‘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?

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.