Proper rules for cyclists

Some while ago I read a newspaper story saying male cyclists who rode a lot risked impotence because of the damaging effect of the saddle on their reproductive organs. It quite made my day. In my opinion, anything that stops cyclists breeding is to be welcomed as an unmitigated good.

I hate cyclists. At least, I hate the ones I see in London every day. Outwardly, they may appear to be nice, respectable, law-abiding, middle-class people, and perhaps they normally are. But the moment they straddle their bikes, something snaps.

It is not just the self-righteousness that gets to them. It is a deep-seated sense of injustice. On the one hand, they feel smug and superior, yet on the other, they are constantly humiliated by the knowledge of their acute vulnerability. The unfairness of it all fills them with such outrage that they turn into complete nutters, gripped by a desire for vengeance on a world that has wronged them so cruelly.

Their contempt for the law is breathtaking. They routinely ignore red traffic lights, menacing pedestrians crossing the road when it ought to be safe. They cycle the wrong way along one-way streets, notably outside our local primary school where they play dodge ’em with the parents and children every morning. They race over pedestrian crossings and along the pavements whenever it suits them, the more aggressive of them screaming abuse at anyone who gets in their way. Yet heaven help anyone, car driver or pedestrian, who strays even momentarily into a cycle lane.

Does it matter? Yes, very much. Obviously, cyclists’ flagrant disrespect for the law is a threat to public safety. It also affects the quality of life in London, not just by making walking unpleasant and sometimes even frightening, but by contributing to a sense of lawlessness and disorder.

More important, it is bad enough that a particular group of road users should regard themselves as above the law; it is much worse that the government and police should connive in it. Why should cyclists be allowed to commit dangerous traffic offences at will while vast numbers of police, traffic wardens and private sector contractors, assisted by spy cameras and other technology, are ready to pounce on car drivers for even the most trivial violations and punish them with heavy fines, the confiscation of their vehicles or worse?

It is time London cracked down on cyclists’ behaviour. I do not want to stop people cycling but I do want them to realise that the green halo hovering over their helmets does not put them in a special category of road users to whom no laws apply, any more than cycling to the supermarket gives them the right to shoplift with impunity.

I realise the difficulty. At present, it is difficult to punish cyclists for breaking the law. The police stop a cyclist for jumping a red light, she gives them a false name and address and off she goes, the wrong way up a one way street. There is nothing much anyone can do.

Except, there is. It is time to introduce cyclist licensing. All cyclists over the age of 16 using public roads should be required to hold a licence. They would not need to pass a test to obtain one but the system would have to be self-financing, requiring applicants to pay a fee. This is not asking much when you consider that cyclists are otherwise freeloaders on road infrastructure that is overwhelmingly paid for by motorists.

Licensing would transform enforcement. Cyclists would be required to carry their licences with them at all times, providing proof of their identity. Those stopped for an offence who failed to produce one would have their cycles confiscated until they did so. As with motorists, cyclists endangering pedestrians or other road users would have their licences endorsed, with three offences leading to a ban.

Today’s piffling fines – £30 for riding on the pavement – should also be drastically raised. Then, enforcement could become self-financing. As with motorists, local authorities could employ teams of wardens to hunt down and penalise errant cyclists, or else turn the job over to private contractors.

I realise not all cyclists are bad; just a few months ago, I saw one stop at a red light. But the good ones will benefit from these measures if the rest of us hate cyclists less. So that is what I would change. I would introduce cyclist licensing now, for a safer, fairer and altogether more civil society.

Richard Tomkins is FT’s chief feature writer. This is the second in a series of eight features by FT writers introducing our essay competition

What would you change?

If you would like to see your argument for change appear on this page, enter our essay competition and tell us “What I would change”. For terms and conditions and details of how to enter, go to www.ft.com/essay. The winner will receive a made-to-measure men’s or women’s suit courtesy of Huntsman, Savile Row. The winning entry will be published in the FT early next year.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

More on this topic

Suggestions below based on Life & Arts