fault and the bill would be picked up by their insurer.
Through the small claims court however, an injured party wouldn’t be able to claim back their legal costs regardless of the outcome, making most claims unworkable for the average person where the burden of proof is placed on the claimant.
The treasury’s line is fairly clear, “This will end the cycle (no pun intended I’m sure) in which responsible motorists pay higher premiums to cover false claims by others. It will remove over £1bn from the cost of providing motor insurance and the government expects the insurance industry to pass an average saving of £40-£50 per motor insurance policy on to consumers.” (we’ll believe that when we see it!)
It’s all well and good to try and reduce car insurance premiums, but it feels a little like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There is no doubt there are fraudulent claims, but the implication is that any claim being made at this level must be fraudulent. Legitimate or not, all claims less than five thousand pounds will be treated as such.
This brings us to cycling. If you are knocked off your bike and it is the fault of the driver, it is perfectly reasonable to claim compensation from the other person’s insurer, that’s the point. If you miss work, need to pay out for physiotherapy or have damage to your bike, you shouldn’t be out of pocket due to somebody else’s mistake. These new changes to the way in which cyclists will be able to claim compensation means even less help for vulnerable road users.
We touched lightly on presumed liability campaign a little earlier in the year. The campaign is focused on changing civil law to introduce a system of presumed liability so that cyclists and other vulnerable road users who are involved in road traffic accidents are compensated fairly and quickly. Currently the UK is one of only five countries in Europe that doesn’t operate this system. In short the presumed liability campaign is trying to make it simpler for cyclists to claim against motorists. By making cyclists go through the small claims court without introducing presumed liability the UK government is leaving us all feeling a little saddle sore.
The budget has taken two giant steps backwards, emphasis should be placed on improving safety, looking after those who do get hurt, and ultimately encouraging more people on to their bikes. The more we can tempt people out of their cars and on to bikes, the less congestion and pollution we will have in our cities.
The proposed commitments from the UN climate change summit in Paris, from my layman’s perspective, look positive. But despite a shift in political rhetoric towards promoting cycling, the details seem to be doing the opposite.
as Paul Tuohy, CTC Chief Executive, said:
“Vulnerable road users now account for 60% of serious and fatal road casualties, up from 52% in recent years. We were promised safer roads, yet it seems we’re just getting more roads and more traffic. This has to be bad for our health and our environment, and will probably harm our economy too.”