A Regulatory System for Cyclists

There has been a lot of attention paid to the issue of bicyclists and the use of the roadways lately, particularly given recent stories involving a cyclist’s alleged assault on a pregnant woman or the cyclist ICBC is blaming for an accident because he was impaired. As a driver, I can say that my experience on the roadway is that many cyclists appear to be either ignorant of their obligations on the roadway, or willfully reckless about following the rules. It’s frustrating as a driver, and as a person who defends drivers because I can see the way that cyclists pose a significant risk to the public, but do not have any accountability when they violate the rules.

As a result of the increase in discussion on this topic, many people have been calling on Government to regulate cyclists in the same manner as cars are regulated: compulsory insurance policies and bicycle registration with plates. To my mind, this is the only reasonable system that keeps cyclists accountable to drivers, pedestrians, and one another, and it is the only reasonable system that protects cyclists from harm.

What are a cyclist’s obligations?
Under the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act, a cyclist has the same obligations as a driver of a vehicle. This means that cyclists must wait for pedestrians to cross. They must come to complete stops at stop signs and obey the rules of four-way-stops. They must not operate a bicycle while their ability to do so is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Section 183 of the Motor Vehicle Act also imposes other obligations on cyclists particular to turning, signalling, brakes, and safely using the roadway. Additionally, there are requirements from 30 minutes before dusk to 30 minutes after dawn for reflectors and headlamps to illuminate the cyclist and his or her path.

Section 124 of the Motor Vehicle Act also allows municipalities to create by-laws pertaining to cyclists. In all municipalities in British Columbia, cyclists are required to wear helmets by virtue of Section 184 of the Act. Municipalities are given a broad power to regulate cyclists on highways within their borders.

What would regulation of cyclists look like?
Of course, this is a question that can only be answered by waiting to see what, if anything, the Province introduces. However, I would hazard that if the province did introduce a regulatory system for cyclists, it would mimic that for vehicles. The issues that would most need to be addressed by government are insurance to cover the cyclist, insurance to cover third parties injured by the cyclist, a license system ensuring that those who cycle are qualified to do so and aware of the law, and a plating system so that cyclists can be identified.

What are the advantages to regulating cyclists?
There are advantages to a licensing system for cyclists and bicycles. Not only will people who are struck or injured by a cyclist be in a better position to identify the rider, but a system of identification such as plating will enhance accountability and will likely make cyclists more willing to stay behind if they do cause an accident. Deterrence is not only achieved by the fact of getting caught, but also the perception that a person will get caught.

Furthermore, there will be more incentives to cyclists to comply with their other obligations on the roadway. I frequently have to slam on my brakes because a cyclist unexpectedly moves off the sidewalk (that they were unlawfully on) and into the roadway, without signalling. Or because cyclists do not signal or do not stop at stop signs. This is dangerous for them and myself. If cyclists can be ticketed and can receive demerit points for cycling behaviour that is unlawful, they will be less likely to commit these actions. One of the greatest flaws that I see is that there is very little enforcement of cycling-related traffic violations. So there is a perception that some cyclists have that they are immune from the law. This leads to unsafe and dangerous roadway behaviours.

The Motor Vehicle Act already allows a Judicial Justice of the Peace to order that a bicycle be seized if a person is convicted of a cycling-related offence, but it does not have any system by which the number of offences cyclists commit are logged and assessed to see if someone poses a danger to the public. A regulatory system that tracks this and assesses demerits that can lead to cycling prohibitions is a reasonable way to ensure safer roads and sidewalks. The Superintendent of Motor Vehicles takes the position that drivers who accumulate too many tickets should be prohibited because of the public safety risk. It seems only reasonable that if cyclists pose the risks they do, they should be subject to a similar system to ensure compliance with the law.

It seems that cyclists pose the greatest risk to themselves, other cyclists, and pedestrians. Keeping cyclists accountable to one another is important. This system should not be meant to punish cyclists but rather to ensure that there are incentives to complying with the traffic safety laws that apply to them. Additionally, cyclists benefit — particularly in the Lower Mainland — from tax dollars put into developing dedicated bike lanes, bicycle traffic lights, and divided sidewalks on major bridges. A system that generates a small amount of revenue for the province from cyclists can be redirected into maintaining and improving these amenities, as well as developing more of them for future use.

A system of plating cyclists will have advantages to cyclists. If bicycles must be registered and plated, it will become easier to track stolen bicycles. With the Vancouver Police Department’s news that over 2000 bicycles are stolen in Vancouver alone every year, a plating and registration system will make it easier to verify who an owner of a bicycle is, and to return a seized or found bicycle to the correct owner. Registering your vehicle is as much about allowing others to identify you as it is in allowing you to identify your vehicle if it is stolen, and the same goal can be accomplished if bikes are plated and registered according to serial number.

What are the disadvantages to regulating cyclists?
One of the advantages to cycling over driving is that it is significantly less expensive. Insurance, fuel, maintenance and other costs are far less when it comes to biking over driving. There will obviously have to be a cost associated with a licensing system, and this is an obvious disadvantage to people who choose to cycle for economic reasons. But it is possible to administer the scheme in a fair and reasonable manner that makes it affordable. It may also be possible to make the basic cycling insurance relatively inexpensive, and give people the opportunity to apply for indigent status for the licensing and plating fees, such that they will be waived.

