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Minister Duncan Gay reacts to recent spate of serious injuries and deaths of cyclists in Australian state

The roads minister of the Australian state of New South Wales has said that he is “increasingly persuaded” that cyclists need to be licensed and also says he is considering banning bikes from some of Sydney’s roads – both measures that he claims will improve the safety of riders.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Duncan Gay made his remarks in response to a series of incidents in recent weeks in which cyclists have been seriously injured, as well as two fatalities in the past fortnight, the latest coming yesterday when a man was killed following a collision with a bus at Neutral Bay.

Speaking to 2UE Breakfast, Mr Gay said: “The thing I really need to look at is, if we’re going to put rules in place, and I need to be tougher on car drivers, but I am increasingly persuaded that we need to look at a licence for cyclists.

“It’s not going to worry the ones that are doing the right thing, but the bad ones that are running lights, crossing over, being aggressive, they’re a large part of the statistic,” he went on.

During March, six cyclists out on a club run on Southern Cross Drive suffered serious injuries when the group they were riding with was hit by a car.

According to Mr Gay it is possible that cyclists might be banned from such roads for their own protection, the minister saying, “We will look at it on a safety basis.”

He continued: “The hard thing is, if I put a carte blanche ban in, there are some really good rides that cyclists do, and part of it involves Southern Cross Drive and then on down to Wollongong. I understand how important this is for cyclists, but there have been a couple of accidents there.

He acknowledged that there had been a fall in the number of cyclist fatalities, “but that’s no huge solace because last year was a record year,” with 14 riders killed on the roads of New South Wales.

“We need to get people to be more careful, but the key is to get the people in bigger vehicles to understand that they need to be more observant, but the other part is we need cyclists to actually obey the rules and be helpful as well,” he added.

“Before the phones run off the hook, as I know they will, it is a very small section of cyclists that don’t do the right thing. It would be probably under one per cent,” he concluded.

Phil Ayres, the chief executive of Cycling New South Wales, told Guardian Australia that most of its 10,000 members would be “fundamentally against” attempts to require cyclists to be licensed.

“But we are an organisation that’s grown up to understand there are arguments in favour of it and we’d certainly want to be at the table with government to discuss cyclist safety,” he said.

“It’s important to realise though that licensing bike riders won’t stop them from being hit, as has happened so horrifically in recent weeks and months. Licensing isn’t a safety issue – if you magically licensed all bikes overnight, it won’t stop the accidents.”

He acknowledged that cyclists need to follow the laws of the road, but denied that law-breaking riders were a significant issue.

“There is a rogue element in any group of people in the community,” he explained. “We don’t condone any riders not obeying the road rules – everyone has to adhere to them. It’s not OK to roll through a red light.

“But the thing with cyclists is that they aren’t surrounded by tonnes of metal. What would be a fender scrape for a car is the maiming of an individual or a loss of life for a cyclist.”

In November 2009, one of Mr Gay’s predecessors as New South Wales transport minister, Carl Scully, who served in that capacity from 1996 to 2005, said that cyclists should be banned from the roads.

In the United States, only the state of Hawaii requires compulsory bike licensing, although some states, such as California, leave it to councils or cities to enforce it at local level if the so choose, as happens in Ventura County, part of the Greater Los Angeles area.

Last October, an attempt to introduce such legislation in the state of Georgia was withdrawn in the face of opposition from cyclists.

In November last year, Labour former minister Kate Hoey said that cyclists in the UK should be registered and required to pay “road tax.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.