Re: Compulsory Third-Party Insurance and Compulsory Single File for Cyclists
I write to you in response to your recent social media posts and as the CEO of WestCycle, the peak body of cycling in Western Australia, I would like the opportunity to explain why compulsory third party insurance and compulsory single file schemes for cyclists will come at a great cost and achieve little in terms of improving the safety of the Western Australian community or for the ratepayers of the Town of Claremont. I will outline for you alternative solutions and I am open to discuss further how Claremont may improve the safety of the community through the planned Town of Claremont’s Local Bike Plan.
Compulsory Third Party Insurance
We encourage all bike riders to ensure that they have appropriate insurance coverage for themselves and their children either through one of WestCycle’s member organisations (eg. Bicycling Western Australia or CycleSport Western Australia) or through their home and contents insurance provider. In fact, there are thousands of people in the cycling community who already hold this insurance.
The administrative cost of a compulsory third party insurance scheme for cyclists would far outweigh the benefits to the wider community. A compulsory scheme would likely require a state authority to register and enforce either every bicycle rider or every bicycle to ensure that their third party insurance is current. This administrative cost and the resourcing from the WA Police to enforce this scheme would far outweigh the potential risk that of an injured pedestrian who unable to receive adequate compensation from an uninsured bicycle rider. There would also likely be an issue enforcing and infringing minors that have not taken out compulsory third party insurance.
We don’t dispute that collisions between cyclists and pedestrians certainly can and do occur and efforts to minimise serious injuries and fatalities should be sought. However, research suggests serious injuries and fatalities in these collisions are not common and the outcome and occurrence of bicycle-pedestrian collisions are far less severe than the outcome and occurrence of motorist-pedestrian collisions due to the obvious speed and mass differences. One study looking at bicycle-pedestrian collisions, which was presented at the Australasian College of Road Safety Conference in 2011, found that the risk of a pedestrian being struck down by a bicyclist and killed is:
- 2 times less than the risk of being struck and killed by lightning (0.1 chances of fatality per million person years),
- 23 times less likely than tripping on a footpath or roadway causing death (1.15 chances of fatality per million person years)
- 200 times less likely being fatally involved in an airline crash (10 chances of fatality per million person years), and
- 700 times less likely than being struck and killed by a motor vehicle (35 chances of fatality per million person years).
In addition, whilst third party insurance may ensure that the injured party is appropriately compensated for any loss and injury, a compulsory scheme does little to prevent collisions from occurring in the first place. Instead we suggest that the Town’s focus is on improving the built environment in Claremont by utilising the rates collected from its residents to provide safe and well-maintained pedestrian facilities, bicycle facilities and low-speed roads that minimise the occurrence of collisions and trip hazards. As noted in the Town of Claremont Strategic Community Plan, “Claremont Ahead 2027”, we look forward to the development of the Town’s Bike Plan this year and we offer our support in consulting the cycling community in its development.
Compulsory Single File for Cyclists
With the revision of the safe passing distance laws in November 2017 in Western Australia, there has been considerable debate on the impact of this law on motorists ability to overtake a cyclist. An emerging social media campaign “Single File Please” suggests that people who ride bicycles should, by law, not be able to ride two-abreast with the common argument being that it poses a risk to motorists who attempt to overtake cyclists who aren’t riding single file. The premise of this argument has little to do with safety and more to do with the perceived inconvenience of a motorist who may have to slow and wait behind a cyclist before attempting to pass. In terms of safety, whilst the new law now has specified a minimum passing distance of one metre, we still encourage motorists to pass a cyclist in a similar manner they would another vehicle, giving as much distance as possible. Forcing cyclists further “into the kerb” creates the opportunity for a motorist to attempt a risky overtake and in the event where a collision with an oncoming vehicle is imminent, it is likely the that motorist will encroach on the cyclist’s space with a disastrous outcome.
It is important to note that cyclists ride two-abreast to enhance their safety in environments where it is deemed the best option to do so. For example riding two-abreast makes cyclists more visible to other road users, whilst halving the distance to overtake versus riding single file. Two abreast is also often used to ‘take the lane’ in circumstances where riders deem there to be insufficient space for motorists to overtake, sending a clear signal to drivers who may otherwise be unsure if it is safe to pass or not. This is very relevant in the Town of Claremont due to traffic calming infrastructure which prevents sufficient space for a vehicle to overtake cyclists safely. In fact, “vehicular cycling”; that is cycling in a manner similar to other road users, has been a common practice around the world for decades and is recognised as the safest manner in which a cyclist can use the road where protected and separated bicycle facilities are not present, or the riders are riding too fast to safely use a footpath or shared path. In the UK, cycle training courses teach cyclists to understand and use “Primary Road Position” or “Take The Lane” to ensure that they are seen by other road users and assist safe driver behaviours. Only when the cyclist has determined it to be safe from hazards such as debris, potholes and parked cars in the leftmost of the lane, is the cyclist recommended, as a courtesy, to take “Secondary Road Position”, a position towards the left-hand side of the lane to allow faster moving vehicles to the opportunity to scan for oncoming vehicles and make a safe passing manoeuvre.
With no cycling proficiency or behaviour standards in Western Australia, very few cycling proficiency coaches and little awareness of cyclists in the driving theoretical and practical tests, we developed a series of Best Practice Guides for Cycling. Through these guides, we encourage groups of cyclists of two or more, to ride two-abreast for safety and visibility, and when safe to do so, if traffic is building up, move to single file to allow faster vehicles the view of oncoming conditions before attempting a safe overtake. However, we understand that this is only the first step to influencing cycling and driving behaviours and improving road safety. As such, one of our priorities is to advocate to the state government to introduce cycling proficiency courses for school-aged children to ensure that children are consistently taught the safe operation of a bicycle and road rules. We would also like to see an increase in the awareness of rules and behaviours that impact cyclists in the driving theoretical and practical tests.
As safety is one of the major reasons why Western Australians don’t ride a bike more often, introducing initiatives that improve the safety on our roads will reap the benefits of reducing congestion on our roads, decrease the demand for parking at activity centre, reduce the cost of maintaining local roads, decrease carbon emissions and pollution and most of all, assist in reversing the health impacts of physical inactivity that is currently plaguing both Australian adults and children.
Lastly, I would like to respectfully request that you not continue this haphazard approach of advocating for road safety improvements. The only outcome that is achieved by promoting these messages without providing your constituents with the sufficient detail, only continues to fuel the aggression and angst between motorists, pedestrians and people who ride bikes.
Chief Executive Officer