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It is a mishmash between vehicle licensing, vehicle registration, and mandatory insurance; which is why in the real world you need all three.

So to focus on one (licensing) is a bit of a straw man.

The vast majority of cyclists also hold drivers licenses.

If you look at the history of licensing you'll find that ensuring driver competence has always been a pretext. The two real motivations:

1. To tax motorists.

2. To identify motorists, given the increased mobility provided by the automobile.

If you look at current licensing practices, only criminally incompetent drivers are denied licenses -- and then not always, and often not for very long.

Your assertion that a test would have to be so simple that child could pass it directly contradicts the next sentence - that most cyclists already have drivers licenses. And that assertion directly contradicts your earlier one - that operating a bike is inherently different and therefore completely incomparable to operating a car.

My suggestions: keep it to the bit about cars simply more dangerous and that's why drivers need licenses but cyclists don't, or (and this is the solution that I've turned over in my head a couple times) licenses should be required for cyclists on roads with a speed limit over 30mph or in the city. This allows children to ride in neighborhoods and low-traffic areas, while ensuring that those who want to ride alongside 5000lbs of steel have first demonstrated that they can do so safely. Maybe even toss in a 1-hour online training.

I've always seen bicycling a form of getting exercise and some sort of hobby. I think licensing bicyclists is somewhat of a stretch since there is a big difference in overall safety issues between responsibility for others while driving and cycling. I can understand be licensed for driving a car. A benefit of licensing a bicycle can benefit in the case that a bike gets stolen, but personally I think the chance of finding a stolen bike is slim (glad it has never happened to me or any close friends). But I can see why bikers need to be more responsible. It is disappointing when I see bikers continue riding on a red light. I believe that if bicyclists share the road, they should also follow the signs that drivers do. It is not only safe for the bicyclist, but also for others and on coming traffic. I think the thought of licensing cyclists comes up mainly due to safety.

Cars are licensed. Cars have roads and lanes on which to drive.

Give me roads and lanes specifically designed for bikes - so I dont get hit by a car and I dont risk hitting a tourist - and I will gladly hold a bike license.

But a necessary precondition for any such babble is the recognition of bikes as equals in the transportation equation along with equal dedication of infrastructure.

Very nice post. I like the idea that people should be required to demonstrate competence on a bicycle before being allowed to apply for a drivers license. IMX, knowledge of the rules by which cyclists and drivers interact is very sketchy on both sides.

So,if I have a bicycle license,that means that drivers can't tell me to get off the road,right? And that they'll treat me as an equal?

It may also be good to point out that the point of licensing is not always limited to proficiency, but is sometimes used to control the number of practitioners (as with cosmetologists throughout the country and, more pertinently, with taxi drivers in New York City). It would be interesting to see how licensing tests (and transportation policy in general) would change if there were only a certain number of driver's licenses available...

Not to sound all obsessive about the importance of defensive cycling, but what about requiring one of those "Riding with Confidence" classes or some kind of defensive cycling test in order to obstain a license that allows one to ride a bike on the streets?

The requirment would probably just be totally ignored by most cyclists (myself included), but if this were really a serious proposal someplace (it isn't, right?), maybe that would be a way of getting a positive out of a negative.

I am not in favor of a bike license, however, if one were to exist it would need implemented nation wide. What would out-of-towners that are passing through do? There is a logistical argument against it.

We let people walk on the public sidewalks before they can even talk, let alone read or pass a test (usually with close parental supervision). At what level of competence should cycling privileges be granted? That is a tough call since they can start so young as Washcycle has pointed out.

Let's back up one step. Driving is privilege. Cycling could be considered a right of freedom on movement not unlike walking. If it is a right that basic, can it be licensed at all?

Excellent article.

I might change the title. The current title seems to be confusing some people into thinking that you are advocating for bicyclist licensing. Maybe something along the lines of "Why bicyclist licenses are unnecessary."

Agree with Michael H.; some people will probably get the impression you support mandatory licensing.

