Who should be liable in a collision?

Well, in much of Europe, the vehicle type more likely to cause an injury is always assumed liable in an accident until proven otherwise. They call it “strict liability,” and the philosophy makes sense. After all, the more dangerous your vehicle is, the more responsibility you have to be careful. From Copenhagenize:

This is somewhat similar to the vulnerable users bill that failed to make it to a vote in the state legislature last year. Publicola reports that Joe Fitzgibbon has promised to reintroduce the bill if he is elected (ahem) in the 34th District.

But I like the way this concept of strict liability is explained because it makes more sense. Whenever the vulnerable users bill is discussed, people always say that it allows for stricter penalties when cars hit bikes or pedestrians. But it is hard to rally enthusiastic support behind something that creates harsher penalties for what many see as accidents.

This strict liability concept, however, challenges the mindset behind how we drive. It states right up front that those driving vehicles more likely to cause harm are required to drive with increased caution at all times, but especially when bicycles and pedestrians are present. It’s simple defensive driving, really. Just because the speed limit is 30 doesn’t mean you should always go 30. Take extra time to check for bikes an peds when making turns, particularly on heavily-used streets and paths. If you don’t and you hit someone, then yes, it is your fault. Even if you did not see them.

This concept also applies to bicycle-pedestrian collisions. Bikes, it is your responsibility to avoid pedestrians, even taking into account their unexpected movements. If you are on a mixed-use trail, for example, you would be expected to slow down when encountering pedestrians and be prepared to stop or otherwise avoid them if they move. It is your responsibility.

This system of road liability seems fair and easy to understand to me. The bigger you are, the more important it is that you drive with caution. Unless there is evidence that the more vulnerable user did something egregious, the bigger vehicle is assumed liable.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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1 Response to Who should be liable in a collision?

  1. Brad Hawkins says:

    AMEN BROTHER! AMEN!!!!!!!!!

    I especially love that we are responsible to not hit pedestrians. Amen to that too. We need more jaywalking in this world with drivers expecting it instead of just running people down.

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