Every few years, tensions between road users snowball and a government review is initiated. We are back at the review stage five years since the last. Should cyclists be licensed? Should cyclists and motorists undergo additional training? The same questions are being surfaced again, and my answers are yes.
I wrote in 2014 about my support for licensing. I was then a road-using cyclist only. Today, I am both a road-using cyclist and a motorist, and my stance has not changed. If cyclists want to use the road, they must undergo training and be licensed. If they do not wish to do so, they should stick to the pavements and bike paths. Let me break this down:
- Cycling on the road is high stakes. Any road user is exposed to machines that can kill with the slightest touch. Just as we do not allow untrained drivers to use the roads, we should not allow untrained cyclists as well. Some degree of similar standards need to be set. The policy problem is how.
- Most arguments against licensing focus on the need to avoid hindering commuters from taking up cycling. After all, cycling is the most efficient carbon friendly way to travel. That said, most commuters do not go on the road. Many stick to pavements and bike paths. Licensing road-using cyclists would not affect most of the population and would not discourage cycling. It would instead, discourage non-licensed users from using the road, which is exactly what is needed.
- Another argument against licensing road-using cyclists is that it is not feasible to enforce. The bicycle is too small to carry a license plate or various devices that allow detection. This is caused by simply trying to replicate what works for motor vehicles onto bicycles. Instead, we should license the cyclist and keep identification tied to the cyclist, not the bicycle. It is pointless to register the bicycle because cyclists swap bicycles often given that they are cheaper. The LTA will have its hands full keeping up with the number of bicycles and trying to ensure that somehow these bicycles can carry an identification plate large enough to be picked up. The cyclist should carry the identification instead. Instead of having large printed alphabets and numbers hoping that road cameras can pick it up, have the cyclist wear a small electronic tag that can be picked up electronically by red light cameras, etc. There will still be no running away from the need for LTA to increase its deployment of enforcement officers to monitor the roads but one could argue that this has the dual benefit of checking not only cyclists but motorists.
- Errant behaviour is not limited to cyclists. There are bad eggs in both camps. Motorists and cyclists have their fair share of folks that disregard traffic rules and endanger both themselves and others. Both camps have to go through training on how to manage their vehicles on the road and co-exist with others. Stiffer penalties for cyclists who beat red lights or unnecessarily clog up the road should be implemented together with stiffer penalties for motorists that pass dangerously close to cyclists or cut into their path. In short, training and penalties should hit all road users.
I was hoping in the past that graciousness would enable cyclists and motorists to co-exist. But it is now clear that some degree of laying down the law is needed to set the norms, and prevent escalating conflict.