Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Who should be liable in road crashes involving bicycles?

If a car and a bicycle collide who should be held mostly responsible for any damage or injuries?  Most people in Singapore will say, 'well it depends'.

But in the Netherlands, it will almost always be the motorist who is held primarily responsible, even if they broke no road rules. Does that seem crazy to you? Read on. 

In assessing compensation payments after road crashes, Singapore's approach is similar to that of the USA, the UK and many other Commonwealth countries. To be held primarily responsible for a crash, it generally has to be proven that you were negligent or in violation of the road rules.

Contrast this with how it works in the Netherlands!

Watch the video below about the Dutch approach to liability in road crashes.

The Netherlands uses a so-called 'strict liability' principle for such crashes. Much greater responsibility for avoiding collisions is placed on the larger, faster vehicles. Pedestrians or cyclists who are struck by a motor vehicle can claim for compensation from the motorists' insurance company without having to prove any negligence by the driver. So the onus is primarily on motorists to avoid crashing into cyclists or pedestrians. For the purpose of compensation claims, a motor vehicle driver in a collision with a bicycle will usually be held responsible (or mainly responsible) even if the cyclist made a mistake or behaved a little foolishly (up to a point of course). 

Does this seem fair to you? Would it change your attitudes as a driver? Would it change your behaviour as a cyclist?

Note that 'strict liability' places a duty of care on cyclists too - towards pedestrians! Did you see the text near the end? The same philosophy means that a cyclist will usually be held primarily responsible for not hitting someone on foot, even if the pedestrian did something stupid.

Are the bicycle-crazy Dutch the only ones to have such a strange policy? No! According to the video, many European countries have the same approach as the Dutch. And according to Tokyo by Bike a similar policy applies in Japan: 
In the event of an accident, when the enforcement of the law actually kicks in Japan attributes blame to the larger party. In a car against bicycle bout, the driver of the car is automatically at fault even if the cyclist was riding the wrong way down a one way street holding their umbrella while listening to their iPod. When a cyclist injures a pedestrian the cyclist is at fault, and the person deemed to be at fault covers the medical expenses of the other party.
Maybe Singapore should consider this too? 
By the way, the video is from a UK campaign pushing for a Strict Liability approach to be adopted there (for civil cases only). It is supported by the Environmental Law Foundation, Safer Streets Coalition, Play England and CTC

Hat tip Momentum magazine.


thomask said...

haha can you imagine? motorists here would have a fit. not to mention their insurance companies, though i guess they'd just up the premiums and rub their hands together.

however, if it was implented then maybe motorists would actually be in favour of adding bike lanes to major roads, as it might help them to avoid crashing into cyclists and hence having to fork over large medical payouts.

of course, that would mean singaporean drivers having to learn to "stay within the lines" and exercise a modicum of concentration, a seemingly impossible ask ;)

Back2Nature said...

May not be directly related, but motorists do have a huge responsibility when driving a vehicle, which could easily become a killing machine for others and themselves. Watch this:

How much harm can a cyclist riding on the road make to others? Usually zero.

Sivasothi said...

In response to the last remark, it is quite clear that any fast moving person insensitive and/or intolerant of others can cause harm. Cyclists too have a responsibility to others as well.

BicycleShopSG said...

hopefully singaporean drivers are getting more used to and respectful of cyclists... and then we can talk less about crashes!