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« Mike Melton 1949 - 2011 | Main | Babies on Bike Ban »

Should bicycles have number plates? 

I have recently been reading about various places, including Long Beach, CA, Toronto, and New York City, toying with the idea of bike registration, and number plates for bikes. 

This has already been tried so many times in the past, and failed miserably, mainly because it becomes an administrative nightmare, and the revenue generated doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of implementing such a plan.

The call for bike registration is for the most part a knee jerk reaction by the motoring public in response to seeing an increasing number of cyclists on the road.

I read comments like, “If bicycles had number plates, then riders could be held accountable for their actions; like the ones who run red lights, or hit pedestrians and keep riding.”

Cars have number plates, and their drivers break the law all the time, how many take the time to note their number and report it? And if an infraction is reported, what are the chances of anything being done about it.

Does anyone really think that if a person calls the police to report a cyclist going through a red light that the police are going to allocate the manpower to track down and prosecute the errant cyclist?

Another reason justifying bike registration; it cuts down on bike theft. How does that work? The first thing a thief is going to do is remove the number plate; even go register the bike in his own name. 

Are bicycles to have VIN numbers and a Title of Ownership like a car? If a bicycle is to be registered it really should have these items, but again think of the administrative cost.

Bike registration is so impractical and implementing it has so few benefits that I really can’t understand why anyone is even talking about the idea.

It is true some cyclists break the law, but that has a lot to do with the police not enforcing the law. Having a number plate on a bike will do absolutely nothing if there is no enforcement of the law to go along with it.

In New York City it was recently announced that police would start clamping down on scofflaw cyclists. What has happened is that cops are taking the easiest way to fill ticket quotas. They are ticketing cyclists for minor infractions like not having the proper reflectors.

They are going to places like Central Park, where there are a lot of cyclists and few cars, and ticketing cyclists for running red lights there; instead of trying to catch the ones that are a real problem, the ones running red lights at busy city intersections.

Bike registration, as well as being impractical, is just plain wrong. We all share a basic human right to travel from one place to another. If we are doing so under our own power, it should be entirely free of any government intervention.

If cyclists are to be registered or issued a license, what is next, the registration of pedestrians? Pretty soon we will need a license to step outside our own front door.

That doesn’t mean that cyclists should be above the law, and they should allways behave in a responsible manner. The money spent on implementing a bike registration program would be far better spent on education.

A few well made TV ads aired a prime time; educating motorists that cyclists belong on the road, and they need to get used to the idea. Try to educate the few cyclists who give us all a bad name by riding like anarchistic morons.

Any society will always contain a cross-section of people who are anti-social jerks, and unfortunately some of them will be riding bicycles. Making all cyclists register their bikes is not going to change that.



Reader Comments (15)


Once again, it is the narrow-sighted politician who only sees a revenue increase and not the administrative costs as you mention. Can you imagine what a bike would look like if the plate was made large enough to be read at distance like a car's license plate? That's what would be required to fulfill the arguement of having a passerby noting the plate number. Then, there is the need for a license plate light and so on.

Go ahead and register my shoes to keep me from jaywalking, my fork to keep me from overeating, and my keyboard to keep me from posting.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Dave , It seems the nature of government to want only two states of affairs. Its either Illegal or compullsary .

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjames reilly

No kidding, the jerks have taken control and, as pointed out by Jim, they tend to look at the revenues not the costs. Chasing down cyclists in NY for making a turn on red is absurd (but it is the law in NY). Unfortunately once the front line of law enforcement is incentivized to target a small minority they will respond to a commander but not just any "person".

Registering non-motorized bikes? How insane, even motorized mopeds under 50 cc are not required to be registered in my state. Definitely TV ads are needed to educate a motorized public but look at the messages they typically receive: ("What America got right, cars and freedom"): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMRMW1FXSHw

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Anytime these greedy crooks see dollar signs, they have to think of another way to rob the public to preserve their own lifestyle.

I'm sure, they've thought about taxing the pedestrian on how many steps they walk on the sidewalk under a "maintenance fee".

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

This will be good. Parents by little Jimmy or Sally an new bike from WalMart for $70. WalMart adds on the vehicle registration charge of $50, or more, to cover fees and their time and the plates come in the mail. They, of course, will have to have a paper registration taped to the bike until the plates show up. And will have to carry the registration with the vehicle at all times. They we will need proof of insurance.....

They hardly enforce the front plate law for cars here.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Agreed on the need for education, as even most CYCLISTS don't know proper behavior or the traffic laws. Alas, the political capital that can be garnered from education programs is far less than such regulation programs or facilities spending.

In my opinion, education including skills instruction would be needed starting in elementary school as part of physical education and safety education programs.
Meanwhile I'll continue to ride legally and respectably in the roadways.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRay

I'd gladly pay up to $20 if I can have a customized plate, BTW.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRay

As you say, calls for licensing usually stem from the desire to hold cyclists accountable for their behavior; to curb "scofflaw" behavior. I think part of this desire comes from how we, as individuals and government, categorize cyclists. If we tend to see them as "strong pedestrians," then their traffic violations will feel benign. If, instead, we see them as "weak motorists," then their traffic offenses are more galling. In NYC, you can dismount your bicycle, walk around the corner at a red light, remount your bicycle, and continue on your way. But you can't ride through the light. The line between being a pedestrian and being a cyclist in this situation is razor thin.

As many others have argued, motor traffic rules are mostly targeted at enhancing the safety of other road users. The safety of the driver is almost an afterthought, with a few exceptions (like seatbelts). However, the physics of cycling turns that target around. In large part, cyclists can't hurt other road users, so the laws end up governing the safety of the cyclist, and not the safety of other road users. In a sense, the difference is that between utilitarianism (the best for the most) and paternalism (what I think best for you). Utilitarian laws may be easier to stomach than paternalistic ones. "Scofflaw" cyclists could be reacting to that alone -- the idea that the laws, as applied to them, only apply to them, and don't work to the safety of others at large. As such, why follow them?

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrent

The only time government is interested in your safety is when it can be a revenue generating device or they can be held accountable without question.

Dave, with this one and the Oregon trailer issue, you are right on. Thanks.

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSJx426

Will we need a plate for every city we ride in? If I live in Jersey will I need a plate when I go over the bridge into NYC?

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill W

I've been reading about the NYC bike crackdown for quite a while on another blog, but you've managed to actually put it in perspective -- and it took you only two short paragraphs. Thanks.

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPete

This popped into my head...

If you drive a car, i'll tax the street
If you try to sit, i'll tax your seat
If you get too cold, i'll tax the heat
If you try to walk, i'll tax your feet

I have a collection of old bicycle licenses (South African) precisely because they are a quaint reminder of a bygone era

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohann Rissik

Great articles!!! Thanks for sharing this informative information.. I will visit your blog regularly for some latest post.

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdyamora

Most of the cyclist dont know the traffic rules and no need to worry about this.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCar Registrations


March 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpp

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