"Bikers should be licensed"

Ignoring the term 'bikers' to begin with, my first response is to ask the person to explain what exactly irks them about bicyclists that they believe they should be licensed.

If it's safety, that leads to everything from facilities (getting you to fight for my high-quality bikeway is good for your car trip too!) to mandatory education for both riders and drivers.

If it's traffic obedience, that leads to discussion about the (in)adequacy of traffic laws for the bicycle in the context of existing facilities ... as well as a frank discussion about the unequal consequences of a collision. I.e. write & enforce laws, but laws in the context of greater safety for bicyclists as well as motorists.

I have found that once you perforate the position and get them to say what's really bothering them, you can find the common ground so often lacking in the shouting.

I wanted to add that the most common ground I've found is here:

1. Cyclists don't want to be hit.
2. Drivers don't want the legal liability of hitting a bicyclist.

Therefore, the common area of agreement is:

- Recognition that much of the conflict arising between drivers and bicyclists is because the system hasn't been built for both.
- Better physically separated facilities.
- Better 'rules of the road' (education, signage, enforcement) for all parties. That means effective Yield signs (which improves the commonworth of Stop signs), differentiated traffic signals, etc.

And if you're lucky, you might convince them of pro-bicycle services on public transit ... all for the driver's greater cause of clearer roads for their use.

Contrarian, while that is true, in some countries competency IS a major concern. Check into licensing requirements in Germany, for example. A person under 25 is not legally able to obtain a license to drive a car with a hp:weight ratio over a certain limit.

It's a cultural difference--when I was there, Germans seemed very outraged by any sort of ped fatality. I visited England the previous year and the attitude was "Oh well, that ped shouldn't have been there." In America, one's sympathy is determined by one's estimation of the victim or perp's pecuniary worth. Thus a car driver (winner) can escape free from deliberately killing hobos (losers), but a "hit and run" involving two cars is sirius bidness. A bus driver (loser) involved in a bike accident is a more confusing case, but more likely the bike rider is richer than the bus driver so the bus driver will lose his/her job regardless of fault. However, if the bike rider is a homeless man or jailbird, the cops will laugh at him and let the bus driver go.

-not talking out my posterior... i've been in the industry a long time and seen a lot that's troubling

- Recognition that much of the conflict arising between drivers and bicyclists is because the system hasn't been built for both.
- Better physically separated facilities.
- Better 'rules of the road' (education, signage, enforcement) for all parties. That means effective Yield signs (which improves the commonworth of Stop signs), differentiated traffic signals, etc.

And if you're lucky, you might convince them of pro-bicycle services on public transit ... all for the driver's greater cause of clearer roads for their use.

1) Conflict arises because of the massive weight difference. The vast majority of car and bike operators don't know how to operate their vehicle effectively, but when the vehicles are similarly classed in weight, the relative momentum during a collision caused by a failed passing or turning maneuver mitigates against injuries and fatalities. Not so in bike vs. car.

2) Separating facilities only works if the bicycle is purely recreational (or vice versa!). If both vehicles have to make the same journeys, their paths will intersect. Unless you are advocating Disney-style skyways to heaven.

3) The "rules of the road" are under constant evolution. Some engineers are starting to take peds and bicyclists seriously now, since safety has started to take the lead over "efficiency".

Unfortunately the craze for roundabouts (useful in some situations, not in others) is hurting peds and bikes in the midst of a lot of positive changes.

4) Don't be ridiculous about public transit. The only reason to take a bike on public transit is to expand mobility. Otherwise one would just walk onto the transit vehicle. The bike on transit is there to provide transportation past the end of the transit line or outside of the transit hours of service. Therefore a bike on transit will always be a bike in traffic.

With the exception of some office workers with folding bikes and maybe some green-minded hobbyists, the majority of bikes on transit are the very poor.

