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Should cyclists require a license and insurance?

28 June 2019

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A recent and widely misreported court ruling involving a pedestrian who was awarded over £4000 in damages, after she walked out onto busy London road and into the path of a cyclist whilst looking at her phone, has sparked much debate over who was at fault for the accident. It also raises the question should cyclists have public liability insurance?

From the press coverage you could be forgiven for thinking that the cyclist, Mr. Hazeldean, was found wholly a fault for the accident, when the actual decision was that both parties were equally to blame. The pedestrian for not checking that the road was clear, and the cyclist for not doing all that he could to avoid the pedestrians. The cyclist was supported by the evidence of 3 pedestrians who told the police that “he was not at fault”, but it seems the judge was swayed by the evidence of another cyclist who accused Mr. Hazeldean of “aggressive riding”. The Judge weighed up that the accident happened on a busy road, that Mr. Hazeldean had time to sound his air horn and shout before the collision, and that despite braking and swerving to avoid Ms Brushett he still collided with her at considerable speed.

Mr. Hazeldean did not have any third party liability insurance and now faces bankruptcy as a consequence of having to pay Ms Brushett’s compensation award and her legal costs.

This poses the question should cyclists be required to be licensed and insured as road users in the same way that motorists are in the UK? A question that is all the more pertinent now given the massive increase in popularity of Electric Bikes which are generally faster and heavier than ordinary bikes. TRUE Solicitors investigates the pros and cons of doing so and how practical it would be to enforce.

Pros for the introduction of licensing and insuring cyclists

Labour peer Robert Winston has called for cyclists to require number plates after he faced being kicked and abused after confronting a women for riding her bike on the pavement. A petition was started 3 years ago for cyclists to hold insurance and a license in order to use public UK roads. The arguments behind the petition included:

Lack of road safety training: Motorists are required by law to sit a theory and practical driving test in order to obtain a driving license. So why shouldn’t cyclists have to do the same if they are to travel safely on public roads.

Damage to other road users: If a motorcar is damaged or pedestrian injured as a result of a cyclist riding carelessly, it can be difficult to obtain redress because unless a cyclist stops after an accident, they can be difficult to identify. Furthermore, very view cyclists have third party liability insurance so even if they can be located obtaining compensation is often difficult.

Installing number plates and making insurance compulsory would overcome these problems and may also encourage more responsible cycling.

The cons of introducing licensing and insurance for cyclists

The main arguments against compulsory licensing and insurance is that such a scheme would be costly to set-up, almost impossible to administer and police, and would discourage people from cycling.

Cars are generally owned by adults and change hands infrequently, whereas many cycles are owned by children and are often passed onto siblings and friends. Furthermore is it not uncommon for cyclists to own several bikes; a commuter bike, a road bike and mountain bike, and this again would make registration extremely complicated.

Perhaps the most important benefit is that regular cycling has enormous health benefits and is good for the environment. The Government is under pressure to tackle the obesity crises that is costing the NHS billions each year and to meet climate change targets by reducing CO2 emission. Encouraging cycling people to ditch their cars and cycle helps the government to meet these objectives.

Third Party Cycle Insurance

Cyclists do not legally require insurance to ride on the roads in the UK, however the recent case is a salutary reminder of what can happen if you cause an accident.

The cost of third party cycle insurance is not expensive, typically around £30 a year, and is available from organizations like Cycling UK , British Cycling and Wiggle. Membership covers the costs of third party claims and often provides other benefits.

It is also worth checking your house insurance because to see if you have public liability cover, which covers legal fees and court-awarded damages if a claim is brought against you in the event of an accident.

Electric Bikes

In our view the advantages of requiring all cycles to be licensed, registered and insured is far outweighed by the disadvantages.

That said, we do wonder whether electric bikes should be treated differently not least because they are generally faster and heavier and can cause more damage. These bikes have gained in popularity to the extent that in the Netherlands in 2018 more e-bikes were sold than non-electric bikes. Sales of e-bikes in the UK has grown massively and they are now common sight in cities and in the country.

These bikes come with a hefty price tag that is likely to fall dramatically over the next few years as sales increase. For these reasons we think that a small levy on the price of an e-bike could be used to create a fund designated to compensate those injured in accidents caused by these bikes. Such a fund could be administered by the Motor Insurers Bureau.


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