Let the Bikers Ride in Peace

Hundreds of motorcyclists rode up to the Knesset yesterday to try to persuade legislators attending the opening of the winter session to protect them from what they see as highway robbery by treasury officials. This pilgrimage marked the latest of a series of protests by owners of two-wheeled motor vehicles to ramp up their struggle against an increase in their compulsory insurance premiums, due to go into effect in November.

Young motorcyclists will find this hard to bear. For those under 40, premiums will rise by 15 to 30 percent, reaching NIS 3,600 to NIS 4,700 a year. In many cases, their scooters are worth less than NIS 10,000, so having to pay a compulsory insurance premium more than a third of the vehicle's value seems utterly absurd.

Some bikers will benefit from the changes. Those over 40 without a record of accidents and violations will pay premiums 6 percent lower. But as 75 percent of motorcyclists are below that age, the increase is significant. Yadin Antebi, the treasury's commissioner of capital markets, insurance and savings, justifies the hike by arguing that motorbikes are dangerous vehicles involved in a disproportionate number of accidents, and that riders' injuries are more serious and require longer hospitalization and more treatments. Indeed, the data for 2008 show that of the 412 fatalities in road accidents, 46 were motorcyclists - 11.2 percent of the total, while motorbikes account for only 4.2 percent of vehicles on the roads.

Antebi also claims that car owners are subsidizing motorcyclists, and that this is improper. He believes that all vehicle owners should pay premiums according to the real cost of their risks. Once again, the figures bear him out: The insurance companies that insure motorcyclists paid out NIS 466 million in claims in 2008, while premiums collected totaled only 254 million. The discrepancy, NIS 212 million, was made up by car owners, who paid 4 percent more - dozens of shekels a year each - to subsidize the motorcyclists' compulsory insurance. And here, in this cross-subsidization, lies the rub.

The law took this subsidy into account, enabling Antebi to increase the subsidy to 8 percent, double the current rate. He could therefore reduce the motorcyclists' rates and raise those of car owners. But he has chosen to take the exact opposite course and reduce the subsidy.

This move has no justification. The subsidy is fair in both economic and social terms. Economically, because users of two-wheeled vehicles make far fewer demands on infrastructure - both roads and parking space. They reduce traffic congestion, their fuel consumption is lower and they emit less pollution, with its attendant adverse health effects.

Socially, it would be wrong to increase the burden on people owning motor scooters with engine capacities of 250 cubic centimeters or less, who are usually young people with low incomes. They are already paying enough.

There is an elegant way to cut insurance costs - broadening the self-participation system. If, say, a motorcyclist undertook to pay the first NIS 20,000 of expenses after an accident, he would get a 25 percent reduction in his insurance premium, as is customary in property insurance. This mechanism would wipe out minor claims, prevent false claims and cut red tape. And it's good for careful drivers.

In any case, it would be right to cancel the proposed hike. After all, we live in a hot and crowded country, so reason dictates that we encourage the use of transportation that is economical and efficient: two-wheeled vehicles.