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Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Insurance and Bike Cams

Posted by on April 14th, 2020 at 8:24 am

The husbeast’s bike with dashcam.
(Photos by Robert Wagner)

Insurance is a tricky thing, particularly in times of social and economic uncertainty.

I’m always conflicted about it: Part of me feels like it’s legalized racketeering, part of me feels like it falls under the idea that “laws keep people free” which has its own set of conflicts. Specifically for our purposes here on BikePortland, let’s talk UM/UIM, aka uninsured motorists or under-insured motorists.

When I first started, there were suggestions of getting some sort of insurance in the event I was hit by a person driving a car, and either they kept going or were under/uninsured. When I sold my car, my Geico policy offered ever so kindly to keep me on as a cyclist for $60 a month, which seemed pretty steep. Come to find out later, most insurance companies don’t even offer to cover you as a cyclist unless you also have a car. Isn’t that bonkers? Car insurance has always been my least favorite, so I find it difficult to believe there’s an avenue for making money they’re not exploiting. Maybe the numbers aren’t in our favor? State Farm and Farmers said they don’t cover without an auto policy. I called Cindy at a local Farmers Insurance office, and she said motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians are all covered under personal injury protection under the auto policy in addition to the required UM/UIM coverage. My research was brief and by no means exhaustive, but more for us to have a general idea.

I have, however, always quite enjoyed working with lawyers and found contacting a few of the BikePortland-listed lawyers preferable to calling more insurance companies. I got Scott Kocher of Forum Law Group on the phone and boy, did I drink from the firehose. Scott is a wealth of information, as you well know because he’s also written for BikePortland.

Scott is insistent that we cyclists need UM/UIM insurance. In fact, Scott suggest that you max out the UM/UIM option at the $500,000 to $1 million mark if you can. The idea is that if you actually get hit and need hospitalization, you’re going to go through the Oregon minimum of $25,000 liability really quickly.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced hospital billing collections, but they’re ugly and gross. My last kid’s birth, I had excellent private insurance, but the anesthesiologist’s office messed up my billing address, so unbeknownst to me, I had a bill for my epidural floating about, and it went to collections in less than 6 months. I actually had people showing up at my work for a bill I had the insurance and flex money to pay, but it was too late. I got a subpoena. They did not care. That bill cost me more than double what it should have – and that was only $3,000. Imagine blowing through $25,000!

Did I mention I dislike insurance companies? And I take back what I said about lawyers — I like all lawyers except collections lawyers.

What do you do? Do you fly by the seat of your pants, or suck it up and pay the insurance?

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Me and Kidlet on Easter Day Ride caught on Husbeast dashcam.

I also asked Scott about cameras. Cameras and insurance coverage seem to go hand-in-hand.

Scott was kinda “meh” on cameras for court purposes. Sure, he gets sometimes you want some killer footage of your weekly training ride or maybe you want footage to help police bust a dangerous driver. I’ve been watching you on social media, and have seen mixed results from the latter with Portland Police. I’ve personally had a driver threaten to hit me with their car by swerving into me, right in front of a Portland Police officer without even so much as an acknowledgement. (I actually have quite a few family members in law enforcement including my mother, so I don’t hate police. This particular experience made me more disappointed than anything.)

But the real kicker? Scott has seen the offending driver’s legal team slow down the footage from a cyclist, frame by frame, to prove the cyclist didn’t do enough to avoid getting hit.

THE CYCLIST DIDN’T DO ENOUGH TO AVOID GETTING HIT?! (I said this with more swear words on the phone.)

I’ve yelled at pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders to myself from inside my car when they’ve pushed it way too close. But you know, I’m of the mind that if I’m going to murder someone, I want to plan it. I don’t want to murder someone without a good reason. (Please know me by now to read that with tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek.) But every time I ever have got to that scary point of where I’m yelling in my car because of a too-close-call, obviously I saw them and I used that amazing pedal called a “brake.” It’s a wondrous pedal. It stops thousands of pounds. I haven’t murdered anyone to this day, intentionally or otherwise. But to prove a cyclist didn’t avoid my car enough?? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I have friends who’ve admitted to running into stopped cars because they spaced out for a few seconds; but we all know this is different, right? We all know exactly what Scott was talking about: A car insurance company fighting an injured human.

