Compensation call for shared path crashes

5 Oct 2021

Victoria Walks is calling on the Victorian Government to extend Transport Accident Commission coverage to walkers hit by bikes, skateboards, scooters and other mobility devices – to put them on an equal footing with walkers injured in crashes with other vehicles. 

As reported in the Herald Sun today, walkers hit by drivers in cars are eligible for TAC insurance but those hit by bikes and scooters are usually left to pay their own medical expenses.

In the ten years from 2008 to 2017, 572 people were admitted to hospital in Victoria as a result of collisions with bicycles, skateboards or mobility devices. Together they made up 5.3 per cent of all pedestrian hospital admissions.*

But Victoria Walks is concerned that many more crashes and injuries are never recorded and has created a page to collect stories of people hit by bikes, scooters and other mobility devices – regardless of whether or not they were admitted to hospital.

Long distance runner Lisa Dick, 52, spent two years and $15,000 getting back to race form after a collision with a person riding a bike on the Capital City trail by the Yarra in late 2017. Lisa, who won silver at the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, suffered significant injuries to her ribs, lower back, left knee and right shoulder.

While Lisa managed to find the man involved in her crash, his insurer has refused to cover her medical expenses. Nick Mann from Polaris Lawyers says Lisa’s case highlights the “significant gaps in insurance that leave people exposed if they are injured by someone who isn’t covered by the TAC scheme”.

Kate Allen was also hit by a cyclist on a shared path. She was walking along the Merri Creek trail as it dips beneath Heidelberg Road on Melbourne Cup Day last year. The man who had ignored a sign instructing cyclists to dismount ran into the back of Kate, pushing her into the bluestone wall of the bridge.

While the cyclist stopped to check on Kate, she did not think to get his details. She limped to the road, then called her husband. She later went to hospital and found she had a fractured kneecap.

Kate, who works with new mothers, spent much of this year on unpaid leave after her sick pay ran out. Her knee kept locking up, meaning she presented a risk to her employer. “I looked up TAC but there was nothing… I managed to get some income support through my super but was less than one quarter of my usual wage.”

Kate has only recently managed to return to paid work.

Nick Mann said entitlements for injured walkers currently depend entirely on arbitrary rules, such as whether the vehicle involved was registerable with VicRoads, and whether the walker was injured by someone with financial resources.

“An injured pedestrian would have to make a claim against the personal assets of the cyclist, Mr Mann said. “If they cannot identify the cyclist, or if the cyclist has insufficient funds or insurance to pay compensation and legal costs then the pedestrian receives no support for lost wages, medical expenses or for pain and suffering.”

“There needs to be a review of the current patchwork of insurance coverage that serves to discriminate against pedestrians in this way, to ensure equal protections and coverage for road and pathway users.”

Victoria Walks executive officer Ben Rossiter believes the small additional cost to the TAC system for walkers injured in crashes with bikes or other mobility devices should be covered by government revenue, “more practical and efficient than requiring bicycles or mobility scooters to be registered”.

He said the uptick in activity on Melbourne’s shared trails during the Covid pandemic was likely to continue with the state government announcing a goal to increase the number of trips made by walking and cycling to 25 per cent by 2030.

While Victoria Walks welcomes the government’s focus on encouraging sustainable travel Mr Rossiter said it was unfair to to treat walking as a lesser form of transport and denying people who are injured from  compensation. Mr Rossiter called for compensation to include those hit by escooters.

The Victorian Government is shortly to trial an e-scooter hire scheme in four municipalities. E-scooters are currently mostly illegal. “If the Government wishes to facilitate the use of e-scooters on shared paths it should ensure that walkers are eligible for TAC compensation when injured by a person using one,” Mr Rossiter said.”

Nick Mann said data emerging on injuries to people hit by e-scooters in the United States “is alarming” with doctors there reporting 1500 injuries per month. “They’re comparing the impact of being hit by a scooter to being struck by a baseball bat,” he said.

Mr Rossiter called on the Victorian government to ramp up investment in safe, separated on-road lanes for people on bikes and scooters saying this would reduce car trips while helping to keep everyone safe and comfortable. “When it comes to safety, prevention is definitely better than cure,” he said.

Have you been involved in a collision on a footpath or shared path? Let us know so we can increase awareness and continue to advocate for improvements to design and compensation for walkers.

View the item on 7News

Hear an interview with Ben Rossiter and 3AW's Neil Mitchell at this link.

* Statistics available page 42 of report Understanding Pedestrian Crashes in Victoria. Note these figures exclude Emergency Department presentations, unless they were subsequently admitted to hospital.