License to Ride

I’ve received some interesting responses – both directly and indirectly – about my recent post titled ‘Anti-bike Propaganda.’  In that article, I picked random comments made by folks on various websites, forums and news posts.  All of the quoted comments – by design – had a decidedly anti-cycling flavor.

I’ve now taken some time to ponder some of the responses, and I think I’ll start selectively addressing some of the statements I collected.  The first statement I’d like to examine deals with the issue of bicycle registration, or licensing

Share the road. Make insurance mandatory along with license plates on bicycles, they can cause accidents just as cars, and be used in crimes just like cars so the laws should be made “center of the road” so it is equal for both parties using the road. Simple.

I decided to approach this issue due to a timely posting by BikingInLA regarding Santa Monica’s own current bicycle registration requirements.  As with most bicycle registration programs that have been employed, the intent is usually to assist in identifying the rightful owners of recovered stolen bikes.  Clearly, however, this is not the intent of the comment quoted above.

This is evidenced by the combination of licensing and insurance in the same clause: “Make insurance mandatory along with license plates on bicycles.”  It sounds as if this person believes that cyclists are not accountable for property damages they may cause, and that insurance and licensing would somehow address this issue.

It is not clear to me at all how a license plate would do anything to change the legal liabilities of cyclists to compensate for damages they cause.  My opinion is that the inclusion of a license plate requirement demonstrates a lack of understanding of bicycles as vehicles.  For example – are we going to require that every 3 or 4 year old’s bicycle be registered?  What about their tricycle?  Big Wheel?  What about transfers of registration at sale?  State motor vehicle department’s funding often comes – in large part – from tax dollars.  When you can easily find used bicycles at garage sales for $25 or less, sale of bicycles obviously happens at a lot faster rate than sale of cars – and would thus require a significantly larger investment in tax dollars to support.

I suspect that the insurance comment actually hits a lot closer to the target this comment’s author was aiming for – holding cyclists accountable for damages they cause.

This would seem to imply a perception by this person that there are no laws that hold a cyclist accountable – and that is simply not true.  First off, everyone is legally responsible for damages they cause no matter how they cause them.  Secondly, it is extremely difficult for me to cause any significant amount of monetary loss due to use of my bike.  If I hit the side of your parked car with my bike, the physical amount of damage I can cause is simply limited.  It is very very likely that any financial compensation due to the property owner would fall below the deductible of a liability insurance policy anyhow.  In other words, except in rare case, liability insurance would seem to be irrelevant to most bicycle caused accidents.

The real kicker for me here, however, is that most cyclists actually are covered by insurance (even though they may not know it).  In fact, a cyclist may actually have more coverage for liability cause by an accident than your average motorist.  There are two potential insurance policies that can cover a cyclist in this scenario:  vehicle liability coverage, and homeowner’s or renters insurance.  The latter – a homeowner’s or renter’s policy – is a sure bet.  If you’ve got one, you’re almost guaranteed some sort of coverage for liabilities due if you damage someone else’s property while riding your bicycle.  Your vehicle liability policy may be a little trickier to work out – and will vary by state.  However, you may be surprised to find out that often bicycles do indeed fall under the general umbrella of “vehicle,” and thus can be covered by your auto insurance.

Ultimately this person’s statement feel like a straw-man argument – an excuse to not respect cyclists when they are on the road.