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?
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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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.
100%. I’m old enough to remember when some states gave the option to carry liability insurance OR have X amount in a savings account instead of just outright requiring auto insurance. It’s snake-eating-itself scenario any way you shake it.
Self-insurance is a great idea, if you have the liquidity to cover your liabilities. Do you have $100,000 free to pay for medical bills or injuries you cause if you hit a pedestrian?
How much money have you invested in insurance costs through your entire life? Compound that and compare that to how much you’ve gotten in return. How many claims have you made and how much were you awarded? Ball park.
If you’ve lost money buying insurance, you’re one of the lucky ones.
Yes, but the fortunate ones are the ones who were legally obligated to take my money.
You are paying for a service (risk reduction). I’m not saying you can’t self-insure, I’m just saying that it’s a risky move.
I’m starting to understand why we have so many uninsured drivers out there…
“You are paying for a service (risk reduction).”
That’s not actually true. You’re paying for mitigation, not reduction.
You are paying to reduce your risk of financial loss by getting someone else to assume it for you.
Risk reduction would be not driving. Loss mitigation is what you are thinking.
No, HK had it correct. Risk of financial loss.
Right now, if you hit and critically injured someone while you pushed a red light on your bike, you could be sued into financial ruin. Maybe you don’t have much to lose, but many of us carry insurance to reduce our risk of financial losses.
You’re talking about liability, I guess I just assumed we were talking about full coverage. Which is what I have. Full coverage “protects” me from loss incurred by damages to my self, my property or those who were in my car. In fact, I’m still right, because liability insurance protects me from the loss incurred by repairing the damage I may do a person or property.
You can’t reduce the risk of loss with insurance. You can reduce the risk of loss with behavior. Insurance mitigates your losses. Your risk of loss is the same with or without insurance. If you harm someone you will get sued and you will incur losses. Insurance will mitigate that loss.
I was hit by a car when I was 12 resulting in 3 surgeries and over a week in the hospital. 30 years later I still haven’t spent enough on auto insurance to make up for the cost of even just the initial hospital stay. Currently I carry auto insurance with 500k in coverage and an additional million dollar umbrella policy on top of that. I want to make sure that my care is covered if I am either the victim of a hit and run, or am hit by an uninsured driver.
I do not envy you being hit by a car. I’m sorry that happened.
Insurance is essentially a bunch of people pooling their money to give to any of their members who need it. That’s not a ponzi scheme.
As for a savings account vs insurance policy, if you can afford the loss (e.g. I have enough saved to replace my car if mine gets totaled) then it may make sense to forgo the comprehensive insurance policy, especially if you have reason to believe your risk is lower than the insurance company does. If you can’t (e.g. if my house burns down, I’ll be wiped out and never recover), buy the insurance.
Regarding health insurance, even if you never satisfy your deductible, the you get the insurance company negotiated rates, so you pay less than you would without insurance. The system is absolutely broken, but it’s what we’ve got at the moment.
That’s actually a line from a movie. But thanks for going full ham on the captain correction tip.
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.
I feel ya. This is a bleak conversation with only varying degrees of “lesser evils.”
My graveyard plot is a #10 can of Folgers on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean.
That really tied the conversation together. I’m craving a white russian now. Thanks.
I can abide.
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.
If it weren’t for the DEQ testing, I’d say you could even convert it to a planting bed.
If you get one old enough ( over 25 years or something like that) you just need to get it though DEQ once and then get the special collector car tag which lasts essentially forever, then you can turn it in to a planter or a chicken coop.
Or the vehicle could be an Air B&B option…if its a van / van conversion etc….let someone else pay for your ‘cadillac’ level UM/UIM insurance. (Rules for Air B&Bs change from city to city, check on that before buying your dream insurance vehicle.)
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.
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.
“entirely a moot point”. I understand why people think this should be “mute,” but it’s not.
Thank you for not giving up.
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.
Unless the funding for this proposed government insurance/disability pay program comes from gas taxes and/or VMT taxes, this would essentially be a giant subsidy for vehicle operators.
I think CaptainKarma was referring to health insurance… definitely an area where we need improvement.
With 40,000+ killed and 2 million+ injured per year, it is safe to assume that a good chunk of our healthcare spending is due to vehicular violence. If we don’t need car insurance because the government covers all medical expenses, that would be a huge subsidy.
Universal healthcare is not a replacement for auto liability coverage, and I strongly suspect having the former would have no impact on the latter. Even the northernmost reaches of Europe still have mandatory auto liability insurance, for example.
“Even the northernmost reaches of Europe have mandatory auto insurance”.
