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There has been a long-standing debate as to whether cyclists should be registered and made to have compulsory insurance; to be in the same position as motor vehicle drivers. Perhaps this point is once again relevant as the public are shunning public transport during the Covid-19 pandemic and getting back in their cars or mounting their bicycles. Increased congestion on the road makes the roads busier and potentially more dangerous.

Cyclists do not legally require insurance to ride on the roads in the UK nor do the rider or their bike need to be registered. It is accepted that collisions caused by a cyclist causes fewer serious injuries and fatalities than collisions caused by a motor vehicles and this is regularly used by those against the idea of making registration of and insurance for cyclists mandatory. On the sombre end of the scale, in 2019, 5 pedestrians were killed by cyclists in the UK and 1 cyclist was killed by another cyclist.[1] These numbers are significantly lower than the number of serious injuries or fatalities caused by a motor vehicle There were 305 pedestrians and 48 cyclists fatalities caused by cars alone (not including motorbikes, Bus, HGV etc)[2]. However, this provides little comfort for those seriously injured by a cyclist or the relatives of those killed by a cyclist, who may then not be able to claim compensation because the cyclist involved does not have insurance or the personal wealth needed to meet the claim and the associated legal fees.

In the case of Brushett v Hazeldean (2019), the Defendant cyclist collided with a Claimant pedestrian, resulting in the Defendant having to meet sum for damages (£4,161) and legal fees (which totalled nearly £100,000) despite the Claimant only suffering a relatively minor injury and liability being split equally. As the Defendant was not insured he could have been bankrupt if not for a crowdfunding effort to pay his bill. What may not be widely known is that in a case where a pedestrian is knocked over by a cyclist and suffers a fracture, damages and costs could be in excess of £50,000 and in cases where a pedestrian suffers a life changing injury or a catastrophic brain injury, the total amount for compensation and legal fees could easy reach seven figures. Thankfully, these type of accidents and injuries are rare but because the negligent cyclist involved may be uninsured, the person who has suffered the injuries may not be compensated for these injuries or the associated financial losses that these injuries have caused, such as loss of earnings or cost of future medical care and treatment. The injured party may not be able to secure legal representation either if there is no guarantee of recovering legal fees, which could mean that they may not get proper access to justice.

The Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB), the traditional safety net when someone is involved in a collision with an untraced or uninsured driver is not available because, unfortunately, the MIB only deals with claims from uninsured or untraced motorists and not collisions caused by cyclists.

There is also the matter of cases where a cyclist causes damage to property, for example, a cyclist colliding with a vehicle’s wing mirror when they filter through traffic and also the possibility of a driver of a motor vehicle suffering an injury as a result of evading a cyclist who jumped a red light. In the absence of insurance cover or informal agreements the motorist would likely go uncompensated for the damage suffered.

When a cyclist is involved in a collision with a motor vehicle the Court is sympathetic due to the cyclist’s status as a vulnerable road user. However, it is common for allegations of contributory negligence to be found against the cyclist, for example the cyclist jumping a red light, cycling on the wrong side of the road, failing to give a proper look out or not wearing hi-vis clothing or having adequate lighting on their bicycle at night. In the absence of cycling insurance this leaves the cyclist liable to paying damages and legal fees out of their own pocket.

Below is a summary of arguments for and against cyclist being registered and being made to have compulsory insurance.

Arguments for compulsory registration and insurance for cyclists:
  • A bicycle does not need a registration number, a cyclist does not need to have a licence, so if an uninsured cyclist causes injury or damage it may be very difficult to identify or trace them unless they stop. Even if the cyclist does stop it is unlikely that they have third party liability insurance or the means to meet a claim for compensation and both their own and the injured party’s legal fees. As noted above this may result in the injured party not receiving compensation or securing legal representation to pursue the claim.
  • Even if the cyclist successfully defends the claim they would be liable for their own legal costs as due to qualified one-way cost shifting (QOCS) they would not be able to recover these costs from the Claimant. Therefore, if not for the sake of an injured party, with a cyclist facing the prospect of a legal bill, no matter how large, it would appear advantageous for a cyclist to take out insurance cover that has appropriate public liability and legal cover to protect themselves for their own peace of mind.
  • Although some home insurance policies have third party liability cover, which may cover in the event of cycling accident, not all do. This can leave a cyclist largely cycling without insurance and therefore could be liable.
  • The cost of third party liability insurance for cyclists is relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of motor insurance. One would assume that this is reflective of the argument that cyclists are less likely to cause serious damage or injury when compared to the driver of a motor vehicle. There are also training courses available for cyclists which may further reduce the cost of their insurance.
  • Cyclists do not need to need to pass a test to ride on the road whereas there are barriers of entry for motorists to use the road; motorists must pass the theory and practical driving test to obtain a driving licence. There is therefore a standard that a motorist must meet to use the road whereas a cyclist just need to have access to a bicycle. In the government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS)[3], paragraph 1.10 notes that “one of this Strategy’s core elements is its emphasis on the hierarchy of road users. Pedestrians, and especially elderly and disabled people, must feel safe in their interactions with cyclists and motor vehicles; cyclists and horse riders must feel safe in their interactions with pedestrians and motor vehicles, drivers must feel safe in their interactions with pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable users, and so on.” If there is to be a mutual sense of safety in the interaction with road users, if a driver needs to have a licence in order to use public roads then why should cyclists not have to do the same?
  • Having a riding standard cyclists must meet would improve the image of cyclists on the road and may improve trust and reduce animosity between motorists and cyclists.
  • Just as there is a minority of unsafe motor drivers there are a minority of unsafe cyclists. However, without registration of bikes or the ability to identify an individual cyclist, a cyclist can ride the streets with anonymity. CCTV footage will unlikely lead to a cyclist who commits road traffic offences from being caught.

