Mother calls for ‘Freddie’s Law’ to protect road users

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On Thursday a petition was launched by Joanna Dentskevich, calling on the States to review laws, with a view to making it safer to cycle, walk and horse-ride on Jersey’s roads.

The initiative comes after Mrs Dentskevich’s 14-year-old son Freddie was struck by a vehicle while cycling in March last year.

Mrs Dentskevich says that the family has been told by prosecuting authorities that the decision was taken not to charge anybody because the driver had claimed that they did not realise they had hit and caused injury to a person and that therefore, in the act of driving away, there was no intention of doing anything unlawful.

Simply driving away, Mrs Dentskevich was told, did not in itself constitute a crime and, as there were no witnesses to the collision, it could not be determined whether the driver had been driving carelessly.

The petition reads: ‘Our 14-year-old son Freddie was left for dead following a horrific hit-and-run cycle collision … This is just one example of a long history of road traffic collisions where, under the current Jersey law, the vulnerable road user has had little to no protection, which often allows perpetrators to avoid any accountability and continue to drive carefree on our Island roads.’

Mrs Dentskevich said that she had launched her petition because she believed all Islanders should be able to use the road safely.

‘If some unfortunate accident does happen, there should be some sort of accountability,’ she said. ‘There are initiatives in place to encourage children to stay active by walking and cycling, but if that is going to happen the roads need to be safer.’

The petition had already gained more than 1,400 signatures in a little over 24 hours after it was launched, triggering a ministerial response.

‘We’ve had enormous support from so many people who are finding the petition,’ said Mrs Dentskevich. ‘How it’s been accepted is incredible.’

Ian Williams – owner of The Cog and Sprocket cycle shop and head of Jersey Rouleurs cycle group – said he did not believe Jersey was doing enough to protect vulnerable road users and outlined his support for the petition.

‘I think [the petition] is fantastic. In Europe, and in Holland particularly, if there is a collision with a bike it is immediately thought of as the vehicle driver’s fault until proven otherwise. In Jersey, it is the other way round. The road is a shared-use pathway and we need a law or governance whereby fault is automatically established to be on the larger vehicle.’

Mr Williams said he was struck last weekend by a motorbike rider who passed close to him and said that he received frequent complaints from fellow riders who had had similar experiences.

‘The motorbike rider decided I’d been holding him up, so decided to kick me as he went past. It happens on a daily basis. The Rouleurs is a club that is over 200 members strong and there are frequent reports of incidents where cars, tractors or motorbikes come in too close. I and my colleague, James, take calls at least three or four times a week from people who have had close passes.

‘At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is holding you up – it is only a matter of seconds. If the life of a walker or a person riding their bike is worth less to you, as a vehicle driver, than being held up, you need to see a psychologist.’

Jersey Sport added in a statement that any initiative which improved safety on the roads for all users ‘has got to be a good thing’.

‘Our vision for Move More Travel, within the Inspiring an Active Jersey Strategy, is an island where active travel – walking, running or cycling – is prioritised over motorised travel, with high standards of safety and accessibility,’ the statement said.

With regards to keeping safe on the roads, Jersey Sport advised Islanders to follow the Highway Code and wear appropriate clothing when exercising, including a cycle helmet if riding a bike.

‘Make sure you have lights on your bike and are wearing a head torch if out after dark,’ they said. ‘Always wear bright clothing, including some sort of reflective wear, so you can be seen on the roads by other road users. Tell someone when you are going out, which route you’re taking and when you expect to be home. Take your mobile phone with you.’

Alistair Mitchell, who is a member of the Jersey Cycle group and sits on the Jersey Road Safety Panel, emphasised that ‘we all need to look out for each other’.

‘If you’re driving a car, you have to be on the look-out for more vulnerable people like cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians, as you’re in the more dominant road position in a heavy vehicle and can do more damage.’

‘Particularly over the last six months, with the pandemic and lockdown, we’ve seen many more people taking to the roads as pedestrians, on bikes and on skateboards. We’re a very crowded island with crowded roads and I think there is a serious call now that we need to be looking out for each other much more than we have done in the past.’

Mr Mitchell said that the UK were currently reviewing their highway code, to put in place a hierarchy of road users and road vulnerability.

‘What they’re erring towards is presumed liability, whereby the more vulnerable road user is protected,’ he said. ‘If a cyclist hits the pedestrian, in the first instance the cyclist is held responsible unless proved otherwise. It’s a rule that is held in many countries in Europe.

‘The UK are looking at putting this into the Highway Code, but then it could be extended further to bring into law. A lot of cyclists would welcome that law being brought in, as it does offer a bit more safeguarding.’

‘What we need to develop in Jersey is more empathy and understanding of each other. What we don’t want are more incidents like the one including that boy. Particularly seeing more children out on the road, we want it to be safe for them. It’s in everyone’s interests in the long term.’

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