Monday, December 5, 2011

Cyclists and Liability

Another common thread in the VACC questionnaire responses was a misunderstanding about cyclists and liability.

In BC, a cyclist has a legal right to ride on the road. Cyclists may take as much lane as required to ride safely - this means, if there is no shoulder, or if there are parked cars, the cyclist is legally allowed to ride in the middle of the lane. And yes, this sometimes slows traffic. For brief stretches (a few blocks) there is nothing illegal about this, the cyclist is supposed to pull over and let vehicles pass as soon as it is safe to do so. In places where the road is marked with "sharrows", there is no obligation for the cyclist to pull over. It is shared space.
It is certainly not dangerous (or even seriously inconvieniencing anyone) to cycle down the middle of the lane down the business strip of Columbia Street in New Westminster (either in Sapperton or downtown). These are 30km/h zones and cars shouldn't be going faster than a cyclist in these areas anyways (bikes ride at 25 km/h).

From recent statistics, in about 98% of accidents involving bikes, the cyclist is the one who gets hurt, and vehicle damage is small. So the burden on the liability insurance system from "dangerous cyclists" is very low. A cyclist involved in an accident usually damages only him/herself.

In fact, most cyclists are covered by liability insurance. Home insurance policies (or renter's insurance) covers cyclists' victims in case the cyclist is held liable for causing the accident. In addition, some motor vehicle insurance policies cover cyclists (ie. drivers who on occasion ride bikes!). Because these liability costs are so low, insurance companies throw this coverage in as a freebie!

Again from the statistics, the most dangerous cyclists is one who:
  • is male, between 30-50,
  • rides on the wrong side of the road, or
  • doesn't pay attention
Ignoring a "traffic control device" is only a cause of about 7% of the bike collisions. Bikes blowing through stop signs isn't causing a ton of accidents.

If the cyclist is not riding against traffic or being inattentive, then chances are the driver is the problem. The most common driver fault is being inattentive (ie. yakking on a cellphone). The next-most common fault is not yielding to the cyclist by:
  • passing them and then turning right, cutting them off;
  • turning left in front of a through-going cyclist
  • crossing an intersection - usually residential - without stopping for the cyclist who has the right-of-way.

Suggesting that a cyclist who is slowly and carefully towing a trailer through New Westminster's business zones, hogging a lane, requires liability insurance, demonstrates ignorance of some basic facts.

Claiming that said cyclist is endangering others is nonsense, as demonstrated by ICBC statistics.

Claiming that this person is endangering themselves may well be true, but this is blaming the (law-abiding and fully insured) victim for the faults of the driver.

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