Monday, February 28

License Cyclists?

Lately, dimbulb legislators in New York and elsewhere have fallen over themselves to see whether Republicans or Democrats can be most clueless about cyclists and cycling. Both parties have proposed cycling license schemes in ways that have repeatedly failed in the past. Neither seems to have hit on a simple and obvious solution. In reality, licensing cyclists might well be a GOOD IDEA and it could even be done without the classical failing of government programs that fail to recognize you regulate and tax behaviors you want less of. The real question is how do you both encourage cycling AND license cyclists? It's easy to see how you can use regulation to discourage cycling, which is exactly why you see so many commenters on news articles advocating doing exactly that TO cyclists. Their agenda is simply to get RID of as many cyclists as they can. Golly, no big secret there. My own licensing scheme has, as you might guess, a little different motivation.

Anyway, I applied small government principles to the problem of licensing cyclists while making such a program something more than an excuse to torture anyone wanting to ride a bike to the grocery store. First off, it seemed clear to me that adding a brand new licensing program would generate a whole new expensive bureaucratic program with no real prospects of success. No good. Government already costs too much. THEN, it hit me that almost everyone, from time to time, operates a bicycle at least in their neighborhood, or supervises children that do so. What's more, riding a bicycle is the most elemental vehicle operation. How is it that we allow people to get an operator license for a high-powered motor vehicle without having to show competence with a simpler KIND of vehicle?

I pondered all this and then it occurred to me. In order to obtain or renew a driver/vehicle operating license, one should be required to show and demonstrate basic familiarity with bicycle operating principles on public roads. No new government program needed at all! People unable to ride a conventional bicycle can demonstrate competence via any of the various "special" bikes available. Since almost all people ride bikes on at least rare occasions, or supervise child riders, all people with a driver's license would now have at least some bike competence. Turned around, one might marvel at how we imagine someone unable to operate a bicycle safely is capable of operating a high-powered, 4000lb motor vehicle safely while chatting on a cell phone. In reality, riding a bike could be the basic driving license, with people allowed to add endorsements for increasingly complex vehicles such as cars and ranging up to commercial vehicles. The basic framework already exists in every state in the US and every province in Canada. Actually experiencing safe bike riding might also help reduce the irrational fears that many people have about bikes.

What about kids, you might ask? Well, that is admittedly tougher, though most schools do have school ID nowadays and understanding of principles could be tested as part of the school standardized testing. We'd not want to see any child left behind! Golly, that phrase could acquire a whole new meaning. Added cycling in school could even represent a shortcut to later demonstration of motor vehicle proficiency, somewhat as driver's ed does now. There is really no reason why demonstration of competency on a bike on the road requires being sixteen. That might make sense for adding a "motor vehicle operator" endorsement to the basic license. I don't know, but I imagine my clever readers could come up with sensible approaches.

Learn to Operate These Safely to Obtain a Basic License
Certainly, there'd be a myriad of details to work out, such as what do you do with unrepentant scofflaws, but we have that problem with people driving motor vehicles without a license today anyway. Besides, as Ellis County has demonstrated, it is entirely practical for a local jurisdiction to throw a cyclist in jail if they believe he/she is misbehaving. A six month suspension of the motoring endorsement would also certainly reduce the number of people that insist on riding against traffic.

It might be interesting to hear the comments of the "license cyclists" crowd about this proposal, which might be the first practical means ever proposed to license cyclists. "Well, I didn't mean THAT!!!! I just wanted to punish those Lance wannabes."

Am I serious? Well, it really makes at least as much sense, and maybe more, as some of the schemes I've seen, but I also think most politicians have a stronger instinct for survival. However, as a cyclist, wouldn't it make you feel a little more confident if you knew every single person driving a car had proven they could ride a bike safely?

Later, Add an Endorsement to Your License in Order to Operate Something More Dangerous


Pondero said...


John Romeo Alpha said...

Genius! I'm going for my level 1, non-motorized vehicle operator license.

Trevor Woodford said...

Great thinking..!

RANTWICK said...

Not bad, Steve. If only more people thought things through like you...

cliff said...

You may be right. With bike lanes and cycle
tracks coming to Dallas, cyclists will need
to know more rules. Both as operators of
vehicles when on the road and as wheeled
pedestrians when on the new facilities.

cycler said...

This is a fantastic idea!

Khal said...

Too intelligent and logical, Steve. Therefore, the idea will never make it out of a legislature.

Steve A said...

Khal, Eli Damon, so far, is the only one to raise what is the most serious objection to my mind - it is one step further towards a universal ID requirement simply to travel, and that a requirement for a license is necessitated only by the advent of dangerous machines. Y'all can expect a future post on "the orphaned right." Namely the right to travel without license.

Khal said...

That is a good point--that licensing and insuring a vehicle are forms of ensuring one is competent and sufficiently indemnified to operate a dangerous machine in the public space. Bicycles are not particularly dangerous in their own right. But I could probably instigate a pretty bad accident by riding my bike in a way that causes others to do some pretty weird stuff. But such requirements put a serious dent in the freedom to travel. I agree with Eli. This has been discussed before on various bike lists, always in a way that denies the concept of licensing bicyclists. Or for that matter Amish in their buggies.

The whole issue of a universal I.D. is more worrisome. We have gone a long way towards the idea of Big Brother and the scare tactics about terrorism, illegal immigration, and the need to therefore impose a universal I.D. requirement on the public leaves me cold. What would the Founders think? "Your papers, please"...wasn't that the stuff of Cold War movies?

This all goes back to that Dave Horton piece I linked to on my own blog--manufacturing consent and manufacturing fear. Not everyone gets fired up by Noam Chomsky, but he has been writing about the dangers of illicitly manufactured consent for decades. Dave Horton puts it in more politically-neutral space--talking about bicycling rather than wars, class politics, and the military-industrial complex.

Chandra said...

Nice article, Steve! Who is that bearded fella?

Peace :)

Ian Brett Cooper said...

The main problem with licensing schemes is shown by the complete failure of all modern driving test systems to curtail roadway collisions.

I already know that every single person driving a car has proven they could drive a car safely 'on the specific day of their driving test'. Unfortunately it doesn't mean they can drive a car safely a day, a month, a year, a decade or a half-century later.

If these schemes came with mandatory and regular retesting, they might be of some value and I might even support something like the above scheme. But one test per lifetime - sure, it might help for a few weeks after the test, but it's not adequate for a lifetime on the road.

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