Yes, I really do dislike insurance companies.

That said, there are plenty of proponents of dashcams and bike-mounted cams. Rumor has it Multnomah County DA Rod Underhill is a cyclist and is in favor of cams.

What are your thoughts? Are you pro/anti bike camera in regards to safety and possibly having to go to court against a driver? If so, what has your experience been? Is it worth the expense? And do you always have it plugged in? I have a hard enough time keeping my lights charged.

As always, thank you so much for hanging out with me here.

— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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Johnny Bye CartermhJasonHello, KittyDavid Hampsten Recent comment authors
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Jason
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Jason

Yeah, camera is meh for sure. The only leverage it will give you is against company / publicly owned vehicles. The former, only if they decide to honor your perception of events. The later, more easily swayed. Especially with some hyperbole. I use mine every day, but I feel like it’s a false sense of security. Like my horn, “a real motorcycle horn”. It has the desired effect probably 10% of the time. Really, and this is hard for me to admit, but really you have to treat yourself like precious cargo and accept that some people will treat you like a chamber pot.

As far as insurance goes… don’t get me started. It’s a ponzi scheme, it’s a fugazi. If you just put that money into an interest bearing savings account and saved it for a rainy day, you’d be better off. Insurance is a bit like having vicious half person / half piranha / half lawyers on retainer. They may bite the hand that feeds them.

In a world where the healthcare system does more to erode your health than to bolster it, I suppose a little poison pill is needed.

David Hampsten
Guest

Becky Jo, you’ve hit upon a topic that most cyclists I know, myself included, find extraordinarily distressing to discuss. I don’t have the insurance you are talking about. I acknowledge that I probably should, but it’s in the same group of topics that includes lack of health insurance, drawing up a legal will, reserving a graveyard plot, getting a cancer screening, affording retirement, thinking about death, and getting a colonoscopy. Very uncomfortable.

I don’t particularly want to get hit by a car or truck, and I do my best to avoid such, but if I’m fated to get hit, I’d prefer an instant death rather than life-changing injuries. And I’ve met many other cyclists with pretty much the same thoughts on the subject. Basically I can’t afford to get injured, so death really is the better option.

Tina Ricks (Guest Author)
Guest
Tina In the Burbs

I have a lawyer friend who actually recommends that people who only bike/walk/transit and don’t own cars, actually buy a $100 junker car, store it somewhere, and insure it, just to get the UM/UIM insurance that you need as a cyclist. I don’t really know if that’s good advice, and it seems kind of bonkers, but so many insurers won’t let you purchase UM/UIM without also owning a car. It also makes me wonder how much this whole racket would change if we ever got to universal health insurance.

Al
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Al

I’m in my late 40’s and have bicycled my entire remembered life. I’ve had 4 accidents with cars while on a bicycle. All fairly minor, with just scrapes and bruises, never broke anything other than the bikes. One was intentional where a van ran me off the road into a ditch. I filed a police report on that one at the urging of my friends and that experience was even more depressing than the accident.

I’ve had several, more serious injuries on bicycles which did not involve cars, self inflicted you could say. These resulted in trips to the ER but did not require hospitalization beyond that. Standard medical insurance covered these costs. In two of these accidents, the bikes were a total loss.

If I had been paying bicycle insurance for 40 years at even $50 a month, then I would be out $24,000 by now! All of my accidents combined, with cars and otherwise, incurred less than $1,000 in costs to me. I have medical insurance through work and enough money in my HSA to get me through a couple years worth of individual out of pocket maximums. While I have experienced a major life medical event unrelated to bicycling that taught me that we are ALL underinsured when it comes to medical, I still don’t think bicycle insurance can work in your favor.

Al
Guest
Al

One other note, and it’s political because the nature of this topic, but I think, for bicyclists, this whole issue of insurance would be an entirely a mute point if the country simply had single payer health insurance that covered EVERYONE!

That’s because the cost of risk when bicycling isn’t really the equipment, sure some people may be riding Speedvagens or something, but rather medical expenses.

