Regulating cycling


America is the land of roads. There are interstate highways and dirt roads out in the rural backwoods. But, for some, there are never enough roads. At least, that’s true so long as the cost of gas remains affordable. At some point, the political wind may change and a new wind may begin to blow. This time, instead of personal transport based on electric vehicles, the feeling may be the bicycle is the most environmentally friendly form of personal transport on the planet. Since Americans are also putting on extra pounds, the effort of commuting to and from work would also have a beneficial effect. That all sounds wonderful, but to make it happen, there would need to be a conscious effort to separate powered vehicles from bicycles. As it is, a significant number of cyclists on our roads are injured or killed by oblivious drivers and the passengers who open doors in the path of cyclists and can cause serious injuries.

So the first step would have to be spending money on creating a network of cycling paths around all our major cities. This would provide a safe and quick way for people to get to work. Tax payers should approve this because everyone benefits from protecting the workforce from unnecessary injuries. But there’s one other issue waiting to be considered.

From the beginning of motor transport, states have had financial responsibility laws in place to force drivers to have the ability to pay something toward liability claims. So far, there’s been no suggestion this should apply to cyclists. Yet they are capable of speeding along public roads and specially constructed cycle paths and, if they hit another cyclist or a pedestrian, they can kill or injure these other people. At this point, you are rolling your eyes and saying this is not a sufficiently serious subject to be discussing. Making it mandatory for cyclists to carry liability insurance is never going to happen. Well, let’s for a moment assume the current number of people cycling doubles over the next ten years in states where the weather is reasonably benign all year round.

Welcome to sunny California where the state appeals court has just ruled that people riding bicycles can be convicted of “reckless driving” if they injure or kill others, i.e. there’s no difference between killing someone whether you are in a car, on a motorcycle, or on a bicycle. Yet if you look at the law books, it’s rare for cyclists ever to be charged with an offense even when someone else dies. It’s broadly the same when drivers kill or injure others. The Center for Investigative Reporting looked at the records of accidents between 2006 and 2001 and found 60% of drivers who were obviously at fault were not charged. This is absurd. Reckless driving is a serious safety concern no matter what you are driving or riding. Politicians should produce a level playing-field where everyone who injures another is prosecuted. Similarly, equality requires all who can put others at risk should carry insurance.

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