Most people are risk-averse: we like certainty and are generally prepared to pay a premium for it. The reason is that certainty gives us positive marginal utility and so as long as the price of insurance (which gives us certainty) is less than the price we place on certainty, we will be willing to pay a positive premium. By having insurance, we know that should the unexpected happen, someone else will cover the risk. As long as there are some risk-averse people, there will always be a demand for insurance.
However, will private companies will be willing to supply it? For private market insurance to be efficient, 5 conditions must hold:
1. Probabilities must be independent
2. Probabilities must be less than one
3. Probabilities must be known or estimable
4. There must be no adverse selection
5. There must be no moral hazard
If these conditions hold or if there are simple solutions, then insurance companies will be willing and able to provide insurance at a price consumers are willing to pay.
There are many markets where we take out insurance – some of them where insurance is compulsory, including home and car insurance. However, one type of insurance that is not compulsory is that for cyclists. No insurance is needed to cycle on the road, but with cycle use increasing and with that the number of accidents involving cyclists also increasing, the calls for cyclists to have some type of insurance is growing. If they are hit by someone without insurance and perhaps suffer from a loss of income; or if they cause vehicle damage, they will receive no compensation. However, whilst the risk of accident is increasing for cyclists, they are still statistically less likely to cause an accident than motorists. Perhaps a mere £30 or £40 per year for a policy is a price worth paying to give cyclists certainty. At least, this is what the Association of British Insurers (ABI) is claiming – hardly surprising when their members made a combined loss of £1.2 billion!
Cyclists ‘urged to get insurance’ BBC News, Maleen Saeed (26/11/11)
Cyclists urged to get more insurance by … insurance companies Road.CC, Tony Farrelly (26/11/11)
The future of cycle insurance Environmental Transport Assocaition (24/11/11)
- With each of the above conditions required for private insurance to be possible, explain why each must hold.
- What do we mean by no moral hazard and no adverse selection? Why would their existence prevent a private company from providing insurance?
- Using the concept of marginal utility theory, explain why there is a positive demand insurance.
- What might explain why cyclists are less likely to take out insurance given your answer to the above question?
- Do you think cyclist insurance should be compulsory? If governments are trying to encourage more sustainable transport policy, do you think this is a viable policy?