CaptainKarma
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CaptainKarma

So uninsured pedestrians face the same dilemma. You literally cannot live without proactively paying tons of money to many levels of bureaucracy in the hope that they might cover some percentage of your expenses should something happen to you for walking or riding outside. It’s almost like maybe we should join the civilized world and just cover everybody because it’s the right thing to do.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

I think a camera is a slight deterrent against vehicular assault, in that if enough people are riding with cameras, drivers begin to assume that they’re on video and some might even think before throwing cans or whatever. That said, your individual camera might be out of battery, memory card full, or something on the lense (drop of rainwater or bit of dust) that prevents you from getting a face or license plate during an altercation. Don’t assume you have it on video.

The best use of a bike-mounted camera is to demonstrate what a terrible job PBOT/ODOT/trimet has done with bike infrastructure. Instead of “the cyclist didn’t do enough”, the Professional Traffic Engineers didn’t do enough.

X
Guest
X

Unless you are a scrupulous, foot-down type of rider, one who makes three right turns to go left, good luck in court after you open up your camera memory to opposing attorneys and a jury of mostly car-driving folks who have never heard of an Idaho stop.

I think a competitive insurance market might drive bike insurance down to perhaps $30 a month (mostly billing and administration costs). As a government regulated utility, maybe half of that? It’s not that government is more efficient, just that government can sometimes be motivated to do the right thing as opposed to seeking a profit for shareholders.

As Al says, single payer health insurance would remove the need for any kind of bike insurance at all. Almost all bike riders are able to self-insure their bikes. Single payer health insurance would also be the single best way to promote small business in the US but that’s another topic.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

The real reason that most insurance companies require you to own a car is because the real reason we have required car insurance is not because they are concerned that the insured, or their victims will be wiped out financially in an accident, it is because the auto financing scheme which supports the global auto industry requires it. We can’t have banks getting short changed when someone crashes their new car and dies while they still owe the finance company lots of money on it, can we.

Eric
Guest
Eric

A related topic: does renter’s insurance typically cover liability? I was hit by a car maybe ~15 years ago & the driver’s insurance company billed me for the damage that I did for the car. I seem to remember that I could have paid for the car’s damage with renter’s insurance, had I had it.

footnote: I threatened to sue the insurance company for damages, and they dropped 75% of the charges for my liability for damaging the car and paid me some severance as well. But this was still pretty lame, and I wish that I hadn’t been a clueless 22 year old.

Asher Atkinson
Guest
Asher Atkinson

Liability insurance, by far, was the most vexing problem I faced in 14 years of car free living. Until a market emerges you are likely stuck with accepting a remote, but tremendous risk by not having it, as seriously injuring someone while riding your bike is plausible. Renters, homeowners, and umbrella policies are possibilities, but I always found them to be incredibly vague about what was covered if I injured a pedestrian while riding without auto insurance. Fortunately, I never had to find out, nor likely will you. But honestly, when I got a car again, having maximum liability insurance was a huge relief. Related, don’t forget to pay for liability insurance when renting a car. Another steep fee you’ll need to accept.

Regarding cameras, while maybe they can protect you in court, they can also invite you into situations you’d otherwise avoid, because of the ‘hey, I’m recording this’ syndrome.

Greg Spencer
Guest
Greg Spencer

Regarding helmet cams, I remember two instances when they did some real good. Both times 5-6 years ago in Budapest, Hungary, when I was writing a bike blog there. In one instance, a cyclist filed a successful civil suit against a motorist who recklessly overtook her, nicking her arm as the car passed. The cyclist wasn’t hurt, just frightened, but the motorist paid a fine (albeit small, about $200) and the incident ended up on the driver’s record. The court’s finding was based on the cyclist’s helmet cam footage and her testimony. I posted about it:

http://cyclingsolution.blogspot.com/2012/05/reckless-motorist-caught-on-helmet-cam.html

The other incident was when a cyclist was side-swiped on knocked off his bike by a passing city bus. He was hurt, but I don’t think seriously injured. He had helmet cameras pointing in back and in front of him, and they caught the whole thing. The bus driver voluntarily resigned his post, and the bus company was only too happy to see him go. The drivers’ union protested and I cannot recall what the outcome was. I don’t think the driver was cited by police. But in any case, the captured footage did make an impact. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a post on that one.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I always ride with a camera, and bring extra batteries when the ride is long. I have a camera every time I use a vehicle, whether it’s a bike, car, or motorcycle. I don’t trust drivers at all, and I need that extra voice to support my claims when something happens.