I would actually support a bicycle licensing program on several conditions:
1. It applies to riders who travel on main thoroughfares as opposed to neighborhood streets
2. It provides/requires a mandatory bicycle safety class as opposed to just a written or online test
3. Automobile drivers were required to be tested on bicycle safety issues in both their written and practical tests

Currently, bicycles are an afterthought, if that, in most auto driving courses and I don't think I've ever seen questions about bicycles on a driver's test at my local DMV. Licensing of bicycles would place them on a similar footing, legally, with automobiles. As a result of that, automobile drivers would be required to understand and practice good driving techniques around bicycles. Additionally, as new bicycle infrastructure is brought online, proper training and licensing of both drivers and bicyclists would help educate people on the proper ways to use and interact with the infrastructure, something which I feel is often lacking on both sides of the equation.

Your assertion that a test would have to be so simple that child could pass it directly contradicts the next sentence - that most cyclists already have drivers licenses. And that assertion directly contradicts your earlier one - that operating a bike is inherently different and therefore completely incomparable to operating a car.

David, implicit in your last statement is that you disagree with this view. So do I.

As a CDL driver, I don't see much difference between driving a heavy vehicle, a car, and a bike. You must obey the same rules of the road (except in places where biking on sidewalks is allowed), maintain the same awareness of your surroundings, and display the same courtesy to others who share the road.

I believe the difference comes into play when incompetent car drivers are thrown into the mix. Rear-view mirrors are one of the most counterproductive pieces of safety equipment ever introduced. Cars are designed specifically to take rear impacts--it's your sides you need to cover. Sadly, a good number of automobile drivers cannot use their side mirrors to save their--or their fellow road users'--lives. That is no exaggeration.

The linked comment may be suggesting instead (albeit inelegantly) that bicycles be required to display tags of some kind, to permit identification when "caught on cameras running lights etc." - at least that's how I read it.

According to this website:

http://safety.transportation.org/htmlguides/USR/types_of_probs.htm

35.4% of drivers considered to be at fault in fatal collisions either had no license, or were driving with a suspended or revoked license.

It goes on to say that in California alone there are about a million drivers with no license, and another million with suspended or revoked licenses. This is out of 22 million licensed drivers. So basically one in ten motorists doesn't have a valid license. (I couldn't find the number for the entire country but I know it's a lot).

I would not be surprised if at any given time 90% of the cyclists on the road had valid licenses. My point: there's no reason to believe that drivers are more likely to be licensed than cyclists.

The driver licensure system is a joke. The only reason to license cyclists is so we can also be in on the joke.

I have held a drivers license in four states, and i was tested for my skills and knowledge of the law once. When I was 16.

The idea of the bicycle operator being a threat to the public safety is laughable. Tomorrow I could walk into a Honda motorcycle dealership and ride off the lot on a machine with the power/weight ratio of a Formula One car.

Contrarian has the right idea on this one: the best defense is a good offense.

a great commentary! just great!!!

Interestingly, the full citation linked above is: "Bikers should be licensed and ticketed if caught on cameras running lights, stop signs, etc." The larger context thus does *not* seem to be the abstract argument that all road users should be licensed, but rather the notion that cyclists should be help accountable. I'm not sure what the poster has in mind: something like a license plate, maybe, that would allow law enforcement to identify infringements.

Not a terribly compelling argument, but not the straw man that the posters on this thread have been knocking over either.

Fine.

How about this.">http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/dec/21/world.comment">this.

Or this one.

Or this.

Or this.

And this.

Is that enough, or have you really not heard anyone claim that cyclists should be licensed like drivers? I didn't really look for the exact right kind of comment because I thought the comment was so boilerplate I didn't need to. It would be like saying "some people call cyclist's Lance Armstrong wannabes." Would I really need to prove that?

Clearly I was wrong. So while the opening comment may not have been about cycling licenses. There are people who call for that.

Washcycle,

New Balance's strange comment has brought me back to this thread.

In answer to your question: of course I have heard the comment that cyclists should be licensed. But if you're going to link to something, it might be interesting to read and think about what they have to say.

Thanks for the advice. I will try to be more to be more careful in the future and I promise to never make a mistake again.

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