Bike rules: A gathering storm

Bike groups are railing against a rule change that could put them at fault in road accidents, says David Prosser
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Some you win, some you lose. While cyclists were still celebrating last month's victory by the Critical Mass campaign, which defeated a legal challenge from the Metropolitan Police, they were rocked two weeks ago by the seemingly perverse verdict of a district judge that could have serious implications for bike users all over the country.

Judge Bruce Morgan fined cyclist Daniel Cadden £100 for a breach of the 1988 Road Traffic Act, plus another £200 in court costs, after finding him guilty of getting in the way of other road users.

The case has outraged cycling groups. Mr Cadden was riding at around 20mph downhill towards a roundabout in Telford, Shropshire, when he was overtaken and then pulled over by a police patrol car with its siren sounding and blue lights flashing.

The police pointed out that because Mr Cadden had been riding in the middle of the single lane carriageway, a queue of traffic had built up behind him. He was subsequently charged with failing to show "reasonable consideration" to other road users, because on the particular stretch of the road they were travelling along, drivers were banned from crossing double white lines to the other side of the highway .

In court, Mr Cadden pointed out that he was following good practice by riding in the middle of the lane. Cyclecraft, the book published by The Stationery Office, which should in theory be the cyclists' bible, says: "The primary riding position (the centre of one's lane) should be your normal riding position when you can keep up with traffic or when you need to prevent following drivers overtaking you dangerously."

However, while the police had argued Mr Cadden should have been further over to the left of the road, Judge Morgan ruled Mr Cadden had no right to be on the road at all, since there was a cycle lane on the other side of the carriageway.

Colin Langden, chair of the Cyclists Defence Fund (CDF), an independent charity set up to provide legal support to riders, says he thinks the verdict was bizarre. "This is an extremely regrettable judgement and I fully expect it to be contestable," he argues.

Mr Cadden last week announced that he had decided to appeal, with support from the CDF and other groups. Yannick Read, of the CTC, the cycling campaign group, says support is flooding in from cyclists furious about the verdict.

"Since the case came to light, an average of £1,000 a day has been pledged to the CDF by cyclists keen to show their solidarity with Daniel," says Mr Read. "For example, Hampshire Cycle Training is donating 10 per cent of all the organisation's training fees for the next two months to the CDF and hopes other National Standard Instructors may follow suit."

The CTC is particularly worried about the case because it could have implications for an ongoing battle over a rewrite of the Highway Code. The Department of Transport is currently considering an 11,000-strong petition from cyclists concerned about plans to update the code, because the new version says cycle paths should be used where practicable.

"We need to tackle the attitude, held by many people in the judiciary, police and public alike that cyclists should be out of the way of motorists," adds Mr Read. The CDF is concerned that if the final version of the new code includes the cycling lane clause about, it could be used in court in cases such as Mr Cadden's.

The code could even be used to claim that cyclists are at fault in any accident on a road where they are not using a designated cycle lane. Cyclists could then be prevented from claiming compensation or found liable for damages.

There's one final twist to Mr Cadden's story. This is not the first time that Judge Morgan has courted controversy with public safety campaigners. Last summer, he was in charge when the case of PC Mark Milton came up before him. PC Milton admitted to driving a powerful unmarked police car at speeds of up to 159mph.

Although he was not on active duty, PC Milton claimed he needed to drive the car at such a pace in order to prepare himself for high-speed chases. Judge Morgan accepted the defence and dismissed the case. Mr Cadden may be relieved to hear that this verdict was subsequently overturned - a retrial was ordered and this week the policeman was found guilty.

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