Licenses for cyclists?

NSW Transport Minister Duncan Gay (seemingly one of the few NSW Ministers still in his job) has raised the idea of licenses for cyclists, in response to growing numbers of fatal and near-fatal accidents and (entirely justified) pressure for action against motorists who endanger fellow road users.

He can expect a negative response for a number of reasons. A license scheme is problematic, most obviously because children are (and should remain) free to ride bikes, but can scarcely be expected to pay license fees or sit for an exam. But the policy goal could be achieved without a license. All that is needed is to create a general right to cycle on roads, with no requirement to obtain a license, but with the courts having the power to suspend that right for cyclists who commit traffic offences. There’s no longer any practical requirement for a physical license. If an offender doesn’t have formal ID, a photograph or a phone would be enough to confirm identity in 99 per cent of cases (sad, perhaps, but true).

Then there’s the question of registration. Again, that’s a system that makes much more sense for cars than for bikes. But, if we had a proper system of road pricing, there wouldn’t be much difficulty in including bikes, though I suspect economic analysis would show their contribution to road costs to be very low.

95 thoughts on “Licenses for cyclists?

  1. @Ikonoclast

    When will people on this blog develop beyond “personal experience”? Which is inexcusablecounts when there are many other scientific grounds for assessment (eg. Amy Gillet Foundation data) when examining these issues.

  2. @kevin1 Sorry, but I need to add my personal experience too – as a road user in all modes (walking, running, cycling, motorcycling, car, bus, slow tractor, gravel truck), I have an informed opinion.

    Here on the Atherton Tablelands I see very dangerous situations daily, and fear that the 1 metre law is giving some cyclists a false sense of safety and even emboldening some to challenge the traffic.

    Roads here are all narrow and winding, yet have a 100 kph speed limit, and a lot of large heavy traffic (including B-doubles) doing 100 kph. In most places there is little or no bitumen surface outside the white line. If a truck comes around a curve to find a cyclist in front of them, they simply cannot stop, and if there is another vehicle coming the other way they cannot swing across to the other side either.

    While I personally am very cyclist-aware, I am concerned that many cyclist exercisers (I never see commuters) seem to be oblivious to the danger. I would never ride a bicycle here or permit my daughter to ride one, it is just too dangerous.

  3. Ikonoclast, why that spelling? In greek they’re both kappa, in latin and english they’re both C.

  4. @kevin1

    Actually, a quick look at the Amy Gillet Foundations site research raises issues about cyclists running red lights and travelling in dangerous, offending bunches. Now, car drivers do the same thing. I have seen cars run red lights and hoons dragging five cars one after another at close spacing down my semi-rural road.

    So, the takeaway message is that neither cyclists nor car drivers are simon pure. They are all fallible and sometimes foolish humans. Gee, who would have thought it? It just gets annoying when some commenters seem to imply that ALL the fault belongs to car drivers and none to bike riders. The sad fact of life is that bike riders are highly vulnerable. High vulnerability indicates a need for taking great care, even to the point of assessing that some roads (certainly in Brisbane) are so badly engineered for bicycles they are simply too dangerous to ride on.

  5. @Collin Street

    As with a lot of internet nicknames, the spelling was varied to try to ensure uniqueness. I consciously decided that mixing the letters inappropriately would be exactly what an iconoclast (or a maverick) would do. But as with all such attempts one finds one was not the first to think of it.

    For example, in another context I invented a marvellous new word (I thought) when I came up with “anthropocalypse”. Of course, an internet check got gazillions of hits and proved I had been beaten to that one too. It’s a rather obvious neologism in hindsight.

  6. Here’s a study from the UK in 2013.…/cyclesafety/article3758677.ece

    Its main finding, which is remarkably consistent with research on the issue that I’ve seen from the mid-1990s onwards from jurisdictions in the UK and North America, is that in cyclist-motorist collisions, motorist error is the cause in about two-thirds of cases, cyclist error is the cause in about one-fifth of cases, and in the remainder errors by both parties contribute to the collision.

    Research also exists showing the most common circumstances in which cyclist-motorist collisions occur. These generally involve behaviours by motorists and cyclists that could be improved or corrected by a combination of education and suitable legislation.

    In my experience, having cycled in four metropolitan areas and three states since I was a wee lad in 1971, the main problem is that many motorists seem not to have been educated in how to interact with cyclists or in the need for alertness to the presence of cyclists.

    To take one example, it is reasonably common for cyclists to be overtaken by motorists and then experience collisions or near-misses when the motorist then turns left across the path of the cyclist. My view is that this is often due to the motorist’s assumption that the cyclist is travelling at a similar speed to that of a pedestrian, rather than an appreciable fraction of the straight-line speed of a motor vehicle, and that therefore the motorist does not realise that the cyclist will actually be travelling faster than the motor vehicle when it slows and turns left. This is a problem that can be fixed simply by education.

    The other point I would make is that I undertook a 100km-plus round trip from Walloon to Aratula and back to Ipswich, mainly by the Cunningham Highway, on the weekend, without incident and with no cause to complain about a single motorist. In the course of interacting with hundreds or thousands of motorists I might encounter one who causes grief through error (or worse). While that one will be the one who sticks in my memory (like the fool in the orange Mazda RX7 on the Tomewin-Murwillumbah Road in 2002), the fact remains that they are just one in hundreds of thousands and I don’t judge most motorists by them. I would like to think motorists would think the same way about the odd incident of bad behaviour by cyclists.

