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Should cycling be “scary?”
Introducing cyclist retraining system and compensation for damages in cycling accidents

Nariaki Yamaguchi
Professor, Graduate School of Law, Waseda University

Introduction of cyclist retraining system

On June 1, some amendments made to the Road Traffic Act in 2013 came into effect and a cyclist retraining system was introduced. Under this amendment, cyclists who repeat certain offenses and whose behavior the Public Safety Commission deems to present traffic risks on public roads shall be required to participate in a cyclist training course and fined for traffic violations. There are several new cycling regulations that were implemented as part of the 2013 amendment to the Road Traffic Act, but the most significant is the introduction of the cyclist retraining system. These reforms are considered some of the most significant cycling regulations in post-war transport policy. Cycling has become one of the largest issues in transport policy in recent years due to the recent gradual increase in cycling-related accidents in proportion to overall traffic accidents. Furthermore, news reports reveal that compensation in cycling accidents is spiraling.

Cycling accidents and compensation

In my field of damage compensation law, cycling accidents have become more difficult to resolve and assist victims than car accidents. The following are some reasons for this circumstance: (1) In car accidents, burden of proof is transferred under the provisions of the Automobile Liability Security Act. However in cycling accidents, there are no special provisions in place and under the general principle of criminal responsibility it is not possible for a victim to bring charges without proving the fault of the perpetrator. (2) Car accidents are classified based on degrees of fault that are quickly determined. In contrast, cycling accidents have diverse circumstances that are difficult to classify, and ascertaining the circumstances based on the fault of the perpetrator is difficult. The following points are even more significant: (3) For cars there is mandatory vehicle liability insurance and high levels of voluntary insurance registration but for bicycles low levels of insurance registration and compensation payment. (4) What’s more, many perpetrators of cycling accidents are underage, and although they have legal competence (which means their parents cannot be pursued for liability), they usually are not able to provide any monetary compensation. The reality that it is not possible for perpetrators to provide compensation prevents support from reaching victims. In regards to the amount of compensation, in theory, it is not possible that compensation awarded in the past under the same circumstances as today was lower than that of recent times. Even if this had been the case, it is likely the result of victims having no choice but to accept the minimum amount. For this reason, although there have been debates on requiring cyclists to purchase the same level of liability insurance as motorists, there are numerous obstacles at the national level and a great deal of progress that needs to me made before the nation can even begin encouraging optional liability and cycling insurance.

What to expect from cycling retraining system

The recent amendments to the Road Traffic Act concern revisions to driving regulations and therefore do not address compensation in the case of cycling accidents. However, the system will likely raise awareness among cyclists of their responsibilities as “drivers” on public roads and contribute to the spread of liability and other forms of insurance. For this reason, I want to see the retraining program incorporate matters of compensation and the benefits of liability insurance. I believe that the opportunities presented by the implementation of this program should be used to define a clear policy on what type of cycling is deemed safe and encourage behavior such as cycling on the road.

Cycling on the road

Regarding cycling on the road, experts have long argued for and encouraged cycling on the road (Muneharu Kokura, “Challenges in Building an Environment to Prevent Cycling Accidents” [Jitensha Jiko no Kankyozukuri Mondai], Traffic Law Studies [Kotsuho Kenkyu] 40, p.3). Considerations for this arguments include the following: the 1978 amendment to the Road Traffic Act normalized cycling on the sidewalk which led to conflicts with pedestrians (Tomoo Kido, “Cycling Conditions and Traffic Rules” [Jitensha no Sokojittai to Kotsu Rule], Prevention Times [Yobo Jiho] 219, p. 34); despite being subjectively more “scary” in terms of data in both Japan and the West, cycling on the road is far less dangerous objectively than cycling on the sidewalk due to it being very difficult to see cyclists from inside a car, risks of colliding with pedestrians, and poor sidewalk surfaces. Cycling on the road has been encouraged in the West as a result, despite a lack of sufficient dedicated cycle lanes.

The usefulness of “fear”

These arguments are extremely convincing, and the fact that cycling on the road is seen as “scary” is something that can be regarded as significant from the perspective of promoting insurance. Currently, cyclists are not required to register for liability insurance and voluntary insurance is not promoted. It can be argued that one reason for this is that subjectively, cycling is not considered “scary” because it has become normal to cycle on the sidewalk (which limits awareness among cyclists of the possibility of causing an accident). In the case of cars, not only is automobile liability insurance mandatory but there are high levels of voluntary insurance membership, and currently more than 80% of voluntary insurance are believed to include personal injury compensation clauses to cover personal injuries of insured parties. This is likely because drivers and owners of cars are fearful of becoming victims or causing an accident.

For these reasons, and because it would in fact be safer, it is reasonable to suggest that cyclists should be required to cycle on the road be “fearful” so they become fully aware of the fact that they are “driving” a vehicle on a public road can potentially cause and become the victim of an accident. I believe that the introduction of the cyclist retraining system presents an opportunity for a significant turning point in cycling traffic policy that should be taken advantage of to ensure the considerations mentioned above are implemented in future policy.

Nariaki Yamaguchi
Professor, Graduate School of Law, Waseda University

Professor Yamaguchi graduated from the School of Law, Waseda University in 1991 and withdrew from the Doctor’s Course at the Graduate School of Law in 1997. After joining the Research Fellowship for Young Scientists of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and serving as a lecturer, associate professor and professor at the College of Commerce, Nihon University, and professor at the College of Law, Nihon University, he was appointed as professor at the Graduate School of Law in 2009. His other positions include director of the Japanese Association of Medical Law, a fellow of the Japanese Society of Compensation Science, a member of the Japan Association of Traffic Law, and a member of the Case Survey Expert Committee of the Japan Center for Settlement of Traffic Accident Disputes.
Publications include Compensation Science—A Fusion of Medicine and Law [Baisho Kagaku Gaisetsu—Igaku to Hogaku tono Yugo] (coauthor), and A New Dimension in Traffic Compensation Studies [Kotsu Baishoron no Shinjigen] (coauthor).