'Might makes right' versus 'duty of care' on the roads

'Who should be liable in road crashes involving bicycles?'. That's the question I posed over at Cycling in Singapore blog this morning.

In many low-income or middle-income countries the road culture norms dictate that 'might makes right'. Small vehicles learn to get out of the way of the larger ones and the largest vehicles tend to barge their way through (more carefully perhaps than it seems at first glance... but they do seem to expect others to make way).

However, in several European countries and in Japan, large road users are expected to exercise a strong duty of care for the more vulnerable ones. So in the Netherlands for example, it will almost always be the motorist who is held primarily responsible in a crash with a bicyclist, even if the motorists broke no road rules. Does that seem crazy to you?

Bicycles and scooters in Shanghai.
It probably does seem strange if you live in the UK, the US or in almost any Commonwealth country, such as Singapore. In these places, a motorist must be proven negligent or in violation of the road rules to be held responsible for compensating the other party in a crash.

The Netherlands approach is based on the so-called 'strict liability' principle.  Pedestrians or cyclists who are struck by a motor vehicle can claim for compensation from the motorists' insurance company without having to prove any negligence by the driver.

According to Tokyo by Bike a similar policy applies in Japan:
In the event of an accident, when the enforcement of the law actually kicks in Japan attributes blame to the larger party. In a car against bicycle bout, the driver of the car is automatically at fault even if the cyclist was riding the wrong way down a one way street holding their umbrella while listening to their iPod. When a cyclist injures a pedestrian the cyclist is at fault, and the person deemed to be at fault covers the medical expenses of the other party.
Does your country apply a 'strict liability' approach to road crash compensation? Maybe it should? 
Check out a little more on this at the post on Cycling in Singapore (where there is also a video from a UK campaign for this law reform).


  1. In Massachusetts, pedestrians always have the right-of-way, which means that motorists are at fault whenever there is an accident with one. In Connecticut, the pedestrian is presumed to be at fault unless he or she is crossing within a legally sanctioned crosswalk, when the traffic light is red. We have the CT DOT spokesman here claiming that pedestrians are at fault in most cases, as a result, instead of recognizing pedestrian's right to expect a safe traveling environment.

  2. In the Philippines, there are lots of careless and irresponsible pedestians, cyclists and motorcycles. Any if you're driving your car and hit one, you are sure to accused and pay all of the medicals. And I feel this is unfair! There should always be an investigation who's at fault.


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