  7. Also, it’s a funny thing but most of the complaints I hear from cyclists about abusive and harassing behaviour by motorists are from women, older men and physically smaller and slighter men. Younger and/or bigger and stronger looking male cyclists (and I fall into the latter category) seem to cop much less of that kind of thing. Funny, that.

  8. @Ron E Joggles
    What I was getting at was about generalisation from anecdote which seemed to become a finger-pointing exercise. This Qld law is new isn’t it, so your own anecdote on its practicality is very relevant. Sounds like banning bikes from some roads might be the only way. An interesting issue is when does the social cost of an accident (externality) justify overriding the cyclist’s personal choice?

    @ikon, I won’t give the links but the Amy Gillet Foundation site has some data and analysis which may be useful.

  9. On the registration question, I recall an article in New Scientist from about 25 years ago that showed that the wear and tear imposed on roads by a vehicle is a function of the forth power of the vehicle’s mass and the inverse square of the number of wheels. This prompted a letter from a cyclist that argued on this basis that if cyclists were to be charged registration on a pro rata basis for their contribution to road wear relative to that cause by cars, the amount charged annuallywould be a risible fraction of a cent.

  10. I realise that my comment @83 to some extent contradicts part of my comment @82.

    kevin 1 @84:

    Sounds like banning bikes from some roads might be the only way.

    Well, let’s look at a recent example of where this has been done. The Queensland Government has recently prohibited cycling on the Bruce Highway south of the Cooroy turnoff (previously cyclists could use the highway as far south as Burpengary). One consequence of this is that when I road from Caboolture to Beerwah last month I had to use the Steve Irwin way, which is a single carriageway road with effectively non-existent shoulders, which is too heavily trafficked to allow motorists to observe the one metre rule, and where I was perforce cycling in the operating space of the motor traffic. Had I been able to ride on the Bruce Highway I would have been in the side lane a comfortable 3-4 metres outside the operating space of the motorists.

    Decision-makers need to understand that traffic moving at 110km/h and passing cyclists at 3-4 metres’ distance is much less dangerous than traffic t-boning cyclists at 80km/h.

  11. @Ikonoclast

    However, for you to be the target of so many incidents without modifying your behaviour indicates you should look at your own behaviour too. You know, just because you are entitled to do something does not mean it is always wise to do it.

    Ikonoclast, does it occur to you this is the same logic as is used to blame women for being harassed and assaulted if they dare to go out at night wearing clothes revealing more flesh than a niqab?

    The reason for the abuse in both cases is to cause sufficient apprehension that the victim will desist from daring to share the public space with those who believe they enjoy exclusive rights to that space.

    At any event, I do not invite abuse. I use as little road space as possible. I take the lane only when an attempt to overtake me will endanger my life – in nearly all cases leading up to traffic lights, where the lanes are constricted. I note that many intersections governed by traffic lights now have dedicated cycle lanes here in Brisbane, but that in Melbourne nearly all lights-governed intersections are so equipped.

    In the Netherlands cyclist fatalities have been greatly reduced by a number of measures, including separate infrastructure but also including absolute right of way laws, whereby a pedestrian has right of way over a cyclist, a cyclist over a motorcycle, a motorcycle over a car and a car over a truck. In the event of a collision, the onus of proof is on the party not having right of way to prove innocence. The opposite, in other words, of the situation here in Australia.

  12. Roads, of course, are for transport, not for cars. In fact, bicycles-for-transport has a decades-longer history than private motor cars: the bikes were there before the cars were, almost the entire road network was set out before cars came into other-than-experimental use.

    [see also buses, trams, free-roaming livestock, and little old ladies with walking frames, which also significantly predate the use of private cars. “I support construction of bike lanes!” is really “I want a resource built for common use devoted to my preferred use”, in this context.]

  13. @Collin Street
    not quite – what most non-car road users at present need is protection from cars, rather than something for their “preferred use”. You might as well argue that foot paths are for pedestrians (selfishly? so you seem to imply) wanting something for their “preferred use”.

    Of course an alternative is to get cars off roads, or at least slow them right down. Having just spent a couple of months in Frankfurt, riding a bike seems much easier there (I was a pedestrian and PT user rather than bike rider while I was there) because many streets are narrow (with wide footpaths), and often one-way. Cars can only go slowly and there are many more bikes and pedestrians about. It all seems much safer and more civilized.

  14. Ikonoclast

    Anthropocalypse would also be a portmanteau — it being the result if the conjunction of two other part words.

  15. As others note, most drivers are wonderful. Its just that the consequence of a driver being aggressive can be so devastating.

    But I did once have an empty stubby lobbed at me by a passing hoon (bouncing just in front of me, as luck would have it). I rang the police with the vehicle rego, and was asked if I could identify the driver. As I couldn’t, they said there was nothing they could do. And a mate of mine was once smacked in the face with an empty plastic bottle while riding at night by an idiot who thought it would be fun.

    And only quite recently a hoon roared past about 4 of us, sounding his horn from a long way back to let us know that he was coming. I waved at him (as I always do to any vehicle that beeps at me), and thought that was the end of it. But a few hundred metres up the road he was sitting in a car park. I observed that he was overweight, and of uncertain parentage, and took the opportunity to explain this to him. There was a revving of engine, and we cyclists got off that road really quickly. Luckily he got bored.

  16. “A Current Affair” did a show on this question on Wednesday night (7th May).
    Google “a current affair registering cyclists” to get a link.

    I didn’t see the show, (allergic to commercial TV) and the web replay started throwing up pop-ups, so I don’t know whether it adds anything to the debate.

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