Oregon bicyclists who are also car owners pay for insurance coverage on their automobiles that also covers their families while riding bicycles. A few bicyclists realize that automobile insurance also covers bicyclists and pedestrians and that, when an accident happens all available resources must be used to pay for the consequences. Previous articles have discussed the various types of Oregon automobile insurance; see “Accidents and Insurance” on the Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton website under “Bicycle and Skate Law.” The purpose of this article is to discuss insurance options for bicyclists under Oregon law that will pay for a potentially catastrophic accident involving collision with a motor vehicle.
The Car-free Life
Some bicyclists have sworn off motor vehicles entirely and use bicycles as their sole means of transportation. While this decision is commendable in making a lifestyle choice that eases traffic congestion and pollution while promoting physical vitality, the carless life does eliminate many insurance options. When a car-free bicyclist who has no family household member or house-mate listing the bicyclist as a named insured on an automobile insurance policy is involved in an accident on a bicycle, then the injured rider must make any claim for damages against the insurance of the other person involved in the collision. It is an unfortunate fact that many drivers who cause the most serious accidents have no liability insurance whatsoever. While driving without insurance is illegal under Oregon law, and is legal cause for a drivers license suspension, if a bicyclist is hurt by a negligent driver without insurance, then there may be no insurance coverage whatsoever to pay for medical costs and other damages.
Of course, individual health insurance policies or health maintenance organization programs may be available to pay medical expenses separate and apart from some type of accident coverage. However, these policies, like stand-alone disability policies, provide coverage regardless of the cause of injury or disability and cannot be used to reimburse for damages for pain and suffering, impairment of earning capacity and property damage. While a bicyclist can piece together a patchwork of health and disability insurance to cover some accident related costs, only a policy associated with paying damages for bodily injury claims will fully compensate a bicyclist seriously injured due to the fault of a motorist.
Insurance for Bicyclists Without Cars
It has been frustrating for bicyclists without cars to attempt to obtain coverage for potential injuries. No companies presently offer bodily insurance for bicyclists without to automobile policies. Bicyclists advocates have attempted to fill this void in a number of ways. The most recent effort has been undertaken by the League of American Bicyclists in order to provide insurance benefits to members. Non-traditional insurance brokers have explored these potential products, but it has been difficult to quantify the numbers of potential purchasers and the scope of the costs on the risks. Jeff Lang of Gale’s Creek Insurance in Portland has met with the national leadership of the League of American Bicyclists to explore alternative coverages. He reports that obtaining accurate data on how many bicyclist ride who do not also have applicable car insurance is difficult and that there is little information available to the public about the damages level associated with the types of accident that would be covered under “bicycle only” insurance. While he has been successful in creating non-traditional insurance products that have been turned into viable offerings, such a coverage for participants in golf tournaments, so far he has not been successful in assembling a package for bicyclists.
The League of American Bicyclists has recently offered a type of bicycle insurance coverage that is a step in the right direction, but is limited to roadside service for members with bicycle break-downs. They do this through the Better World Bicycle Club, which acts as a broker for auto insurance for League of American Bicyclists members but it still only sells the same insurance products traditionally available to motorists.
How to Obtain Bicycle Insurance Coverage
At the present time in Oregon, one way to obtain accident insurance for a bicyclist is to obtain a drivers license and buy an inexpensive car. If a person were to buy a 1972 Chevrolet Nova for $350.00 (in other words, buying a very cheap car, as long as the car is not a “performance” muscle-car), then the Oregon mandatory insurance amount for liability coverage is $25,000.00, which carries a corresponding coverage for Under-Insured Motorist coverage (UIM) and Uninsured Motorist coverage (UM) of $ 25,000.00. Since a person cannot buy UM/UIM coverage in an amount greater than his or her liability coverage, the person who wants to obtain a higher level of protection must pay to increase both coverages. Fortunately, higher levels of insurance for persons with a safe driving record is usually not expensive, particularly where the underlying automobile is considered a low-risk vehicle. If a person wants to use the medical benefits and wage-loss provision of Personal Injury Protection, which is no-fault, then higher coverage can also be obtained at a reasonable cost in Oregon.
