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Should Cyclists Be Licenced By Law?

Over the past decade the increase in cycling, whether for the purpose of transport, leisure or exercise, is quickly becoming a phenomenon. It is estimated there are currently 2-3 million people who ride on our streets and roads at least once a week. [1]

Due to the pandemic, the amount of cyclists using the roads is the highest since the 1960’s almost doubling at 45.7% according to the Department for Transport. [2]

A higher number of cyclists brings with it a higher amount of accidents. In 2020 140 cyclists were killed on the UK’s roads, by cars, HGV and accidents involving no other person. However, the increase in accidents caused by bikes is also on the rise.

2017 saw the government announce an ‘urgent legal review’ into the laws surrounding cyclists after the mother of a child, Kim Briggs, was stuck down and killed by a cyclist who had no front brakes. At the time there was no specific offence of death or injury by dangerous cycling, but you could be prosecuted under the Offences Against Persons Act 1861 for ‘Wanton & Furious driving’ which was used to apply to horse-drawn carriages. The maximum sentence was two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

After the ‘urgent legal review’ from the government, Cycling UK responded to their call for evidence. In their report, they set out the benefits of cycling and the challenges it also brings. At the time of the report, 24% of people surveyed said they were too worried to get on a bike due to road safety concerns.

This brought on a debate between the public and petitions began to rise. A call for bikes to be insured and given identification tags such as number plates were just some of the suggestions. The report by Cycling UK addressed these suggestions but advised by going through processes such as mandatory training for cyclists would discourage people from cycling something themselves and the government were fierce to avoid.

Cycling UK also addressed the matter of safety concerns advising the government where changes could be made to roads to make people feel safer. Their report stated ‘there is clear evidence that the health benefits of cycling are of an order of magnitude greater than the risks involved’ [3]

The government has acted upon the report and issued the cycling infrastructure design, which allows Local Authorities greater freedom to adapt their roads for bicycle users and to make it much safer for everyone using them. However, with a higher rate, of bikes on our roads does the risk of injury to others still pose a higher risk?

I want to make clear this next part does not apply to all bike users, there are many that are polite courteous and abide by the road laws. However, many people will have been caught up at some stage by a group of bikes riding 3 or 4 abreast that you cannot get past, on country’s lane normally at the time you are late for something. You get car users shouting out the window to get into a single file as that is the law. Unfortunately, whilst it can seem an annoyance to some, rule 66 of the Highway Code only advises cyclists to ride two abreast at a time and on narrow busy or round bends, one abreast.

Whilst parts of the highway code are advisories and bikes do not have to abide by them, other rules state they must abide by. Rules such as not carrying a passenger on the bike unless it has been adapted to do so is a criminal offence under s.24 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Another offence is cyclists must obey traffic light signals under s.36 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

A recent case has just concluded with cyclist Ermir Loka being sentenced to two years in jail after he jumped a red light leaving 72-year-old Peter McCombie on the floor. Mr McCombie later died of head injuries. Mr Loka fled the scene at the time but later handed himself in to the police, advising he did not stop at the time as he was in this country illegally. The case went to trial, where Mr Loka was charged with causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving and manslaughter. The charge of manslaughter failed.

From the evidence given a bike had already gone through the red light narrowly missing Mr McCombie, before being struck by Mr Loka. The light had been on red for 8 seconds on his approach giving him plenty of time to stop, but alas he did not.

On this occasion, the police were lucky that Mr Loka handed himself in, with only CCTV to go by and the plea for people who knew him to come forward without his conscience getting the better of him, a man would be dead, and no one held accountable for it.

The number of accidents involving bikes last year stood at close to 18,000.[4] Of those, there were 104 cyclists killed. However, a number of car drivers were also killed due to cyclists, misjudging the traffic, or not paying attention.

If bikes had licence numbers on them, similar to that of cars, not only would offences such as the high number of bike thefts stop, but the individuals who give the goods cyclists a bad name will be held accountable. This would also bring in funds to the government which could be re-invested back into the infrastructure of cycling. However leading cycling associations have suggested this may put off people cycling.

In spite of the good and bad, cycling is on the rise in the UK and with the government’s plan to have half the population on bikes by 2030, the roads must be kept safer, whether this is by taxing and licencing cyclists or by continuing with the current plan to upgrade the road, all we know is, bikes are on a thing of the future and they are here to stay.

Written By: Victoria-Jayne Scholes

OULS News Editor

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