Infrastructure or Insurance: Which makes our roads safe for cycling?

Byron Kidd
If you check my posting history you'll see I've been absent for a while for, well .. reasons. So imagine my surprise when I delved back into the news surrounding cycling in Japan only to find the same rubbish from years ago being regurgitated by the mainstream Japanese media. Have they learned nothing in my absence? Apparently not.

A recent article in the Yomiuri Shimbun entitled "Bicycle riders must be ready to pay significant damages for accidents" is a perfect example of a journalist being lead along by the insurance industry and local government line without thinking too deeply about the real cause of the dangers of cycling in the city. (Hint: It's the lack of commitment to providing the quality cycling infrastructure that Japanese cities deserve.)

Please allow me back on my soapbox ...

Firstly the title of the article sent alarm bells ringing in my head: "Bicycle riders must be ready to pay significant damages for accidents".

Before reading any further I suspected this post to be nothing more than a sponsored post from the insurance industry. Immediately I wondered just how many paragraphs it would take before the author quoted the case from 2013 when the Kobe District Court ordered the parent of elementary school student pay ¥95 million in compensation after a bicycle accident caused the death of an elderly pedestrian. This case has been used by the local insurance industry ever since as the perfect example to scare the general public into purchasing cycling insurance, without thinking about the true cause of our dangerous cycling environment.

(Hint: The true cause of this dangerous cycling environment is the lack of commitment to providing the quality cycling infrastructure that Japanese cities deserve.)

Anyway, I digress, let's push on.

The article asserts cycling accidents have been on the rise. I've been out of the loop for a while so like any other regular reader lets just accept that without any evidence to back it up. After all, this is a respectable journalistic publication that undoubtedly hires the brightest investigative journalists to look much deeper than the surface of a story to expose all the facts right?

(Hint: wrong)

The article continues stating that the majority of bicycle accidents are perpetrated by "young people" and proposes that it is essential that we educate our young about cycling safety so they don't go about causing carnage on the streets, erm... sidewalks actually.

There it is, the problem is so simple! Those damn young people with their smartphones cycling on the sidewalks causing havoc for pedestrians with their rap music, social media and disregard for public safety, they're making the city unsafe for us all as we try to go about our grocery shopping in peace. Someone educate them so I can step outside my house without fear! I'm so glad the problem will finally be solved. All praise our savior the Yomiuri Shimbun!

(Hint: It's not young cyclists that make cycling in Tokyo dangerous for pedestrians, its the lack of commitment to providing the quality cycling infrastructure that Japanese cities deserve.)

Bingo! Three paragraphs! That's all it took before the author dropped the bomb that we could all be forced to pay ¥95 million in compensation if we are foolish enough to cycle without insurance. Without questioning the cause of the danger, readers are immediately encouraged to consider protecting themselves from a liability which would be greatly reduced if the true cause of the problem was addressed.

The remainder of the article goes on to talk about the percentage of cyclists involved in accidents who had accident insurance, the complexity, and cost of various policies out there, and the fact that pretty soon cycling insurance is going to be forced upon us all by local governments.

This really wound me up: Governments refuse to fund quality cycling infrastructure for their citizenry in order to create a safe cycling environment in cities that reap immense benefits (think financial, environmental, social, and health) from cycling, but instead "An increasing number of local governments have established ordinances requiring bicycle riders to have insurance".

So the government is essentially refusing to create a safe environment for cyclists and then forces citizens via new laws to take out cycling insurance. Imagine the government decided to stop funding traffic lights, signage and road repair then forced motorists to take out insurance to make up for the dangerous environment. How do you think that would fly?

What is frightening about this story is that the author of the Yomiuri Shimbun article considers compulsory insurance to be a "good thing" without ever questioning the true cause of the issue.

(Hint: The true cause of the issue is the lack of commitment to providing the quality cycling infrastructure that Japanese cities deserve.)

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