Most cyclists’ greatest fear is colliding with a car. The danger is not as common as we might believe: Only 28.7 percent of cycling accidents involve an automobile, according to a Federal Highway Administration study. However, about 75 percent of cycling injuries requiring a hospital stay involve a car, so it pays to protect yourself.
One of the best precautions is to obey traffic laws when you ride, which preserves your legal right to be fully compensated for your injuries and damage to your bike. If your violation of the law results in an accident, you not only lose your legal right to full compensation, but you also expose yourself to claims for liability. Beyond that, you should be sure that you are adequately insured. In the United States, there is no comprehensive cycling insurance policy similar to comprehensive auto insurance— yet. Still, you can piece together coverage from other policies.
YOUR FIRST DEFENSE If you have health insurance, your provider will pay your medical bills within the terms of your policy, though it will expect reimbursement from any settlement from the driver’s insurance company if the driver is at fault.
You will also have some coverage from your auto policy, even though you’re on your bike. In some states with no-fault laws, insurers offer personal injury protection (PIP) coverage; if you have PIP coverage and are injured by a car, you would file a claim with your own insurance company. The downside to no-fault coverage is that (with some exceptions) your ability to be fully compensated for pain and suffering injuries will be limited. If you live in a state with tort liability laws, you may instead have coverage from your own auto policy’s medical payments coverage; however, read your policy—some exclude coverage while riding your bike. I recommend that cyclists have the maximum PIP or medical payments coverage available.
IF THE DRIVER IS UNDERINSURED If you are injured by a negligent driver, that driver’s insurance company should pay for your injuries and damage to your bike. Unfortunately, the minimum level of insurance required by states is often shockingly low, and consequently many drivers carry less insurance than would be needed for all but the most trivial of accidents. These drivers are underinsured. Likewise, there are uninsured drivers out there, despite state requirements. This is where the uninsured motorist/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage of your auto policy will come into play. Remarkably, the price differential between low and high levels of UM/UIM coverage is negligible, so I recommend that cyclists carry the maximum UM/UIM coverage available. Note, however, that you will be required to raise the liability limits of your policy as well.
You should also consider an umbrella policy, which would provide additional coverage in very high amounts for very little money. The catch is that it only comes into play when your other policies specified in the umbrella have been exhausted.
IF YOU’RE AT FAULT What if the driver’s insurer is demanding that you pay for damage to the car? Your homeowner’s or renter’s policy will cover you for negligence, even away from home. These policies have another advantage: You can cover your bike for damage or theft, well worth it for high-end bicycles.
Research and drafting by Rick Bernardi, J. D.
This article, Are You Covered?, was originally published on Bicycling on June 17, 2009.