By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday afternoon Andrea Leadsom, the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill that would create new criminal offences of causing death or serious injury through dangerous or reckless cycling.
In making her call for a new offence, she cited the tragic death in 2007 of 17-year-old Rhiannon Bennett, who was killed after a cyclist rode at speed onto the pavement where she was walking, knocking her over and causing her head to smash onto the kerb.
The perpetrator was convicted by magistrates of "dangerous cycling" and fined a mere £2,200.
Mrs Leadsom went on:
"We should just imagine what would happen if a motorist drove on to a pavement and killed a teenager. If the driver had walked away with only a fine, there would have been a national outcry.
"The police and the Crown Prosecution Service had an alternative to the dangerous cycling charge. The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 carries a section on "drivers of carriages injuring persons by furious driving". It declares: 'Whosoever, having the charge of any carriage or vehicle, shall by wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour'.
"The Act is still in force, but for obvious reasons it is little used. It was developed to deal with the century during which horses pulled carriages and coaches, and is now completely out of date. From what little information I have found on it, this law is rarely, if ever, invoked. In any case, the CPS found that the charge of dangerous cycling was the most appropriate in Rhiannon's case. There are other offences, such as manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, that could theoretically be used against a cyclist, but these are also rarely appropriate in the case of road accidents.
"What is needed is an offence that fills the gap in the law and provides a charge that reflects the seriousness and the consequences of a cyclist's actions. In other words, an updated law is required so that cyclists can be charged with similar offences and given similar punishments to those that motorists currently face. For a motorist, causing death by dangerous driving carries a penalty of one to 14 years in prison; causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. We need to give justice to the small number of pedestrians killed each year by dangerous cycling, by applying similar penalties to those that exist for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving."
"The idea of creating a new law to deal with this problem was last considered in 2005 by the Ministry of Justice, which decided that no such law was required at that time. Six years later, with the growing number of bikes on our roads, more and more cycle lanes being introduced and the introduction of excellent schemes that I take advantage of myself, such as the cycle hire scheme in London, we need to look at the matter again, and I ask the House to support the Bill."
The House did not divide on the question, but since the Bill's Second Reading is not scheduled until November 4th, it has no chance of becoming law (unless the Government decides to back it and allow government time for the debate).