Last week Hyogo Prefecture passed a new ordinance requiring bicycle owners to purchase liability insurance making it the first (and hopefully last) prefecture in Japan to make such a misguided decision. The new law, which comes into effect on October 1st, applies to all cyclists regardless of the purpose of their bicycle journeys and is said by the Governor to be a response to a rising number of incidents where cyclists have injured and in some cases killed pedestrians.
Bicycle retailers will be asked to confirm if customers have liability insurance at the time of sale and encourage those that don't to acquire an insurance policy. Parents and guardians of underage bicyclists will be required to purchase insurance for them, and companies will be encouraged to cover the cost of insurance for employees who ride for business purposes.
The Hyogo Traffic Safety Association will begin accepting insurance applications, which range in price from ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 and provide maximum compensation from between ¥50 million and ¥100 million, from the beginning of April.
But similar to the nationwide bicycle registration laws, there is no penalty for violating the new ordinance which makes one wonder just why the Hyogo Prefectural Government went to such lengths, and indeed expense, to implement a law that nobody will feel the need to obey.
Despite being a "mandatory cycling insurance" law most cyclists will opt out without punishment. The government can "ask" retailers to "encourage" people to purchase insurance all they like, but at the end of the day retailers will still sell bicycles to uninsured customers. They can "suggest" companies cover employees who cycle till they're blue in the face, but can't actually enforce anything because the law carries no penalties.
What an epic waste of taxpayers money. How much did it take to plan, write, pass and implement such a stupid ordinance? How much will be spent promoting this "requirement" that isn't a "requirement" at all?
Since a landmark case in 2013 when the Kobe District Court ordered a mother pay the extra ordinate amount of ¥95 million in damages after her son struck and killed an elderly pedestrian, not a week has gone by without a newspaper article playing up the danger that cyclists pose to pedestrians, and pointing out that in such cases the cyclist is financially liable. This sudden media attention has made it easy for politicians to claim "increasing bicycle accidents between cyclists and pedestrians" without having to back these claims with hard facts. The insurance industry has been whipped into a frenzy at the possibility of expanding into an emerging market and have no doubt been fanning the fire by lobbying local Governments to pass laws that would make bicycle insurance mandatory.
So rather than provide infrastructure that would see pedestrians, cyclists and motorists all safely separated, and result in fewer accidents the Hyogo Prefectural Government have chosen to maintain a dangerous environment and place an additional financial burden on cyclists in the form of mandatory insurance which isn't really mandatory at all.
This is the kind of idiocy we as cycling activists in Japan have to deal with on a daily basis.
How long before some misguided Prefectural Government implements a mandatory helmet law reducing cyclist numbers forever? I dread the day.