Should Cycling Be Regulated?
One of the most common debates surrounding urban cycling is whether or not cycles should be regulated in a way similar to that of motor vehicles. This could include mandatory third party insurance, as well as compulsory training to obtain a licence before they are permitted to use the road. UKIP’s policy on cycling for example, supports the regulation of cycling, and outlines in detail the idea of a bike registration and tax, which would include ‘Cyclediscs’ displayed on bike frames to ‘deter dangerous cycling behaviour[i]’. In reality however, the regulation of cycling would be considerably problematic. The National Cycling Charity (CTC) state for example that ‘whilst we encourage cyclists to undertake cycle training and to have insurance cover, making training or licences compulsory for cyclists is unworkable and would deter people from cycling occasionally or giving cycling a try’. They also point out that the cost of regulation, ‘would not solve any problems and the running costs would be prohibitive[ii]’. There would be no monetary benefits from the regulation of cycling or taxation of cyclists. The administration of the licensing, insurance cover and registration of bicycles would be expensive, as well as entirely impractical to enforce.
The registration of bikes would aim to act as a deterrent to dangerous cycling, by making cyclists traceable and more accountable. Although a number plate system similar to that of vehicles would be impractical, a form of registration could result in a reduction in dangerous actions taken by cyclists on the road. Voluntary online registration schemes however, are already being used, with sites such as www.bikeregister.com and www.bikeshepherd.org, aiming to deter bicycle thieves. The encouragement of responsible and lawful cyclist behaviour is crucial, but the practicalities of compulsory registration are unfeasible.
A compulsory cycling proficiency course, now named ‘Bikeability’, would be beneficial for all cyclists who use the road. It would improve safety, by increasing road sense and confidence. There are three levels, and courses are available for adults and children. Many schools offer courses to their pupils for free, and some are available free or partially subsidised for adults in some parts of the UK. In reality however, compulsory training for all cyclists would be expensive and difficult to enforce, although encouragement for schools to take part in the programme is important. Completing a course and obtaining a licence would present extra costs and time commitments to cyclists, discouraging beginners and occasional cyclists. Children needing licences to travel on the road would also be problematic, and likely deter younger cyclists. Crucially, bicycles are much less dangerous than cars, so the need for a licence is negligible.
The protection of pedestrians in the case of injury compensation through compulsory insurance is often discussed. Collisions in which pedestrians are killed or injured by cyclists are rare however; The National Cycling Charity reported that despite cycling taking place in areas with high amounts of pedestrians, cyclists are considerably less likely than motorists to be involved in a collision with a pedestrian. In urban areas in 2012 for example, one person was killed by a cyclist and 78 were injured, compared to 253 pedestrians killed and 4,426 seriously injured by motor vehicles. In the event of a crash between a bike and a motor vehicle, the damage to the bicycle and its rider will typically be worse; cyclists ride with the knowledge that they are vulnerable on the road. Additionally, those who commute regularly may already have insurance that will cover injuries or property damage, as many are part of cycling organisations which offer insurance with their membership plans.
The idea that cyclists should pay ‘road tax’ to use the roads is widely argued, but that car owners pay road tax is a common misconception[iii]. Motor vehicles in fact pay vehicle excise duty, an emissions based vehicle tax, while the maintenance of roads and infrastructure is paid for by all tax-payers, covered by taxes such as income tax and council tax. As bicycles have no emissions or fuel, there is no reason for extra taxation.
Finally, the regulation of cycling defeats the fundamental ideas behind a bike. Many people use bikes because they offer a cheap and flexible alternative to cars and public transport, but compulsory insurance and licences would change this. The running costs would prevent people from being able to cycle whenever they wanted to, ultimately reducing the number of cyclists. Those who make small journeys or commute by bike occasionally would be discouraged, resulting in more congestion on the roads. Cycling needs to be encouraged as well as made safer, but there is little evidence that regulation would contribute to this.