Tuesday 15 November 2011

One Cyclist sues another; Brown v Brent & British Cycling

On the last weekend in August 2007 the Surrey Cycle Racing League with the assistance of the Army CU organised a three day stage race comprising four stages for 2nd and 3rd cat racers.  Proceedings kicked off with a short time trial up Boxhill on Friday evening and this was followed on Saturday afternoon with a 70 mile road race.  4th up Boxhill, but not so hot on the road race was George Brent, a 2nd cat rider with Addiscombe CC.  On Sunday, Stage 3 in the morning was an 11.5 mile time trial and the final stage on Sunday afternoon was a 60 mile road race on the Ewhurst Circuit with a final climb up Leith Hill.

The Ewhurst Circuit takes the riders down Ockley Road into Ewhurst where there is a sharp left at a mini-roundabout outside the Bull’s Head Pub.  At this point in the race (it may have been the 4th lap but this is not entirely clear), there was a breakaway group of 5 or 6 riders being chased by George Brent who was attempting to bridge the gap between the bunch and the lead group.  Given those circumstances it is not really surprising that he was going at speed and that he needed to take a racing line around the left hand turn, taking advantage of being a sole rider at this point.

Unhappily for both men another cyclist, Carlton Brown, came down Shere Road (from the right in the above Google earth shot) and turned into Ockley Road, apparently oblivious to the fact that a road race was in progress coming straight towards him.  The two cyclists collided close to the mini roundabout.  Any initial uncertainty as to which side of the central dotted white line the collision occurred was dispersed by the existence of video camera footage.  This demonstrated that the cyclists came together somewhere to the right of the white dotted centre line (as the picture and George Brent saw it.)

Mr Brown sued both Mr Brent and the British Cycling Federation who were ultimately responsible for the running of the race.  The report that I have seen indicates nothing about the extent of the injuries of either man but I see no indication that Mr Brent counterclaimed (as he might have done) against Mr Brown.

Mr Brown claimed that Mr Brent should not have crossed the white line in the middle of the road into his path and that he was riding too fast.  The Judge, His Honour Judge Atkins, sitting in the Croydon County Court accepted these allegations.  The fact that Mr Brent was competing in a road race did not exempt him from the obligation to comply with the Highway Code.  As the Judge put it:
            “as has been accepted, and I think rightly accepted, this was a race which was taking place on a public road and the fact that it was a race does not mean   that people can ride or drive in a different way.  They have to be aware that members of the public can use the road and they are governed by the same rules as anybody else.”

The Highway Code (rule 160) requires traffic to keep to the left of the centre line unless overtaking or turning right.  This is a rule that is breached frequently by cyclists (and I daresay motorcyclists) taking a line around a bend but I think the moral is that if you are going to do it, do it only in circumstances where you are quite sure nothing is coming the other way and that means not doing it on or near a junction.

Mr Brown also brought a claim essentially against the race organisers.  His most interesting allegation was that the organisers ought to have ensured that the road was closed to members of the public.  The judge gave that short shrift:
            “the position about that is that it is possible to ask the highway authority to close the roads.  It is obviously an extreme step to take.  I simply say that in the circumstances of this case I do not think it was a proportionate or appropriate step for the organisers to take.  I think that they under an        obligation to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of road users whether participating in the race or otherwise, and I think they did take all such steps.”

I hope the police forces who are most wary of races on the open roads will heed those words.  It is not proportionate or appropriate to close the roads for an amateur road race.

Mr Brown also criticised the organisers for their control of the race.   He said he should have been warned but the Judge found there were appropriate warning signs and marshals that Mr Brown did not see or hear.  A marshal had done his best to communicate to Mr Brown but, perhaps because Mr Brown was wearing ear-phones, had not got through (the Judge observed that Mr Brown was wearing head-phones but found both that that was not negligent and that it had not caused the accident).  Whether the lollipop signs that are now being trialled, and which will enable a marshal to compel a road-user to stop, would have prevented this unfortunate accident must be conjecture but certainly they should help.  He also said the organisers should have prevented Mr Brent crossing the white dotted line but the usual Commisssaire’s briefing (‘obey the highway Code’) had been given and there was no more that the organisers could reasonably have done.

Finally the Judge examined Mr Brown’s own responsibility for the accident.  He found that he should have heeded the warnings and was in the circumstances travelling too fast.  The finding that he was not negligent in wearing headphones is of potential interest.  The law (and the Highway Code) do not prohibit it but the DirectGov ‘Cycling Safely’ website advises “Stay alert! Don't listen to music or use a mobile phone while cycling – distractions cause accidents”.


