Friday, March 27, 2009

Bike registration, cyclist licensing

Updated 3/28 - added a few more in-text links to articles about licensing

A little while back the Bicycle Retailer and Industry News blog (BRAIN) had a piece on an effort in Oregon to get a bike licensing bill passed. The article was written primarily on the impact the bill would/not have on retailers and the general feeling was that it didn't have a huge chance of getting passed. From the post:
“The word I have is that the chair of House Transportation does not intend to schedule it for a hearing, so it is dead,” [Karl Rohde, government relations and public affairs director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA)] said. “But we'll continue to monitor it though, in case it comes back from the dead.”
The piece does include the concerns that BTA has with the bill, specifically:
(f)or its part, the BTA opposes the bill stating that net revenue would not contribute significantly to the construction and maintenance of roads and ancillary facilities, and the cost of registration would discourage bicycling.
All of this, and some other posts I've seen floating around lately, has got me thinking about the validity of bike licenses.

My first thought is that there needs to be a good reason for licenses if you're going to require them. This is mainly my small government mindset speaking, but it's also common sense. Too often the reason given for requiring bike licenses is the "cyclists don't pay their fair share of road maintenance" argument (debunked and debated at the preceding links). Accepting this argument as valid (which I emphatically DO NOT) the appropriate response would be to just add a tax at the time of purchase of a new bike or other cycling equipment. Requiring licensing just for the fees generated makes little sense.

Drivers are licensed twice, once as an individual and once for their vehicle. In the first case, the license is supposed to ensure that the driver has gone through a state-approved course of education, or at the very least has demonstrated through testing knowledge equivalent to having completed the training. In the second case the vehicle license is to ensure that there is an accurate record of the vehicle (used when the driver violates the law) and that the vehicle passed certain safety/emissions testing. Do these same criteria hold up for cyclists?
  • Individual licensing - I think there is some validity to having cyclists go through a specific course of education and be "certified", especially for cyclists in urban areas. If there were a recognized cyclist license, it could potentially ease some of the scofflaw-cyclist hatred, or at the very least provide riders with a ready response to that line of argument.
  • Bike licensing - Unlike with motor vehicles, an unsafe bike is rarely (if ever) a threat to anyone other than the rider. Additionally, there are a number of existing private ways to get a bike "licensed" for theft-recovery purposes (identifying the bike). Licensing bikes for the purpose of catching lawbreakers strikes me as something that would require far more time, effort, and money than it would ever recoup in terms of tickets or deterrence.
So what does this all lead to? In my opinion there is some justification for licensing cyclists, if the goal is to integrate cyclists into the larger pool of road users. Licensing bikes makes no sense to me, although that seems to be the favored model of politicians. I will say that I'd rather see programs like those offered by the League of American Bicyclists expanded as a de facto standard rather than something coming down from either state or Federal government, but I don't know if that will carry the same weight with non-cyclists as something that is government sanctioned.


  1. If you were in NYC and had heart stopping experiences with bikers going through red lights, against traffic and on the sidewalk you might think differently. They should have a license so they can be identified and fined for not following the rules of the road.

  2. Are the types of riders who ride that way (and there are more than a couple of them) the kind that would get licenses? My feeling is that they would treat laws regarding licensing the same way they treat the others. But I do agree that it could be a way to deal with that sort of problem.

  3. The thought has occurred to me that a better idea would be to get a collection of 40-50 bikes of various sizes and send them around the local schools to use in gym class for a week or two.

    Then I remembered... gym class is apparently a dying thing. :/