Whoever thought up the concept of insurance was very clever. They offered to take money from a lot of people, on an ongoing basis, in exchange for paying out an unspecified sum of money at the time of a “loss,” as defined by the terms of a contract.
Today, we have insurance for all sorts of things including auto, health, home, and life (who would have thought you could buy insurance on a human life?). All sorts of reasons exist for buying insurance. The two most common are fear of financial loss, possibly resulting in bankruptcy, and fear of a lawsuit.
Convenience is also a factor. When someone is involved in an auto accident, particularly when they’re not at fault, they look to the responsible driver’s insurance to pay their accident related bills. Bills for time lost from work, medical treatment and property damage are usually covered. Recovering these expenses from an insurance company is much easier than paying out-of-pocket, and then suing the responsible party to recoup the money.
This particular point is the driving force behind the argument asserted by drivers, when complaining about bicyclists’ exemption from obtaining vehicle insurance. They cite cases where damage to their cars occurred, which they had to pay for themselves, or for which they made a claim with their own insurance company. Having to make a claim can cause insurance premiums to rise, which would be a sore point with anyone.
Damage to cars by bicycles is infrequent, but to hear drivers talk about it, you’d think it was a daily occurrence. Drivers are probably motivated to demand mandatory bicycle insurance due to resentment over being forced to carry it themselves, while other road users aren’t required to do the same. Essentially, one user feels unfairly “taxed” for his or her use of the roads, as a result of this inequality.
With respect to harming cars, it’s rather pointless to mandate insurance for bicyclists. The statistical probability of a bicycle damaging a car is minute. And, if significant damage occurs, the cyclist could pay for it, provided that the driver can prove negligence on the part of the cyclist.
Often, in these matters, the driver’s actions cause the cyclist to lose control of his bike. As a consequence of this loss of control, the car sustains damage — usually in addition to whatever damage the bicycle sustains. Drivers should use their own insurance, in such cases, rather than trying to collect from the cyclist.
There is a case where the issue becomes more complex: injury to pedestrians. Unlike the former scenario, where property damage is the issue in question, when it comes to an encounter between a cyclist and a pedestrian, personal injury is often the result.
In the U.S., where healthcare is very expensive and not everyone is insured, the cost to treat a pedestrian’s injuries can easily climb into the tens of thousands of dollars. And then, a complicated matter ensues.
It’s patently unfair to ask pedestrians to pay for the necessary medical treatment, particularly if they’re uninsured. In some cases, tax payers will end up footing the bill because emergency rooms can’t turn down patients in emergency situations, even if they’re uninsured. If the pedestrian can’t pay the bills, the cost of care is passed along to other members of society through tax-supported public health programs and higher insurance premiums for the insured.
In such scenarios, the issue of bicycle insurance becomes more realistic. A cyclist’s insurance company could pay for an injured pedestrian’s injuries, without cost to the pedestrian or other members of society. This is all well and good in theory, but in practice, it’s not so clear.
Serious injuries to pedestrians, by bicyclists, are rare. And requiring cyclists to purchase insurance would put them at an economic disadvantage to motorists — who can cause extensive properly damage and bodily injury with their cars — because they would have to pay premiums for something which they would never use. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a cyclist would end up paying for insurance, for many years, and never recover any of the money paid in by making a claim.
So, is it worth it to mandate something which would put an undue burden on one class of road users, some of whom choose their mode of transportation due to financial hardship, for the sake of appeasing motorists?
The short answer is: no. There’s not enough benefit gained by society through requiring cyclists to be insured. The risk of property damage by cyclists is virtually nonexistent. The risk of injury to pedestrians is slightly higher, but too rare to register on the risk tables devised by insurance companies.
If cyclists were required to carry bicycle insurance, then pedestrians should be required to carry ambulation insurance for those times when they injure cyclists — by stepping out in front of them or walking into them — or when they run into other pedestrians and knock them down.
One issue, which does muddy the waters, is accountability. Motorists are usually held accountable through claims made against their auto insurance or through personal liability suits, but cyclists are not. Even in cases where the cyclist stops to render aid, an injured pedestrian has little recourse other than to sue the cyclist for damages. Lawsuits can be time consuming and exhausting. And, the cyclist may not have much in the way of assets, rendering a lawsuit fruitless.
While there are pros and cons to everything in life, insurance only makes sense when the risk of a damage producing accident is fairly high, and the cost of sustaining a loss is greater than what an individual is willing (or able) to pay out-of-pocket in damages.
As a group, cyclists cause little damage to anyone other than themselves. If their injuries result from their own negligence, then their health insurance will pay their medical bills. Repairing or replacing a bike is a much less catastrophic expense, and a nominal price to pay in comparison to one’s health and well-being.
In short, insurance is about risk. And where there is little risk, insurance premiums represent money lost to the potentially insured.