“Gathers momentum” are the words used in a BBC News headline to an article published yesterday referring to the petition launched back in June by solicitor Nick ‘Mr Loophole’ Freeman calling on cyclists and e-scooter riders to be required, among other things, to wear hi-vis tabards with identification numbers – the only problem being that the petition actually closed last week.
And while, as the BBC correctly points out, the number of signatures it attracted means the government will have to give a response to the petition, we already have a strong hint of what the answer will be thanks to a question asked in the House of Lords back in June.
In its article, the broadcaster said that the petition aimed to “crack down on nuisance cycling” – even though the changes to the law being called for by the Manchester-based solicitor, who has helped celebrity clients including David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson secure acquittals on motoring-related offences, would apply to anyone riding a bike.
Like all petitions published on the Parliament.uk website, the petition ran for six months. It was posted in June, ran for six months, and it closed last Tuesday 7 December having amassed 10,498 signatures.
It broke the 10,000-signature threshold above which the government is obliged to provide a response – due within the next nine days – with less than 24 hours to go until it closed, despite Freeman repeatedly taking to print and broadcast media, including The Telegraph and BBC Radio 4, to urge people to support it.
Posted under the heading, Introduce new requirements for cyclists/e-scooters: visible ID, licences, etc, Freeman wrote:
The Government should require cyclists and e-scooter riders display visible ID, require that cycle lanes be used where available, and introduce a licensing and penalty point system for all cyclists and licensing system for escooter riders.
Roads are now shared with more cyclists and e-scooters than ever. Yet cyclists and e-scooter riders aren`t currently held accountable in same way as drivers.
Cycle lanes can be safer yet are often not-used. A licence scheme and penalty points system should ensure responsible cycling and e-scooter use.
"Without some kind of registration scheme we have no idea who might be riding a bike or an e-scooter,” Freeman – who in 2007 got Jeremy Clarkson cleared of a speeding charge because the prosecution had been unable to prove that the then Top Gear presenter had been driving the car in question at the time of the alleged offence – told the BBC.
“Those who use them can recklessly flout the law with impunity – say, jumping red lights, weaving on and off pavements and even knocking down pedestrians,” added the solicitor – who has previously called for pedestrians to be forced to wear reflective clothing at night after a driver he represented was convicted of causing the death of a rabbi through careless driving.
And as for what we expect the government’s response to the petition to be, at least insofar as it relates to cyclists?
Well, at the end of June – three weeks after the petition had been posted and Freeman had made his initial rounds of the media to promote it – Lord Berkeley, patron of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling & Walking, posed a written question to the government in the House of Lords on the issues it raised.
In a written question, he asked the government “what assessment they have made of the possible (1) advantages, and (2) disadvantages, of introducing a licensing system for cyclists.”
Responding to the Labour peer, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, said: “The government considered this matter carefully as part of the cycling and walking safety review in 2018, and has no plans to introduce such a system.
“Cycling brings many benefits, particularly in terms of health and the environment, and the government is keen to encourage rather than restrict it.
“Cyclists must respect the rules of the road as set out in The Highway Code and enforcement of cycling offences is a matter for the police.
“The introduction of a licensing system would be likely to deter many people from cycling and the costs and complexity of introducing and administering such a system, would be likely to outweigh any road safety or other benefits,” she added.
Earlier this month, Freeman was set straight by Surrey Police’s road policing unit on Twitter after he posted a video in which he suggested – incorrectly – that a group of cyclists riding two abreast ahead of the vehicle he was travelling in on a winding road were breaking the law.
And while his petition may, at the 11th hour, have gone over the 10,000 signatures it needed for the government to have to respond, it secured barely a tenth of the 100,000 needed for it to even be considered for a House of Commons debate by the Backbench Business Committee.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.