In the UK, if you ride a bike, write about bikes or work with bikes, there are certain thorny debates that crop up repeatedly: helmets, insurance, licensing, red-light-jumping and road tax are the usual favourites for discussion with journalists, motorists or fellow riders.
This morning was the turn of insurance. Oddly prompted by government proposals around compulsory insurance for dog owners, an exchange of views broke out on Twitter, debating the pros and cons of mandating third party insurance for cyclists. Such a move would ensure that in the event of a cyclist being at fault in an accident, compensation could be made available to injured parties. There seemed to be some firmly held, and sometimes opposing, views on the subject among @carltonreid, @velofello, @markbikeslondon, @FatManonaBike, @John_the_Monkey, @cyclepod1, @breadedcod and me, @CliveAndrews.
On the face of things, this looks like a reasonable idea. An equitable idea. Motorists are required to have third party insurance, so by taking responsibility in the same way, cyclists can be seen as equal to their four-wheeled contemporaries.
- Though the number of collisions caused by cyclists is lower than sometimes perceived, accidents do happen, and third party insurance for cyclists would provide compensation for injured parties
- Insurance for cyclists is easy and cheap to arrange (most usually through membership of CTC, British Cycling or London Cycling Campaign)
- Insurance for cyclists would lend much-needed support to the idea of cyclists as responsible members of society
Of those who believe cycling to be a good thing for our society and our environment, most would like to see greater numbers taking to two wheels. With this in mind, we owe it to ourselves to ensure cycling remains as approachable, as accessible and as ‘normal’ as possible.
Committed cyclists may think nothing of investing a few quid in third party insurance. Many of us, through membership of cycling organisations, already hold insurance, so a compulsion to obtain third party cover will be no obstacle to our riding.
But what of those millions of people on the brink of deciding whether or not they should drive a little less and cycle a little more, and who would never define themselves as ‘cyclists’?
In a system with compulsory insurance for cyclists, the only people riding bikes would be those who take the deliberate decision to label themselves as cyclists by making the effort to obtain insurance. Do we want a small number of committed, legally paid-up cyclists feeling smugly secure in their legal parity with motorists, or do we want cycling to be accepted as the easy, affordable hassle-free way for everyone to get around?
We are all road users, making our own decisions about which vehicle to take to school, work or to the shops. If we want more people to use two wheels for short journeys we should not do anything to take cycling further out of the hands of the average citizen and into the hands of people who have chosen to commit to cycling as an officially documented lifestyle choice.
Some arguments on the politics of road use fall into the trap of adopting an ‘us and them’ mentality. We are the cyclists. They are the drivers. This ill-advised idea has a similar effect: We are the cyclists. They are are the non-cyclists. And if they want to join our club they will need an official piece of paper to show they are serious.
A very bad idea.
(Disclosure: When I wrote this blog post, I worked for CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation, but this post was unconnected with my work role)