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Strict Liability: Civil Law for Civil Streets

2:55 PM EST on February 9, 2010

Yesterday we highlighted a Bob Mionske column that eloquently lays out inherent biases common in U.S. traffic codes and proposes measures we can take to start correcting them. One of them is strict liability, which generally assigns responsibility for a collision to the operator of the vehicle likely to do the most damage (just as motorists are expected to look out for cyclists, cyclists must look out for pedestrians).

This video, via Copenhagenize, explains. Says narrator Hans Voerknecht:

We say in the Netherlands: Car drivers should be aware of the situation, that they are in the machine that could kill, and that they should behave responsibly.

As reader Mitch alluded to yesterday, strict liability as applied here is primarily a civil law concept. But its value in establishing a culture of equity on the roads, as Mionske writes, is hard to dispute.

In [a] sense, the law is helping Dutch drivers to see cyclists. "Reasonable human beings in other countries see the cyclist," [SF Bicycle Coalition's] Andy Thornley notes. "How can we help drivers here to look harder?" Through laws that send the right signals when drivers fail in their duties to others.

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