So, is the North Pole a liberal Mecca? I guess that explains the man in red with his slave labor.
“With 40,000+ killed and 2 million+ injured per year, it is safe to assume that a good chunk of our healthcare spending is due to vehicular violence.”
No, not at all. That is a completely false postulate. You haven’t provided any granularity to the weak data you’ve provided. You can’t make any assumptions based on those numbers. Bad science.
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.
I don’t have a camera on my bike, but I do have a very bright front light on my helmet, as well as a bright rear flasher. I’ve been using such lights for the last 4 years. I have both on the helmet to balance the weight front and rear, but mostly because it helps me to never forget to bring them when I might inadvertently be out later than I expected.
I get lots of people waving at me during the day when I’m not using the light – apparently most people believe I have a camera on top of my helmet, some have even stopped me to ask about it. And I have in fact found that drivers here are more courteous than when I lived in Portland. But it’s only recently that I’ve made the connection – that drivers are courteous to me, here and now, because I’m wearing a thing on my helmet that looks like a camera. Up until then I had just assumed drivers were nicer here than in Portland (I now doubt that they actually are.)
this made me smile. might be a good idea for my next headlight to be a headlamp…
Or you could convert your present lights, which is what I did. Nightrider and Cygolight both offer after-market helmet adapters for most of their handlebar-mounted front lights; probably many of the other manufacturers do the same. Rear lights are a bit more tricky. While some helmets offer built-in rear lights, I personally strapped my seatpost light through the rear of my helmet, which took a combination of finding the right helmet with lots of holes, and a bit of brute force with the elastic strap.
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.
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.
Liability insurance is required because the damage you can do with a car is greater than most people’s ability to compensate others for it. Comprehensive insurance is not required if you own your own vehicle.
I think the reason few companies sell “pedestrian-oriented” plans is more likely because demand is low rather than global conspiracy.
It’s not a global conspiracy, it’s the economy.
Liability insurance is there to compensate others you injure. Other than health insurance (which is a special kind of mess), there are few other kinds of insurance you are legally compelled to buy as an individual.
As a professional, you may well need legally-mandated insurance to enter into various lines of business, that, like auto liability insurance, are required to protect others from your (potential) malfeasance (contractor’s insurance, for example, or malpractice insurance).
These kinds of insurance are all about protecting other people by providing a pot of money for them to draw upon if you hurt them (physically, economically, etc.). It has nothing to do with “the economy”.
I see, our friends in the insurance industry are all about altruistically protecting others. Just as the hospital supply industry was about stockpiling a suitable supply of n95 masks, and the cruise industry was all about providing people with a safe vacation. If the auto insurance industry really cared about protecting people from the damage that drivers can do to others with their cars they would charge prohibitively high rates for those with lifted trucks where the bumpers ride-over other cars and the steel grill guards increase the likely hood of killing pedestrians by an order of magnitude. I don’t think I would use the word conspiracy, I think the word “racket” fits better.
Do you really think auto insurance companies take a loss when insuring lifted trucks? It is core to their livelihood that they understand the risk posed by their customers, and they set rates accordingly. Those that miscalculate quickly go out of business.
Insurance companies don’t take losses.
Of course not.
(just picking one example of many)
I’m impress that you didn’t link a Wikipedia page.
Also, just for fun, the CEO makes $13.3 million while the company posts a loss of $7 billion. Granted, that salary is less than 1% of the loss. BUT COME ON! $13.3 million salary. You can defend that?
You’re correct, buying things has nothing to do with the economy. My bad.
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.
Eric, I quoted Cindy from Farmer’s because she is my renter’s insurance agent, and she said my property, aka my bike, is insured, but not my body. I would be reliant on the driver’s insurance and my medical insurance.
and yeah… same. I had a few wrecks in my early 20s, including someone pulling a U-turn in front of me. I’ve had insurance companies rollover on me. Not a fan in the slightest.
That really is unfortunate about the renter’s insurance not covering our bodily harm 🙁 I was still confused; thanks for clearing that up.
In my crash, all of my medical bills were paid for by the driver, who was insured. The collision caused $3000 worth of damage to the car, though, which was small compared to the medical bill, but was something that I supposedly owed. I think we can all agree that insurance agents are the worst!
Unless you have Farmers (and perhaps even if you do), please check with your agent yourself if the answer is of any real consequence to you. Internet forums (even when chatting with Becky Jo, Columnist) are about the worst place to get specific advice about what your policy does and does not cover. She’s probably right, but then, you also shouldn’t be trusting advice given to you by a cute kitty who rides a tricycle.
Did you read that on Wikipedia?
Of course — that’s where I get all of my material.
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.
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:
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.
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.