Cycling should be about freedom: the ability to pick up a bike and ride it where you please. Proposals to regulate it have always grated. Helmets should be compulsory, apparently: a dismal denial of the individual’s right to make their own judgment of the risks. There should be a bike tax: ostensibly fair, given that drivers have to pay motoring levies and they are competing for the same space, but shouldn’t we be cutting taxes on road users rather than introducing new ones?
2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Then there is the idea that bicycle riders should have a licence, like car drivers. Last year, after an encounter with a particularly obnoxious cyclist, the scientist Lord Winston asked in the House of Lords what provision the Government was making to require adults riding bicycles in cities to have a licence and third-party insurance.
The backlash from the cycling ultras was furious. We should be doing everything possible to encourage people to ride bikes2020欧洲杯体育投注开户, they argued. Lord Winston’s was a fringe view, they said, propagated only by cranks bearing a grudge against the Lycra-clad future we’re racing towards. My opinion was that the last thing we needed was another licensing regime, constructed around everything from hairdressing to fishing.
What has changed is that the Government is explicitly demanding that millions of us get on our bikes. It is investing billions in cycle infrastructure, the Transport Secretary has called for a “reprioritisation” of how local authorities think about road space, and the hope is of an upsurge in the number of people cycling.
I happen to think it is a bad idea to engineer people’s choices by making all the alternatives miserable (the logic behind a great many cycling schemes). Yet the weight of state backing for bicycles has become so enormous that it leaves the argument that a compulsory licence would be a debilitating disincentive in some peril.
It makes some of the arguments in support of licensing more persuasive, too. Friends who have started cycling to work tell me that one of the main problems they have faced is not dangerous drivers, but the dangerous behaviour of other cyclists. Pedestrians are almost entirely left out of the discussion about cycling safety: yet many report feeling vulnerable because of the rule-breaking of some bicyclists.
If there are thousands more cyclists on the road, the anonymity afforded to each one (they don’t have licence plates) becomes more problematic. It is also problematic that some people are cycling without ever having taken a proficiency test or learning the rules of the road (even via the proxy of learning to drive a car).
None of this is to deny that most cyclists ride safely and are at considerable risk themselves thanks to reckless driving. But I’m not sure I disagree as strongly with Lord Winston as I did last year. If we are to turn the roads over to bicycles2020欧洲杯体育投注开户, shouldn’t their riders be expected to have had some instruction in the laws of those roads? What, exactly, is wrong with the idea of requiring cyclists to have insurance? And would a licence plate, or some other form of identification, really be such a bad idea?