Ultimately the Judge found Mr Brent two-thirds to blame for the collision and Mr Brown one-third to blame.  He acquitted the race organisers of any blame at all.


Although this is a County Court case (and strictly not citable to any future Court) it is illustrative of the duties that race competitors owe to members of the public who are not involved in the race.  Road races in this country are almost invariably very well organised and this is the first case of which I am aware where a competitor has been successfully sued.


Though not involved in the race I should declare an interest as a member of both the Surrey League and British Cycling.  I hope both cyclists have recovered.


  1. I guess the occasional head-on collision like this is the price we pay for cycle racing on open roads. Do you know what the damages were?

  2. Interesting that Mr Brown got blamed "for cycling too fast". You don't normally see that cropping up in driving-related crashes where the vehicle is going at or under the speed limit, do you?

  3. An interesting case, as you say, presumably a very rare one. The crash must have hurt the two cyclists, but I assume they've made full recoveries. If one or both of the cyclists had been driving motor vehicles the outcome would have been MUCH worse, of course.

    Agree that the "cycling too fast" is a little odd, did the Judge say why he thought it was "too fast"?

    It seems odd, given that this was a race, where the whole point is to cycle as fast as you can, and the other competitors would have been doing very similar speeds. Was the rider's speed within the legal maximum speed allowed for motor vehicles (a limit that doesn't apply to cycles anyway)? If he'd been in a car travelling at the same speed, would that have been deemed "too fast"?

  4. Cycling too fast seems odd, I find it hard to beleive that if Mr Brown had been driving and under the speed limit it still would have been mentioned. Nice to see headphones wasn't a problem, I don't road ride with them myself but it seems reasonable with so many drivers having their radio on loud enough for those not inside the car to hear it clearly.

    Just wondering, if it was made a LOT easier to close roads for an amateur race would BCF prefer closed road? I assume at the moment it's ridiculously difficult to close roads and so any opposition to open road racing is being strongly contested.

  5. Though not very clearly spelt out, I think the reference to speed is because it affected the tightness of the line that each cyclist could take. At a slower speed Mr Brent could have kept to his side of the road and similarly Mr Brown need not have been closer to the centre lines than he was to the kerb. There are plenty of cases where travelling within the speed limit has been held to have been negligently fast in all the circumstances.

  6. The "too fast" judgement makes sense when you look at the junction on Google Street View. Coming downhill along Shere Lane and being about to turn left, Mr Brown would have seen something like this, with his view of the B2127 completely blocked by the tree. It's all too easy to imagine briefly checking for traffic approaching the roundabout from the right, seeing none, and then taking the corner too fast to avoid a wrong-way cyclist.

    DoNK: Closed roads would be expensive (and fought tooth and nail by people who live on the route) and such a requirement would probably put an end to amateur road racing in this country.

  7. Lost sympathy with Mr Brown as soon as I heard he was wearing headphones. That means the his senses were 50% less than they should be. I also don't think it's an excuse to 'not see' marshals and then ignore them when an event is clearly going on

  8. Gareth yeah I kinda knew that's how it is at the moment, hence why amateur racing is mostly/all open road, but if it was made easier to close roads would that be the preference. I guess fairly obviously yes is the answer but, just as obvious is, no it's not going to happen.

  9. That Percy Stallard ha a lot to answer for. This sort of thing would never happen if the UK had stuck to just time trials...

  10. So Brown ignores / does not see the marshals and signs and, travelling downhill at some speed, swings left round a blind bend and out towards the middle of the road.

    If he knew that the road narrowed soon after the mini roundabout then he really shouldn't have been swinging out so far. And I'm afraid I would consider the wearing of headphones in this situation to be a little reckless. It would be much better for him to have heard the marshals, perhaps the sound of an HGV in Ockley Road or a brewery delivery vehicle reversing from the pub car park.

    Looking at the Street View link posted by Gareth Rees I'd say he also could not see traffic coming from his right early enough in order to enable him to give way either.

    Mini roundabouts are perilous because so many road users don't take them seriously. In my experience you would be wise to expect a driver to go straight across it or pull out on you regardless of who has right of way.

    While Mr Brent is certainly not blameless I'd say his position was less an issue than that of Mr Brown.

    As Martin points out, the two cyclists' speed is inappropriate, regardless of whether it is more than the speed limit.