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'NO BLAME' MOTOR INSURANCE - THE CYCLING LESSON FROM ABERGELE

Conwy CBC and insurers for the driver involved in the the Abergele cycling tragedy, in which four members of Rhyl Cycling Club were killed, have agreed to receive compensation claims, albeit 'without prejudice'. Hopefully this will assist progress. We trust this is not a false dawn. Justice delayed is justice denied. And there has been enough for the victims and their families already.

Had such an incident occurred in France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, or the Netherlands, the claim for compensation would have been dealt with promptly under the terms of the driver's insurance. In those countries legislation places the burden of proof on the driver and his insurers, recognising that if a motor vehicle hits a pedestrian, cyclist, or equestrian, the victim is likely to suffer far greater injury and lasting consequences than the driver. In this country the reverse is the case. The burden of proof rests on the victim to prove fault on the part of the driver. Hence dependents and crash victims often find it very difficult to obtain compensation in the absence of independent evidence. And furthermore, victims often have difficulty recalling the exact circumstances of a collision with the clarity needed to provide persuasive evidence, particular in the presence of a brain injury or if the victim is a child.

This unacceptable bias against the victim needs to be reversed, with the burden of responsibility placed on the driver. Short of being prosecuted for a criminal offence if the evidence is present, the worst that could happen to the driver is the loss of the no-claim bonus - with account taken of any blame on the part of the victim in the damages awarded.

Speaking at the funeral of Maurice Broadbent, Chair of Rhyl Cycling Club, the vicar of Abergele Shirley Griffiths reminded the congregation that major changes in rail safety followed the Abergele train disaster of 1868. She felt that given political commitment, Abergele could again feature in a legislative sea-change; this time bringing profound benefits to cyclists and other vulnerable groups . I'm sure that, with the overwhelming international sympathy felt at the time, few would have disagreed with her. And few would have believed that over a year would elapse before attention would start to be given to the needs of the survivors.

Taking their cue from Rev Griffiths, local Members of Parliament and Welsh Assembly Members should lobby for the introduction into the UK of the principle of 'no blame' third party motor insurance. Its presence in certain European countries is believed to be one reason why cyclists over there encounter a traffic environment far more sympathetic to the needs of vulnerable groups than in the UK. What better living memorial would it be to those who died in this dreadful incident, for these rules to be introduced in the UK?

Whether cyclist or non-cyclist, we are all potential victims of the law as it stands. Everyone who shares space with motor vehicles stands to gain from its amendment. That means all of us.

Roy Spilsbury 14th April 2007

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