Saturday, 14 September 2013

Should Cyclists Be Licensed?

As a cycling advocate, I often see the argument made by motorists that cyclists should be licensed, taxed, forced to buy insurance, etc. I try to take this in my stride - motorists see a cyclist using the road and they assume that because motorists are licensed, taxed and insured, fairness demands that cyclists should be too, despite the fact that cyclists rarely kill or cause serious damage to other road users, and despite the fact that cyclists rarely damage other people's property or the road surface.

But it kinda irks me when many of my fellow cycling advocates respond with the argument "But most cyclists ARE licensed", as if the whole idea that cyclists should be licensed is a valid argument.

I have never owned a driver's license. Should I stay off the road? In arguing that most cyclists have a driver's license, cycling advocates are in effect conceding the point that cyclists should be licensed before they use the road. This is nonsense - everyone has the right to use the road, whether they are licensed, taxed, insured, or not! Roads are a public facility, built for all, not just for an elite few (or even an elite many).

People who meet certain requirements have merely the privilege - not the right - of using a motor vehicle on the road. Motorists are licensed and insured because, while operating their vehicles, they have proven over the last century to be routinely deadly to other road users. Motorists cause a million deaths per year worldwide and when there is a collision, a motor vehicle can do lots of damage to property. Mandatory licensing for motorists came into effect in the early 20th Century, not due to a general push to license road users, but due to the mass carnage that motorists - motorists specifically - caused on the road: it was an attempt to prevent deaths by forcing motorists to achieve a very basic level of competence. Clearly, considering that the death toll on the roads has continued to increase decade by decade, it did not work (not that I'd advocate removing the requirement - I'm sure it does some good).

Motorists are taxed because their vehicles weigh 2 tons or more and they do an enormous amount of attrition damage to the road surface, resulting in high maintenance costs. Cyclists do very little damage to road surfaces, and the damage they do is covered by their contributions to the general tax fund.

If ever cyclists cause even a hundredth of the deaths and damage on the road that motorists cause, maybe that might be the time to discuss licensing, insurance and a higher tax burden. Until then, I believe we cyclists should not concede an inch on this issue while we occupy the moral high ground.


  1. You might like the semi-serious proposal I made a while back for cycle licensing.

  2. In some ways, I wish there were some sort of cycling school and a test so that cyclists were at least taught how to operate their vehicle competently. But given the number of tested and licensed motorists who demonstrate that they don't know the rules of the road, I doubt it would have much effect.

    When motorists embrace 5 year retesting (which is something that I think is needed), maybe then I'll be less critical of the idea that cyclists should be licensed.

  3. And yes, I later addressed travel rights versus privlege in