Monday, December 16, 2013

Cycling vs Cars

In New York (and most of America) all you have to say after your kill a bicyclist is, "I didn't see him (or her)!" That's it. You go home. No ticket. No crime. I guess you have to file a claim to get your car fixed. The Economist looks at hypotheticals in the Netherlands:
• Let's say a truck is making a turn onto a high-speed four-lane street in The Hague, and rides over a cyclist in the bicycle lane. The accident is witnessed by a very reliable observer whose testimony is likely to stand up in court—say, the prime minister of the country. Who is at fault, and will have to pay damages and/or face criminal penalties? Answer: the truck driver. • But what if the same accident occurs on a two-lane street with no designated bicycle lane, so the bicycle is riding out in traffic? And what if there are no witnesses or video evidence? Who is at fault then? Answer: the truck driver. • What if there was a separate traffic light for bicycles at this intersection, and the cyclist was clearly running a red light? Answer: still the truck driver. • Okay, so...what if the bicycle was coming the wrong way up a one-way street, arrived at the intersection at the same time as the truck, and despite the fact that the truck was on the right, the bicycle seized the right-of-way and dashed straight across the intersection? Answer: the truck driver would have to pay at least 50% of the cyclist's damages, unless he can prove there was no way he could have seen the cyclist. • Fine. What if a tornado is racing through the streets of some Dutch town, picks the truck up, and hurls it into the bicyclist, who is in the middle of running a red light while going the wrong way up a one-way street, no hands? Answer: the truck driver will probably not have to pay the cyclist's damages, unless the cyclist was 14 or younger, in which case the truck driver will have to make an extra effort to prove that there was nothing he could have done to avoid the accident. To sum up: in the Netherlands, if a motor vehicle hits a cyclist, the accident is always assumed to have been the driver's fault, not the cyclist's.
The logic? "The law treats pedestrians and cyclists as weaker participants in traffic." Needless to say, it's much safer to bike in the Netherlands. In conclusion:
This regulatory regime places an extra burden on drivers. That burden can be summed up as follows: before you turn, you have to check carefully in the mirror to see whether there's a cyclist there. That's it....So I guess it depends on how much one values human life, as against the inconvenience of having to look in the rearview mirror more often.

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