Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cycle Registration

First, a bit of history. Cars were first registered in the UK as a result of the Motor Car Act 1903, which introduced compulsory registration of cars, licensing of drivers (although there was no driving test) and a new offence of 'reckless driving'. It also raised the speed limit. The provisions came about partly because of the need to identify cars involved in accidents and crime, and because of the death, injury and intimidation motors were inflicting even back then.

Bear in mind that the bicycle predated the motor car by some years, yet registration of cycles had not been introduced.

Registration for cars makes sense because a car has exception powers of escape. A driver can cause a serious or fatal crash and still be able to leave the scene, it being impossible for anyone on foot to stop the vehicle. The driver is also somewhat hidden from view, particularly if the vehicle is being driven fast. Also, there is the need for the vehicle to be kept in good mechanical condition, hence the MOT test which needs to be correlated with the vehicle's identity. Lastly, registration helps against vehicle theft.

How would registration of cycles work? If it worked in the same way as car registration, where a registration number is displayed on a number plate, it would become easy to identify the cycle and the rider, in the event of an offence (either a road traffic offence or cycle theft) being committed. However, there are some clear practical difficulties. There is no obvious way of displaying a registration plate on a bicycle. For a plate to be readable at any distance, it would need to be a considerable size, and would need to be firmly affixed to the cycle. The obvious place to put the plate would be on the rear rack, but many bikes don't have one. Under the saddle would be possible, but it would likely be obscured by clothing. It could be on the frame perhaps, like the advertising panel on an old butcher's bike, but that would interfere with water bottles, D-locks and the like. The number plate could be in the form of a sticker affixed to the frame, but it would likely be too small to be readable at any distance, and in any case could be easily obscured by the riders leg.
To counter theft, there are voluntary registration schemes already in operation, but they don't rely on a large plate.

How would registration of cycles be paid for? To have a centrally administered system, with registration plates or marks that are difficult to falsify would be expensive, and the costs of registration could easily exceed the price of a cheap bike. Cycles are relied on as transport by some of the least well paid workers, and it would be unfair to expect them to pay for registration retrospectively. It seems likely that the cost of setting up a registration system would fall at least partly on the taxpayer.

What would registration of cycles achieve? In theory it would make cycle theft more difficult, because of the need to change the cycle's identity. There are people who want cycles to be more identifiable in the event of a traffic offence being committed. However, having a registration plate on a car isn't particularly useful unless there has been a serious crash. Try reporting a car jumping a red light, speeding, mobile phone use or even dangerous driving and the police won't prosecute the offence unless there's been a collision; prosecution for similar offences is hardly more likely for cyclists, so registration won't make any difference here, except possibly as a deterrent. Registration doesn't seem to deter many car drivers from breaking the law. In the event of a crash caused by a cyclist, the cyclist is likely to be injured, and in any case it is easy for a member of the public to stop the rider leaving the scene.
What about other crimes committed by criminals on bikes? It's true that the cycle can be used as a means of escape, but it's not much more use than simply 'legging it': a fit and alert member of the public could stop a cycle from leaving the scene of a crime. As a means of attack a bike's pretty useless, as likely to injure the rider as anything else.

There are very few deaths or serious injuries caused by cyclists. In an average year, one or two people are killed by cyclists, and that includes all types of incident including those where the cyclist was not at fault. There's no particular reason to think that this number would be significantly reduced by registration. However, there is good reason to think that registration would act as a deterrent to cycling. All over Britain, there are millions of rarely-used cycles in peoples' garages. Will people be prepared to pay to register them? If not, then they won't be used at all. So the owners won't be able to try cycling to work, or try cycling to the shops, or go out cycling with their children or grandchildren. There will be a clear barrier to people getting into the habit of cycling, and thus fewer cyclists. Given the health benefits of cycling, it therefore seems likely that more people will die or be disabled by the diseases of a sedentary lifestyle than could ever be saved by a registration scheme.

Cycle registration is a concept that is tossed around by people who don't like cyclists, don't respect other peoples' choices and in the main aren't terribly clever. They haven't thought through the benefits, drawbacks, costs or practicalities, because if they had, it would have rapidly become apparent that it's a pretty stupid idea (unless you want to suppress cycling, in which case it's a very good idea). Unfortunately, such people seem to hold an inordinate amount of influence in this country...


  1. It is obvious that licence plates for bikes would be too small for the numbers to be readable.

    So I suggest the following: all cyclists and pedestrians must wear suspenders. A full size licence plate must be attached on the suspenders, both front and back. Suspenders can be worn in both hot and cold weather, so it is more versatile than a vest or poncho-type garment. The suspenders can be made of reflective material and blinking lights would be useful, too.

    We can use the plates similar to cars, so we can save some money when we do not have to invest in new machines to make smaller plates.

    Merry xmas! :)

  2. Suspenders?

    (in a Frankie Howerd accent) "Ooh Matron!"

  3. The plates would be the same size as motorcycle plates - i.e. two rows of numbers. It is impossible for a member of the public to stop a cyclist who is cycling away - cyclists can be pretty nifty too. My concern is it is just a sneaky way to creep in tax and will put people off cycling.

  4. Bike registration is the favourite of the type of individuals who claim in all seriousness that people on bicycles are silent killers on the pavements & footpaths who slaughter hoards of pedestrians.

    When it's pointed-out to these Dunning-Kruger Effect afflicted morons that in the UK over 1998-2008 that pedal cyclists killed 3 pedestrians on the pavement, while good old motorists killed 561 on the pavement. They continue to maintain that the statistics don't apply, etc. etc.
    [Note: This assumes that 10% of pedestrian casualties occurred on the pavement or verge as was the case in 2007 & 2008]

    Despite the statistics, these people obdurately deny the danger from motor vehicles on the pavement. They refuse to appreciate that pavement cyclists spend more time on the pavement, whereas a motorist is only on the pavement for a short time, but tends to be far more productive in terms of mowing down pedestrians. It's hard not to conclude that some of these bigoted cyclist-hating, self-proclaimed 'pedestrians that don't drive' are in-fact motorists.

    For the statistics, 1998-2007 are available from:
    Reported Road Casualties Great Britain
    - 2008

    I am not a pavement cyclist, I can't remember when I stopped riding on the pavement, but I was probably around ten years old, which was a long lime ago.
    I do not like pavement cycling, but it's clearly much less of a hazard to pedestrians than pavement motoring.

  5. Correction: the 561 pavement figure was for motor cars only. Motor-vehicles killed 820 pedestrians on the pavement. Previously mentioned caveat applies.