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Recent Whiplash Reform Implications for Cyclists

Cyclists = Studio 90 imageThe theory of compensation culture has made its way to the powers that be in the UK, with recent changes to whiplash claims making headlines. Over the last nearly two years, shifts in the Civil Liability Bill have intended to create an environment where fewer victims of road traffic accidents are able to claim for compensation for injury or damage to personal property. The most recent change involves an increase to the small claims court threshold, up from £1,000 to £5,000, meaning a smaller number of accident victims have an opportunity to receive higher compensation for soft tissue injuries, like whiplash. The reform for whiplash compensation has been debated in several circles, and now delayed due to some of these fierce discussions.

Throughout the UK, 12% of adults report they cycle as a mode of transportation at least once per week. Each year, more than 700,000 UK residents choose to ride a bike to commute or for general exercise, and these numbers have continued to increase year over year. The added number of road users not in enclosed vehicles has led to a higher rate of accidents on UK roads, and this change is partially driving the reform for whiplash claims. However, cyclists are being negatively impacted by this shift in the law because their unique position as accident victims is not included in the updated compensation law. Fortunately, the government announced a delay in whiplash claims reform law until 2020, giving cyclists and their advocates more time to both understand the change and prepare for its impact.

Driving Forces Behind the Delay

One of the main reasons for the whiplash reform delays has to do with a cited need for additional testing of the new bill. The Ministry of Justice shared that pushing back the reform implementation by more than two years affords the government an opportunity to the effectiveness of the changes. Additionally, this extra time allows for the design and implementation of the online claims platform that not only is meant to provide an easier process for victims, but also give the government a way to measure its efforts with the reform. Without the added two years, the government feels it cannot deliver on what it promised through the claims reform proposal.

Although these reasons make sense on the surface, many feel strongly that the true reason behind delaying reform implementation is the widespread scrutiny the new bill has come under in the past year. Several cyclist advocates, legal experts, and cyclists themselves have come forward publicly to share concerns over the implications on vulnerable road users. There is a loudly voiced opinion that cyclists and other road users who do not have the same protections as vehicle drivers and passengers should be put in their own category when it comes to accident claims compensation. Many are concerned how cyclists will be impacted both now and in the future should the reform move forward as planned.

Impacts on Cyclists and Vulnerable Road Users

The debate against the whiplash claims reform has been heated due to the potential implications for cyclists and other road users in the UK. A group of bike accident claim specialists shares that cyclists are not prone to experiencing whiplash and other soft tissue injuries after an accident with another road users, but instead often have broken bones, trauma to the head, and damage to their clothes and bicycle. Because the number of cases of whiplash are near non-existent among cyclists, they are likely to be negatively impacted by the reform unfairly.

This is partly due to the change in the small claims court limit under the new law. It’s estimated that 70% of cyclists do not have a compensation claim after an accident that would meet or exceed the increased limit, which ultimately means they have no choice but to lean on the small claims court instead of civil court. Cyclists, then, may be forced to follow through with compensation claims without legal representation as the cost for this assistance would not be covered under the reform bill. Covering expenses like this drastically reduces the amount of compensation they receive during the process, even though they are rarely claiming for soft tissue injuries like whiplash.

An Intended Cost Reduction

Despite the challenges faced by cyclists under the whiplash claims reform bill, the proposed change is slated to implement in 2020. The government cites a cost reduction passed down to all road users by way of reduced insurance premiums over time, with the average decrease equaling £35 per year, per driver. Insurance providers ultimately pay for unfounded whiplash claims, to the tune of £1 billion each year, so the increased small claims court threshold is meant to combat this difficulty and capital expense. The unfortunate reality is that the estimated cost savings for road users does not pass down to cyclists and others who do not have insurance coverage in place.

It is clear that the whiplash reform may have positive implications over the course of the next several years, but mostly for insurers wanting to reduce the extent of claim expenses. Cyclists are not protected under the new law, nor do they stand to benefit from the change immediately or in the future. The hope is that with the pushed back implementation date for whiplash claims reform, cyclists and other vulnerable road users will have another opportunity to speak out about potential ramifications of the changes before they are negatively impacted.

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