While it may seem to be a bizarre solution and a gigantic step backwards for a bicycle zealot to have to buy a car in order to protect themselves from a catastrophic accident caused by a uninsured motorist , it is a possible solution. Fortunately, the costs associated with higher levels of coverage is quite reasonable relative to the cost of the first $25,000.00 of insurance. For example, one of the staffers at Gale’s Creek Insurance (which also serves as the broker for the League Of American Bicyclists Better World Club car insurance offerings) related that a $250,000.00 automobile policy coupled with 250,000.00 UM/UIM policy on a low-risk car would cost approximately $500.00 per year, a relatively modest cost for the ability to make a claim against one’s own insurance policy for damage if a serious accident is caused by an uninsured motorist
In addition, additional coverage can be obtained for a relatively modest price if a bicyclist is interested in insuring both car and home with the same company because this creates the opportunity for purchase of an excess personal umbrella/liability policy for coverage amounts up to $1,000,000 or more. These excess coverage policies include the typical liability insurance coverage included in many homeowners policies and also contain an option for purchase of an UM/UIM policy that “stacks”, or is excess above the auto policy. In the situation described above the excess UM/UIM policy could be placed on top of the car policy for $200.00 more per year for total coverage of $1,000,000.00. Gale’s Creek Insurance reports that excess umbrella policies can also be purchased in conjunction with renters insurance so that home ownership is not necessary so long as associated autos are covered through the same company.
Why Have Insurance?
While auto insurance companies have done a fair job (out of economic self-interest) in calculating the accident frequency for automobile usage, there are no accurate figures for bicyclists. One rule of thumb frequently mentioned is that a high-mileage bicyclist is likely to get into an accident about every seven years which involves some personal injury. While most cases probably only involve a scraped knee or elbow, when motor vehicles are added to the traffic equation on the street, experienced riders know that collisions with cars can have catastrophic consequences. Though none of us in the bicycle advocacy community like to dwell on risks associated with transporting ourselves without a protective steel exoskeleton, nevertheless it is important to think about the burden placed upon our family and friends if we were to get in a serious accident caused by some idiot driver who cannot pay for our damages. If we can buy insurance which covers us and our family members on their bicycles, as well as any owned automobiles (including liability for our own driving mistakes and homeowners liability), for a cost of less than $1000.00 per year, then it begins to sound like a pretty good investment.
Sometimes, in bike safety classes I tell people that the reason increasingly large amounts of coverage are a better deal than minimal amounts of converge is that people who buy a lot of insurance never seem to be the ones to get hurt. If large insurance limits are indeed a talisman against a bad accident, so be it. As a bike lawyer, it is one of the worst experiences imaginable to investigate a client’s serious accident, learn the bicyclist was doing everything right, but then the motorist who caused the accident has no insurance, and the bicyclist, because he or she does not own a car, has no coverage whatsoever to pay for medical bills and damages.
What Does the Future Hold?
Jeff Lang at Gale’s Creek Insurance is determined to work with the League of American Bicyclists to devise a collection of figures to provide accurate risk and cost information to insurance underwriters in order to provide insurance for folks who depend exclusively on the bicycle for transportation. In Oregon alone, there would be many potential customers for such an insurance product. However, in the meantime, we are aware of no coverage currently available that affords the equivalent of UM/UIM motorist coverage for bicyclists who have no motor vehicle. The League of American Bicyclists is keen to offer its members some type of accident coverage, but to date the market has not been tapped.. In the meantime, the only practical alternative is to become a named insured on a motor vehicle and then raise the insurance limits to provide a reasonable level of coverage. While it is ironic that safety minded and risk averse bicyclists who have weaned themselves from car ownership may go back to owning a car just to be insured against idiot drivers, until we find an insurance company willing to underwrite this type of coverage, there are few alternatives for bicyclists. Health insurance coverage and disability coverage do provide some protection for folks without automobiles to take the sting out of an accident, but the coverage is limited to medical costs and wage loss.
Finally, for careful bicyclists who already own cars, it is important to remember that existing automobile coverage in Oregon includes PIP and UM/UIM insurance while on their bicycles and that it is probably a wise investment to substantially increase coverage amounts “just in case.”