Another strategy for making cyclists more obvious to drivers

One example of the unequal relationship

I’ve been blogging about bicycle lanes and other bike/ped infrastructure (as well as funding for constructing it), but here’s another strategy for increasing cyclists’ relative importance in the transportation system: strict liability.  This means, when a motor vehicle and bicycle collide, the motorist is presumed to be at fault and the bike/ped victim entitled to compensation unless the motorist can prove the cyclist or pedestrian caused the crash.

In any contact between car and cyclist, the cyclist loses.  The bigger, heavier, faster motor vehicles will do more damage (and its driver is protected by the vehicle body, seatbelt, air bags, etc.) to the unprotected lighter, slower rider   And, since driving requires a license (hence drivers have to meet knowledge as well as skill standards) and insurance (thus drivers have some protection from the monetary impact), why not have the law recognize the already unequal status?



5 thoughts on “Another strategy for making cyclists more obvious to drivers

  1. Sorry to disagree, but it seems like a perversion of a legal system if , in any kind of case, one party is “presumed” to have been at fault… kind of takes away the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ concept, doesn’t it?

    I think we have to NOT put presumed blame on all drivers of cars, and presumed virtue on all riders of bicycles; that is an unfair assumption.

    Some bicycle riders ignore traffic signals, whiz through stop signs even when a car that has been stopped is beginning to cross the intersection, turn in front of slowly moving cars, and make other riding decisions that seem to presume a more agile vehicle having a right to maneuver in a possibly unsafe manner.

    I think the facts must always take precedence; presumption is a dangerous mode, both in driving or matters of law.

    • I have seen too many cyclists totally ignore traffic protocol. At times to their own detriment. What we do however need is education, especially within law enforcement that the cyclist is not automatically at fault just for being on the road. My daughter had to initiate this “education” for some of the deputies in her own department.

      • I agree we need more education – for cyclists, too. When we spent a year in Cambridge, England, my daughter’s school had classes for safe cycling which practiced on the busy Cambridge streets to help kids learn how to maneuver in and out of traffic.

        I’m especially grateful for your daughter’s efforts, though, and hope she’s had some success. Certainly, I’ve been yelled at (and worse) by motorists who’ve believed I had no right to be on the road (even in bike lanes). Cyclists need law enforcement as an ally in sharing the road.

  2. Kiffi: I think you’re missing the point. It’s not a statement that cyclists never do anything wrong. In fact, Denmark (which, along with the Netherlands, is a model for this system) has much harsher penalties for bike offenses than Minnesota. Over a $100 fine for cycling without lights. Nearly $200 for cycling through a red light. This is really a more refined version of the structures we have in place now. Cars carry no-fault insurance, for example, and bicycles — with their naturally lower capacity to do severe damage — do not have insurance. Existing provisions in our law also underscore drivers’ responsibility. For example, 169.21, Subd. 3(d):

    (d) Notwithstanding the other provisions of this section every driver of a vehicle shall (1) exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicycle or pedestrian upon any roadway […].

    Strict liability really just gives that sort of statement teeth. It’s not a statement that drivers are always wrong, and bicyclists are always right. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that cars are far more deadly than bikes, and that most of our structures exist at an automotive scale. It seems only natural to apply a certain level of responsibility to the most powerful road user, even if an accident isn’t their “fault”.

    Again, strict liability does not affect the possibility of bicyclists being ticketed. So, at worst, it results in a slight “unfairness” for the driver, failing to react in time to avoid the deviant cyclist or pedestrian. At best (and most likely), the constant vigilance it encourages saves lives.

    (An aside: it does generally trouble me that cyclists’ alleged irresponsibility comes up nearly every time cycling safety or infrastructure is discussed. This popular blog post describes this phenomenon: “Basically, it’s the ‘White Man’s Burden’ approach to sharing the road–drivers are the great imperialists who must save the savage cyclists from themselves–and it remains the prevailing notion in the United States of the USA to this day.”)

  3. Sean : I am fully in support of Cyclists, and fully realize the disparity in just sheer physical presence between cars and bikes; the only thing I object to is the presumption of fault being assumed to lie with any one party.
    This seems to me to be something we have tried, but not always succeeded, in eradicating from our legal system.

    Human nature will always provide for individuals who are responsible on both sides of the coin, i.e. car drivers and bicycle riders; neither should be demonized nor beatified.

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