The government has made it clear that it has no plans to require cyclists to be licensed and take out third-party liability insurance, in response to Lord Winston’s appeal to make both compulsory for bike riders.
The Labour peer’s call for mandatory insurance and licences received widespread media coverage the weekend before last ahead of him tabling the question at the House of Lords, but other than a paywalled article in The Times, the debate itself seems to have gone unreported, possibly because Westminster correspondents had other priorities last week.
He asked the government “what assessment they have made of the case for requiring adults riding bicycles in city centres to have a licence and third-party insurance.”
In reply, the Conservative peer Baroness Barran told him: “The government considered this matter as part of the cycling and walking safety review in 2018.
“They have no plans to require cyclists to have a licence or third-party insurance.
“The costs and complexity of introducing such a system would significantly outweigh the benefits, particularly the requirement for a licence.
“However, the government believe it is wise for all cyclists to take out some form of insurance, and many cyclists do so through their membership of cycling organisations.”
Lord Winston continued to press his point, however, saying: “Of course, most cyclists are conscientious and law-abiding but an increasing number are extremely aggressive and ignore, for example, the fact that some streets are one way, pedestrian crossings and red lights at traffic lights, and from time to time they collide with pedestrians.
“In view of the fact that the government obviously wish to encourage cycling – and I agree with that – does [Baroness Barran] not think that they should consider their obligation to improve public safety and therefore implement these or similar measures?”
Baroness Barran expanded on her previous response, underlining that such a scheme would be impractical. She said: “The government obviously want to reinforce safety for all road users, particularly those described as vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.
“[Lord Winston] will be aware that there was a review of cycling and walking safety, and licensing and insurance were considered as part of that.
“Over 3 million new cycles are sold each year. Licensing and insurance would require the establishment of a central register, and the government’s view is that this would be very cumbersome and expensive to administer.
“There is evidence that other countries that have trialled these schemes have then withdrawn them. The government have committed, through the cycling and walking investment strategy, to a 50-point plan and £2 billion of investment to improve safety for all road users.”
Labour peer Lord Wills highlighted that few fixed penalty notices for cycling on the footway – introduced 20 years ago – were issued in 2017/18, saying that during that year, “30 out of 38 police forces issued fewer than five fixed-penalty notices and 12 of them issued no fixed-penalty notices at all.”
He asked Baroness Barran whether she really thought “that there is so little irresponsible cycling on pavements,” and if not, what the government planned to do “to protect disabled people, vulnerable pensioners, mothers with babies in buggies and many others from these hoodlums in Lycra?”
Her response included what may well be the first use of the term “smombies” in the upper house.
She said: “The government take these issues extremely seriously. There are small minorities of motorists, cyclists and, dare I say, what are now known as “smombies” – smartphone zombies, including pedestrians – who cause danger on our roads, but only a tiny percentage of accidents on our roads are caused by cyclists so the government are seeking a proportionate response that upholds the law but also encourages cycling and walking.”
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.