There are also no age restrictions on who can operate a bicycle on a roadway, unless set out in bylaws. In order to have a regulatory scheme, there will need to be age restrictions placed on cyclists. Of course, there can be reasonable concessions made for supervised children by a licensed adult, or a statutory definition of the limitations of where the regulatory scheme would apply. For example, the Immediate Roadside Prohibition provisions only apply on highways or industrial roads, so do not apply on driveways or Forest Service Roads.

Overall, in my view, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. It is possible to administer a regulatory scheme for cycling that protects the public safety without appearing to be or becoming a “cash grab” for Government. Protection of the public is a primary consideration that Government should be focussed on, and if incidents involving cyclists injuring people, assaulting people, or causing accidents continue to happen then the Government owes it to the public to protect them through a reasonable mechanism.

5 thoughts on “A Regulatory System for Cyclists”

  1. Hi Kyla. I do have a lot say about this. Rather than reinvent the wheel, though, below are a few links that articulate why regulating cyclists is a bad idea. I do see the point about being able to identify cyclists involved in assaults, but we already have a Criminal Code to deal with that. While it may be true that a cyclist may think he or she can get away with an assault by zipping away before police arrive, that action invites increased criminal sanctions in addition to assault, and such a rogue cyclist will be actively sought by police and brought to justice, at least to the same degree that we would expect any alleged criminal should be brought to justice. Responsible cyclist/citizens will stay at the scene of an accident, and regulating them, I suggest, does not decrease the likelihood that a rogue irresponsible cyclist might try to get away with an assault, since if the action was truly an assault and not an accident, I suspect the criminal propensity of that person is present regardless of whether he/she is regulated.
    In terms of “following the laws of the road” there are many reasons why laws should actually be different as between cyclists and motorists. The practical physical and physiological realities of cycling and driving are fundamentally different, and I argue that what should actually happen is de-regulating certain aspects of cycling, rather than increasing their regulation. I can get into more detail about those physical differences between cyclists and motorists in another reply. I’m not opposed to some sort of mandatory education program for cyclists starting in schools, but in this day and age of climate change and the vast costs associated with driving in terms of insurance, administration, human life, pollution, etc., this is absolutely not the time to construct impediments to cycling — which is exactly the result of increased cycling regulations.
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2010/dec/13/regulating-cyclists
    http://bikecalgary.org/licensing
    http://www.chicagomag.com/city-life/March-2015/Why-Bicycle-Licensing-Almost-Never-Works/

  2. Thanks for the input, Hugh.
    The article in the Guardian is problematic. It uses figures like “2 pedestrians killed by cyclists vs. 62 by cars” without breaking that down into statistical values that provide meaning. Moreover, it also doesn’t indicate whether the vehicles or cyclists caused the death or the pedestrian’s own negligence did.
    It also relies on the presumption that laws affecting cyclists reduce numbers of cyclists and that’s generally a bad thing. While there are obvious benefits to the environment and perhaps some traffic congestion benefits (though a slow-moving cyclist taking lane space on a major thoroughfare and cause a lot more congestion than one extra car… and bike lanes reduce available vehicle space on roads, which increases congestion…) the basic theory is that more cyclists = better. And there doesn’t seem to be any scietific or research supporting this more=better theory.
    Also, if mandatory helmet laws reduce the number of cyclists I don’t have a problem with that. There may have been a reduction in the number of new drivers after mandatory seatbelt laws came into place, but that doesn’t mean that those laws aren’t good and don’t add value to society. This doesn’t appear to have been studied, from what I can find on a cursory search.
    It costs taxpayers, after all, when anyone injures themselves. It’s also difficult to track ridership when there is no regulation/registration. It’s either based on self-reported statistics (inherently unreliable) or on counting, which simply means fewer cyclists on a particular road at a particular time.
    I also note that the author appears to just blatantly assert that cyclists aren’t responsible for many accidents. But without a way to identify and track cyclists on the road, this might be a claim with no support.

  3. I don’t have any ready statistics to back up the Guardian article, but regarding the “more=better” argument, the support for this is rooted in common knowledge and common sense. The benefits of aerobic exercise are well-established, while the problems associated with the carbon emissions of vehicles are also well established. Surely one needs no academic references to make these arguments. I think it’s obvious as well that the severity of cyclist-to-cyclist accidents is vastly less costly in terms of injury/life and to our insurance and health care systems, than is the severity of vehicle-to-vehicle accidents and vehicle-to-cyclist accidents.
    Regarding carbon emissions, I suppose one might counter-argue that oil use and consumption benefits our economy and represents countless jobs. However, that argument is extremely short-sighted in view of the detrimental effects of carbon emissions on our global ecosystems. It’s apparent to me that as a society, we generally do not respond to looming crises or tragedies-of-the-commons until the crises are immediate and personal. While we may well be in the midst of climate change, until there is sufficient recognition of individual crises, people will continue to delude themselves that their own contribution to the crises is negligible or is otherwise outweighed by their own self-interests. I see it in myself, and have no trouble justifying using my car whenever I do. But the more-cyclists=better is only false if one denies the detrimental effects and societal costs of vehicles in ever increasing numbers. Sadly, there is no shortage of those deniers.
    I can see how one could then argue that eventually vehicles will use fuels that are less destructive. That will be great, and that does reduce the “more-cyclists=better” argument on that particular point. However, we nonetheless devote increasing areas to tarmac, vehicles themselves require vast resources to manufacture, are expensive to purchase for a large proportion of the population, promote a sedentary lifestyle that has all sorts of costs to our healthcare system overall, and remain highly costly in terms of accident severity.

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