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[Opinion] Bike Insurance
AUGUST 13, 2008 07:05  
It might surprise many people to know that trendsetters are eyeing brand new bicycles. High oil prices are motivating people around the globe to resort to bikes. Jumping on the bandwagon, luxury brand makers such as Chanel and Gucci are churning out high-tech bikes. It is not difficult to find people riding mini velo bicycles in downtown Seoul. Earning the honor of fashion leader is tough unless a person shows up riding a bike in stylish bike wear.

Fewer people in Korea ride bikes than those in advanced countries. Only 16.6 percent of Koreans ride them, compared with 100 percent in the Netherlands and 56.9 percent in Japan. Worse, only three percent of Koreans use a bicycle for transportation, as opposed to 25 percent of Germans and Japanese. In other words, Koreans ride bikes for recreational purposes on the weekends rather than for commuting. Mainly, the lack of bike roads and parking discourage the use of bikes. Equally important is the risk of an accident.

Last year alone, 69 people in Korea died in 1,374 bicycle accidents. The Chinese character for bike indicates a vehicle, while most Koreans read it as a self-propelled riding device. Law books deem it as a vehicle too, subjecting it to many regulations governing vehicles. If a bike gets into an accident with a car on the road, it is most likely to be covered by insurance. When a bicycle hits a pedestrian on the sidewalk, however, the rider is personally held liable. Thus, the rider has to settle the case with his or her money to avoid criminal prosecution. That is why the provincial city of Changwon and bike advocacy groups have urged the introduction of bike insurance.

The Financial Supervisory Commission has reportedly asked the Korea Insurance Development Institute to tally the risk factors for bike insurance. From later this year, Koreans can purchase bike insurance. In 1997, Samsung Fire Insurance introduced bike insurance but abolished it four years later due to a mounting deficit. Times have changed, however, the public perception of bicycles. In Japan and advanced countries in Europe, where numerous people ride bikes, license plates and insurance are mandatory for bike owners. To appease the burden of high oil prices, it is the duty of the government to build the institutional and physical infrastructures for bike riders.

Editorial Writer Chung Seong-hee (shchung@donga.com)

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