Requiring bicycles to have number plates or making it mandatory for a cyclist to wear a tabard with a registration number clearly visible would overcome the issues of anonymity. Making insurance compulsory would address the issue of a party injured by a cyclist having redress for their injury and be able to secure their legal fees.

However, there are disadvantages and arguments against this:
  • Paragraph 6.43 of CIWS notes that the safety case for a testing/licensing system for cyclists is not as strong as that for drivers since, by contrast with motor vehicles, bicycles involved in collisions on the highway are far less likely to cause serious injury to other road users.
  • The introduction of a licensing system would likely deter many people from cycling. The government is keen to encourage more people to use more active forms of transportation such as cycling. Therefore, moving away from legal arguments and looking at the bigger picture, cycling has many benefits and offers solutions to other key issues.
    • The CWIS identified that the more people who use Active Travel (such as cycling) the fitter and healthier they will be, which would run along the governments objectives of reducing obesity and improving individuals long terms physical and mental health. This would in turn potentially save the NHS millions.
    • Many cyclists cycle in city and town centres and the more cyclists on the road will mean lower traffic congestion and better air quality.
    • Cycling is a cost-effective way to reduce transport emissions which in turn helps the fight against climate change.
    • Cycling is a sustainable form of transport.
  • The costs and complexity of introducing and administering a system of compulsory licensing and insurance, would likely outweigh any road safety or other benefits. Particularly when looking at the number of serious or fatal accidents that are caused by motor vehicles.
  • Many young cyclists are children, it would be difficult to enforce and administer licencing and insurance for children. Would children be outside of these rules? If children are outside of the rules, how would this be enforced? If caught by the rules, it may deter many parents for gifting their child a bike and this policy may also not sit well with many who learned to ride as a child. Cycling is still for most children their main independent form of transport alternative to walking, and is good exercise.
  • Bicycles can change hands more frequently and informally whereas cars do not. The bureaucracy of formally registering an owner could deter many from cycling.
  • One factor which makes cycling attractive is its relatively low set up and maintenance costs when compared to the purchase of a car: there is no road tax, no insurance and no MOT. Therefore, on an individual level, mandatory registration and insurance would likely deter people from cycling as it would be an extra cost on what is potentially a form of transportation cheaper than driving a motor vehicle.
  • What would enforcement against a cyclist look like? How would the police be able to effectively enforce this?

For now, there appears to be little appetite from the government or public support to introduce a system of mandatory registration or insurance. From the CIWS report this appears to be based on the wider benefits cycling offers against the relatively low safety risk cyclist pose to the public.

There are of course alternatives to address the lack of insurance cyclist, such as strict liability being introduced for motorists involved in a collision with a cyclist. However, having to prove that they are not at fault, rather than proving that the cyclist was, may not garner much support from motorists. Worse yet, could this introduce a new trend of fraudulent personal injury claims?

Will the public be more open to the mandatory registration of e-scooters and compulsory insurance for their riders? Time will tell.

What is clear is if you are involved in an accident with another road user you will need:
  • Exchange names and contact details
  • Make enquiries with the other person involved if they have insurance and to take down details of their insurance
  • In the case of a cyclist, ask if they have home insurance and who they are insured with
  • Take photographs of any vehicle damage, of the road layout and accident location
  • Make a note of the accident location
  • Obtain names and contact details of witnesses if able to
  • Do not discuss who is at fault for causing the accident and refrain from commenting on the accident on social media
  • Notify your insurer of the accident and of any vehicle damage or injury suffered
  • If you have suffered an injury consider contacting a law firm which specialises in personal injury claims for further advice.

[1] PACTS-What-kills-most-on-the-roads-Report-15.0.pdf

[2] ibid

[3] Cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS) (publishing.service.gov.uk)