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Too many cyclists ignore the rules – they must be held to account

(Credit: Richard Baker / Alamy)

3 min read

It was a dark wet night on Victoria Street in London. Whoosh and he was gone. Dark clothing, no lights and about 30mph around a bend with no registration number to follow up, having just missed me by about six inches.

Not that unusual for anyone in London. Every day we see cyclists ignoring red lights for pedestrian crossings and junctions while competing with each other to get through narrow and reducing gaps in congested traffic.

Cycling is green, fun and helps improve health. It is also more affordable than a car. It has everything to commend it. But too many cyclists ignore some simple rules designed to keep everyone safe – and not much is done about it. 

The long-term solution is to produce a similar accountability for cyclists that exists for motor vehicles

Pedestrians are getting hurt: at least 462 in England and Wales in 2022, which has risen from 226 in 2006. I believe this is likely to be a very low count of injuries. The police are the source of these statistics. They do not attend every collision involving a cyclist and are often unaware if a pedestrian is hit and later seeks medical treatment.

I’ve wondered, why do cyclists ignore the rules? I suspect it is a mix of reasons. Sometimes the rules seem restrictive and unnecessary. Sometimes they are in a hurry and take a chance and most of the time there is no bad outcome. I suspect the major reason is that they believe there will be no consequence for breaking the rule. The best deterrent is the risk of detection, and they know they are very unlikely to be identified unless they seriously hurt someone else.

The long-term solution is to produce a similar accountability for cyclists that exists for motor vehicles. This involves the licensing of drivers, registration of vehicles, testing of vehicles and insurance. Car driver accountability has also been improved drastically with the use of technology to hold the driver to account. 

The addition of registration marks to bicycles sounds difficult. However, in Finland they have been able to add small plates to the rear of electric scooters. The plate could also be placed on the rear of the frame running in the direction of travel, ideally on the rear mudguard. Without an identification mark, how will another road user be able to hold them to account?

Licensing sounds a huge burden, but it could be added as a category to existing driving licences. Those who have a driving licence could be given automatic rights to cycle unless it was decided to test riders in the future.

Of course, everyone is concerned that this would be a huge undertaking, cost money and require even more bureaucracy in a world that is already very state-controlled. I understand this concern, but the time has come to collect accurate data on the problem and review our options.

At the very least, we ought to ask cyclists to have insurance for any damage they cause when cycling on the roads. Commercial insurance will be a catalyst to drive an improvement in data collection and cycling behaviour. Insurance assesses risk before applying a premium and this will be for our long-term benefit. 

The government should also consider that, where a cyclist is successfully prosecuted for a cycling offence and already has a driving licence, penalty points could be placed on that licence and place the driving licence in jeopardy. 

None of the options I propose above is straightforward, but I think it is an unacceptable risk to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. 

Lord Hogan-Howe is a crossbench peer and former Metropolitan Police commissioner

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