The Great Debate: Should Bicycles Have Number Plates on the Roads? Former Met Chief says Yes!

Two women with road bikes in London

Cycling is a mode of transportation that has been embraced for centuries, providing numerous benefits such as environmental sustainability, health advantages, and an efficient means of commuting. However recent debates in the House of Lords on the regulation of pedicabs, and with roads becoming increasingly congested and the interaction between cyclists and motorists rises, the debate surrounding whether bicycles should be required to display number plates gains momentum.

In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the various arguments for and against the implementation of number plates on bicycles, exploring the potential impacts on safety, accountability, and the overall cycling experience.

What Initiated This Recent Debate?

The ongoing discussions in the House of Lords regarding the Pedicab Bill seek to address a longstanding anomaly where pedicabs stand as the sole form of unregulated transport on London’s streets. The proposed bill aims to establish regulations addressing various issues, including extortionate fares, the excessive use of loud music (particularly during nighttime), traffic congestion, obstruction of bike and pedestrian lanes, and overarching safety concerns, which encompass unmonitored vehicles and drivers without proper vetting.

However, during these debates there are further issues that have been raised. One of the issues raised came from former metropolitan police commissioner Lord Hogan-Howe, who said:

“If we learn any lessons about holding pedicab drivers and owners to account, could we consider whether we take those lessons and apply them to cyclists?”

“I fear that cyclists, particularly in London, seem to be entirely unaccountable.”

“Having a registration plate somewhere on the back would not be a bad idea to make sure that people are held to account and it is not totally without consequences if they choose to ignore things that are meant to keep them safe”.

The Argument In Favour of Introducing a Number Plate System for Cyclists

It is important to recognise that within this, and in other debates, we have seen continuous highlighting of cyclists being an issue only within urban areas such as London.

As we have seen from the former met chief, individuals in favour argue that introducing number plates to bicycles can significantly enhance road safety. With a unique identifier, cyclists become more accountable for their actions, and this accountability might lead to more responsible behavior on the roads. Number plates make it easier for law enforcement to identify and penalise cyclists who violate traffic rules. This could include cases of reckless riding, running red lights, or cycling on pedestrian-only paths.

In addition, a unique identifier such as a number plate, can aid in reducing hit-and-run incidents involving cyclists. If a motorist is involved in an accident with a cyclist, the number plate can help in quickly identifying the responsible party.

In 2022, 91 pedal cyclists were killed in Great Britain. In 2021, there were 16,458 accidents involving pedal cyclists. The 3 most common contributory factors assigned to both pedal cyclists and other vehicle types were those who failed to look properly, followed by a failure to judge the other person’s path or speed, and driver or rider carelessness, recklessness, or being in a hurry.

Opponents To The Introduction of Number Plates for Cyclists

The first and most obvious opponent to this is the effect it might have on the encouragement of individuals opting to cycle. Some fear that the requirement of number plates might act as a deterrent for people to take up cycling. The perceived hassle of registration and compliance paired with the cost of the number plate might discourage potential cyclists.

Many are discouraged from cycling due to the number of thefts and the rate of returns. The number of bicycle thefts in England and Wales was 77,148 in 2022/23. That means that a bike was stolen every 7 minutes in England & Wales in 2022/23. This is only the number of reported bikes that were stolen and it is suggested the number could be nearly doubled should everyone report their bike being stolen. One suggestion for people not reporting their bike being stolen might be related to the fact that only 11% of stolen bikes were ever returned to their owners. A YouGov survey released in late 2022 revealed that 77% of respondents in the UK do not anticipate thorough police investigations into bicycle theft. It is important to think of these statistics in relation to the introduction of a number plate for cyclists when you think more police time will be focused on bike theft with more being reported due to the importance of declaring due to the bikes association with the number plate as well as the hassle of people having to get a new plate (based on the small return rate of bicycles).

From an environmental perspective, manufacturing and disposing of millions of additional number plates could contribute to waste and carbon emissions, counteracting the eco-friendly nature of cycling. Detractors argue that implementing number plates on bicycles is impractical and costly. Unlike cars, bicycles have limited space and may not accommodate a standard-sized number plate. The cost of producing, distributing, and maintaining such a system could outweigh the benefits.

Finally, and following on from, individuals suggest that instead of imposing number plates, they suggest that resources could be better allocated to educating both cyclists and motorists on sharing the road. Moreover, investing in dedicated cycling infrastructure can create a safer environment for all road users.

6 Safety Tips For Cyclists on the Roads

  1. Always wear a helmet and reflective clothing.
  2. Display lights when cycling in low light conditions.
  3. Make sure to signal one’s movements clearly to other road users.
  4. Regularly check the condition of your bicycle and make sure all is working smoothly.
  5. Understand the priority of the roads.
  6. Know your surroundings and make frequent observations.

A TopReg Suggestion

Instead of physical number plates, technology solutions such as QR codes or RFID tags could be explored. These could be scanned by law enforcement for identification without the need for traditional plates. This will be more efficient for cyclists and save on the environmental issues raised earlier.

Have you got any suggestions? Feel free to contact us and let us know via our social media channels!

The debate surrounding whether bicycles should have number plates on the roads is multifaceted, involving considerations of safety, practicality, and the overall impact of cycling as a mode of transportation. Striking a balance between accountability and the inherent characteristics of cycling is crucial. As technology advances, innovative solutions might emerge to address these concerns without compromising the essence of cycling as an accessible, sustainable, and healthy means of travel. Ultimately, the conversation should involve all stakeholders – cyclists, motorists, policymakers, and environmentalists – to arrive at a consensus that prioritises safety without unduly burdening cyclists.