Less than a year since the UK’s then-Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pledged to bring in registration plates for cyclists, before almost immediately backtracking on his comments, his Italian equivalent has introduced a controversial road safety bill which would force cyclists to carry number plates on their bikes, pay insurance, and make helmets and indicators mandatory.
In a speech to the Italian parliament on Wednesday, transport minister Matteo Salvini outlined his plans to increase road safety in the country through legislation which he says will guarantee “more rules, more education, and more safety on Italian roads”.
Salvini, who leads the Lega party, which forms part of the right-wing coalition led by prime minister Giorgia Meloni, said that under the plans cyclists will be forced to wear helmets and carry licence plates and indicators on their bikes, while also paying insurance.
The bill also includes the introduction of lifetime bans for motorists found to be driving under the influence of drugs, the Times reports.
However, Salvini’s focus on cyclists, 154 of whom were killed in collisions with motorists on Italian roads last year, has been heavily criticised by campaigners and members of the bike industry.
The Lega leader has long been a critic of moves to introduce more safe cycling infrastructure, describing bike lanes in his home city Milan as “radical chic environmentalism” and a threat to businesses.
In September he told the Italian senate that many cycle lanes were being installed in “highly dangerous areas” with lots of traffic, thus “creating difficulty for cyclists, car drivers and the local police”.
Since Salvini was appointed transport minister following the election of Meloni’s government last year, significant budget cuts have led to funding being withdrawn from new bike lane projects.
And cycling campaigners reckon that this latest bill is yet another attempt by the transport minister to curb cycling in Italy.
The bicycle manufacturers association, the ANCMA, which notes that the cycle industry in Italy generates an annual turnover of €3.2 billion, said in a statement that the proposed reforms – which would be a first for Europe – are “extremely worrying” in a country which instead requires a “structural and educational commitment” to ensure the safety of its most vulnerable road users.
“This reform seems to be more about stopping the spread of bicycles than increasing safety on the roads,” the association said.
Meanwhile, the online cycling journal Bikeitalia also claimed that the legislation would simply have the effect of discouraging people to ride bikes, and challenged Salvini to “name one country in the world which obliges the use of helmet, number plate, insurance, and indicators for bikes: certainly in no country that promotes the bicycle as a means of transport”.
Bikeitalia also noted the minister’s apparent hypocrisy by highlighting how his mantra of “we won’t put our hands in the pockets of Italians” – which has led him to cutting excise duties on petrol and opposing speed cameras – doesn’t appear to stretch to cyclists.
And all that despite, as the website pointed out, Salvini himself dismissing a left-wing politician’s plan to introduce bike registration plates in 2015 as “crazy” on Twitter.
The Italian government’s plans to enforce tougher rules for cyclists comes less than a year after the UK’s then-transport secretary Grant Shapps caused a great deal of confusion after the Daily Mail reported that the Conservative cabinet minister had promised to introduce number plates for cyclists, a pledge that was almost immediately contradicted in a separate interview with the Times.
The Mail’s initial report, which claimed that Shapps said that cyclists should be insured, carry licence plates on their bikes, and be subject to the same speed limits as motorists, prompted something of a media frenzy, forcing the minister to backtrack on his comments.
In an interview three days later with LBC, Shapps insisted that there were “no plans to introduce registration plates” for bikes and that he was simply making a “wider point” that “it's got to be right to ensure that everybody who uses our roads does so responsibly”.
“What I was actually talking about at the time was cyclists who perhaps bust through red lights, we see that an awful lot,” he said.
“There is no way to prosecute a [cyclist] who might run into somebody else, and sometimes you get these very sad cases of death by dangerous cycling, and we are proposing to bring in death by dangerous cycling as a specific offence, along with other changes to car drivers and for other users of the road as well.
"So this is not a plan which is – as I think has been suggested – somehow going after cyclists.”
The parliamentary debate over tougher cycling rules has not abated since Shapps’ climbdown, however, with a Conservative MP just this week calling for the government to make wearing a helmet while cycling a legal requirement.
Introducing a compulsory cycle helmet bill into the House of Commons, Mark Pawsey, the MP for Rugby, argued that if mandatory safety measures are acceptable for motorists, they “should surely be acceptable for cyclists”.
However, in December, the Department for Transport insisted that the government has “no intention” of making helmets mandatory, following a question from the Conservative MP for Shropshire constituency The Wrekin, Mark Pritchard.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.