Along with ‘You don’t pay (the mythical) road tax,’ another driver-led complaint often levelled against cyclists is: ‘You don’t pay insurance.’
So, should third-party insurance be mandatory for everyone who cycles? In short, no. I am personally against compulsory insurance, but I would certainly advise it for regular cyclists.
Many cyclists may already have third-party insurance as part of their household insurance or their membership of a cycling club. It is a good idea to join a cycling organisation such as Cycling UK which for a modest cost provides, among other things, £10m of third-party cover.
At present, there is no legal requirement for cyclists to be insured. Neither is there any legal requirement for them to stop or provide their name and address following a collision. Mandating third-party insurance for cyclists would ensure that in the event of an at-fault cycling accident, compensation could be made available to any injured party, so why not?
Part of the appeal of cycling is that it is so wonderfully simple and impulsive. Regular cycling provides enormous health benefits, produces no emissions and helps to reduce congestion. People cycle because it is a cheap and flexible alternative to driving or using public transport. Compulsory insurance would change this.
Cycling is a relatively low-risk activity. According to Cycling UK, on average:
- one cyclist is killed on Britain’s roads for every 27 million miles travelled by bike - the equivalent of travelling more than a thousand times around the world;
- every year eight million cycling trips are made for each cycling death;
- the general risk of injury from cycling in the UK is just 0.05 injuries per 1,000 hours of cycling.
There's a reason why third-party insurance costs so much for drivers. While around six people die every day on our roads and more than 60 suffer serious, often catastrophic injuries, cyclists very rarely kill or seriously injure people. Compared to people killed or injured by drivers, the numbers killed or injured by cyclists is miniscule.
There is no doubt that cyclists who ride on the pavement are a threat to pedestrians. But according to the Times, the majority of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians occur “when pedestrians step out into the road without seeing or hearing a cyclist.” In 2012, one pedestrian was killed by a cyclist while 78 were seriously injured. In contrast, 253 pedestrians were killed by drivers in 2012 and 4,426 were seriously injured.
Perceptions about the dangers of cycling deter many from taking to two wheels. Research has shown time and again that even compulsory helmet wearing reduces the number of people cycling by portraying cycling as more dangerous than it is. Imagine the consequences of introducing a nationwide registration system of bikes and cyclists such as the kind needed for identification and tracking purposes to make any licence and insurance scheme viable?
Compulsory insurance would be a major obstacle to cycling and any such barrier would only prevent more people from taking to two wheels, leading to a net negative effect with more congestion, rising obesity levels and poorer general health. In my opinion, such a scheme would be too costly and problematic to enforce and it would be pointless bringing in any kind of legislation that in practice, simply wouldn’t work.
Cycling UK says: “whilst we encourage cyclists to undertake cycle training and to have insurance cover, making training or licences compulsory for cyclists is unworkable and would deter people from cycling occasionally or giving cycling a try.”
Regular cyclists should have some form of personal injury and liability insurance. Many believe they are covered by their household policies but it is important to emphasise that these do not always go far enough. Household insurance policies are general insurance. They do not provide the kind of specialist third party or public liability cover typically provided by cycling organisations such as the CTC.
Clearly, cyclists should be careful of their own and other road-users’ safety and property but making insurance compulsory for everyone who chooses to get on a bike is neither desirable nor workable.
Richard Gaffney is a keen cyclist and Slater and Gordon’s principal lawyer for Cycling UK, the UK’s national cycling charity.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers represent cyclists from across the UK including members of Cycling UK – the UK’s National Cyclists’ Organisation. Our cycling accident experts have secured £44 million in compensation for Cycling UK Members injured in cycling accidents since 2002, recovering over £2,900,000 in compensation for members in 2013 alone.
For a free consultation or to claim compensation for cycling accident injuries, call our specialist cycling accident solicitors 24/7 on freephone 0808 175 8105 or contact us online and we will call you.