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February 2, 2024

Can road users in Jersey face penalties for contact with cyclists even if it wasn’t their fault?

A hierarchy of road users was introduced in Jersey on 29 January 2022 to make sure those who can do the greatest harm, have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others. Jersey follows the UK official Highway Code, with some modifications to achieve that aim.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has just concluded a consultation on the proposed new Highway Code changes which will see more freedoms offered to cyclists.

The new rules will clarify rules on pedestrian priorities on pavements and advise that drivers should give way at all times.

Cyclist priority at junctions will also be changed which will give riders priority when travelling straight ahead.

However, listening to music could be a major risk for cyclists who will be unable to hear road hazards such as cars or Heavy Goods Vehicles.

This could see many unsuspecting cyclists pulling in front of cars leading to crashes and possibly serious injuries.

With the growth in population, heavy traffic, global warming and climate change, a lot of people are using bicycles as a primary mode of transport. Others argue this is the only way to reduce traffic and air pollution while others argue this is the only way to curb air pollution.

But, this thought-provoking subject is for another day. Today l would like to turn to the impact careless driving has on cyclists, the changes in the Highway Code and the severity of penalties imposed for such offences.

Accidents involving bicycles can be devastating because cyclists are more exposed to harm than a car driver. In the past few years there has been a surge in the number of accidents which occur between motorists and cyclists, unfortunately some of those result in serious injuries. 

In a bid to try and reduce such occurrences, on 29 January 2022, Jersey introduced changes to the Highway Code to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.  This has been termed as the new “hierarchy of road users” and places more responsibility on drivers. The impact of the new changes to the Highway Code has seen the court taking very firm steps for offences of careless driving. Not so long ago, a young boy was knocked off his bike sustaining serious injuries and the driver escaped prosecution because the police believed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. It was at this point that his family called for a law change. Recently a teacher was fined £5,000 for knocking a cyclist off her bike, leaving her with a broken back, collapsed lung and a fractured rib. In another case, a motorist was disqualified from driving for six months for a similar offence. 

As a general rule, every road ought to take reasonable care to avoid doing or omitting to do anything that they can reasonably foresee would cause injury to others. It is not relevant that the road user might not be able to foresee that his act or omission might cause injury to another. Motorists have the highest risk of causing harm to other road users, consequently the changes to the Highway Code places the greatest responsibility on them to reduce the dangers they pose to other road users. This move is to make everybody more responsible and aware of what is expected of them on the roads. The new road laws introduced three main significant changes, namely giving way to pedestrians at junctions, leaving a distance of at least 1.5 meters when overtaking cyclists and for cyclists to cycle in the middle of their lane to make themselves more visible. 

It would be interesting to see whether the changes to the Highway Code would result in a decrease in the number of accidents on the roads. The penalties for careless driving in Jersey are severe and these can range from a fine, disqualification or imprisonment in worst case scenarios. Article 25 of the Road Traffic (Jersey) Law 1956 (The Law) states that if any person driving a vehicle, or rides, leads or drives an animal on a road or other public place without due care and attention and without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or other public space, he or she shall be guilty of an offence under this article. Furthermore, Article 26A of The Law provides that a person who causes serious injury to another by driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the roads is guilty of an offence. The Magistrate Courts have Sentencing Guidelines which provides a starting point for serious injuries by careless driving the aggravating and mitigating factors which the court considers before deciding on the appropriate sentencing. 

For both careless driving and careless driving causing serious injuries, there are three bands with examples of the nature of the activity. These are momentary lapse of concentration or misjudgement at low speed, loss of control due to speed, mishandling or insufficient attention to road conditions or carelessly turning right across on-coming traffic. Lastly overtaking, manoeuvre at speed resulting in collision of vehicles or driving bordering on dangerous.  Depending on the nature of the activity the court may impose fines ranging from £700-£3000, up to 12 months imprisonment or 24 months disqualification. 

Cyclist still need to follow the rules of the road and take reasonable precautions for their safety and the safety of others. The severity of the penalties imposed by the Magistrate Court concerning accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians clearly reflect Jerseys commitments to protecting the less powerful members of the new hierarchy of road users. But, only time will tell if this approach will be effective in achieving the desired result. In the event that this process ineffective, at least it might just encourage people to walk or cycle more resulting in reduced omissions and slowed effects of climate change.

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