Should bicyclists have to be licensed?


The in basket: Three readers over the past year – Richard Burke and Ann Sencerbox of Bainbridge Island, and Chuck Fisher, have called to advocate the licensing of bicycles and bicyclists.

They cited various justifications, which boiled down to: 

– Raising money for bike lane improvements and sharing in the cost of  

maintaining roads.

– Helping identify unconscious bicyclists after an accident if there is no ID on the person.

– Better educating bicyclists about the rules of the road and the fact that they are required to obey nearly all those that motorists do.

– Helping in recovery of stolen bicycles.

– Recognizing that motorcyclists and bicyclists face similar hazards on the roads, so requiring the same kind of license endorsements for both.

Anne said, “If you have ever driven the waterfront in Seattle at commuter time, it’s really a zoo, then you have the bicyclists who pass on the right between parked cars…

“They just disappear into the crowd,” she said. “There is no way you can identify them, but if there was a nominal fee for a license, it might help with those who had so much distain for automobiles.” 

Chuck also said he recalls that a bicycle license was required when he was a kid, decades ago, in Bremerton’s Eastpark housing project. 

“Ours were green and white and maybe six inches from corner to corner and we could have it anywhere on the bicycles,” he said. 

Ann said her husband recalls the same thing from when he was a child.

The out basket: Last things first, I also recall bicycle licenses, but I think they were novelties offered by cereal companies, not a legal requirement. Do any readers have memories along these lines? 

There’s no shortage of discussion of licensing bicycles on the Internet. Just Google “licensing bicycles” and you can read pros and cons for hours, submitted from all over the country.

In the rare places where they exist, they appear to be issued by cities.

The cons generally contend such a law would be unenforceable and that most bicyclists would ignore it.. 

Other con arguments are:

– Bicyclists already pay their share with property and other taxes while causing very little wear on the roadways.

– Bicycle use shouldn’t be discouraged by such a fee, as riders reduce road wear, fuel consumption and air pollution.

– A nominal fee would be lucky to cover the costs of collecting it and contribute nothing for bike lanes or anything else, 

– Bicyclists have more in common with pedestrians than any kind of motor vehicle.

The cleverest take on this issue that I found online came from self-described 

“cranky curmudgeon” Isaac Laquedem in Portland, Ore., who proposed that bikers be required to wear city-issued bright yellow bike jackets, with their license number printed in large figures on the back of the jacket, and a bike safety class required to get a jacket.

Whatever the arguments, I checked with Lowell Porter of the state traffic safety commission, Brad Benfield of the state licensing department and Deputy Scott Wilson of Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and none were aware of any recent efforts to require licenses for bicycles or bicyclists.

10 thoughts on “Should bicyclists have to be licensed?

  1. Bicycles are subject to the same traffic rules as motor vehicles already. A cyclist could be cited for any traffic infraction, just like a motorist. So a license is not needed to make you subject to traffic laws. Failure to stop, turning left from an improper lane, passing on the right, reckless driving, speeding (and bicyclists can and do get speeding tickets), and all other kinds of traffic violations go on your record as a moving violation, just as if you were driving a car.

    The thing is that traffic enforcement is heavily weighted toward catching speeders. If you want to make cyclists obey traffic laws you are going to need more motorcycle and bicycle cops out there enforcing them. Since some bicyclists do not have drivers’ licenses or carry any other form of ID, police could be forced to take traffic violators to jail until they can be properly identified. But that is no different than if someone decides to drive without a license.

    Now, if bicyclists had to have a valid riding license or a driver’s license with a bicycling endorsement, that might help solve the last problem. But the cost of administering such a program would be prohibitive — and we have learned from long, sad experience that not having a license does not keep people from operating motor vehicles.

  2. We should be encouraging people to get out of their cars, not making it harder!

    The MVET and gas tax should be increased to pay for bike lanes and sidewalks, thus discouraging car drivers.

    There will never be support for licensing bikes.

  3. You should need to license your shoes to walk on the sidewalk also. Anyone found without an ID should go to jail. Oh, no, wait, I thought we were living in a fascist regime. Never mind.

  4. If 5,000 pound motorized vehicles drove on the sidewalks, then yes, shoes and their person should either have a license to walk with the big boys and/or a walking license to prove they’ve been trained to the rules of the sidewalk.

    The fact is I see bike riders riding at night without headlights and wearing dark clothing. During the daytime I’ve seen them foolishly hold up ten or more cars as they boldly dared anyone to pass them.
    Bike riders needn’t show any training to be out on the roadways with licensed vehicles.

    If a car driver tried driving without lights at night they would be pulled over and given a ticket… why is it okay for the bike rider?

    That said, Victoria, B.C. has a great example of bike/walk/horse paths through-out the town…wonderful pattern for what we should be doing to encourage bike riding, walking and more physical activity.

    The bike paths should be separate OFF the motorized roadways and all of us should pay for them. The payback is with more people walking and biking and socializing it should lead to more exercised, fit and healthy people and fewer future medical costs. (I’m typing this from my hospital room and living proof if we don’t use it, we lose it) and ignoring edema can lead to some really nasty medical challenges.
    For proof positive, ask to see the photos Dr. Davis has compiled at the Wound Care Center, Harrison Bremerton.

    For recumbent trike riders out in traffic, our nose is alongside vehicle exhaust pipes spewing toxic poisons into our lungs every breath we take.

    In my opinion, any vehicle riding on a roadway with motorized vehicles should be licensed and show proof of traffic training…yes, bicycles too.

    Sharon O’Hara

  5. “For proof positive, ask to see the photos Dr. Davis has compiled at the Wound Care Center, Harrison Bremerton.”

    To clarify…Dr. Davis has spent years gathering photos and I hope will one day have a program on edema, not a condition to take lightly…as I did.
    Ignoring edema and pitted edema can lead a patient to a reality they can’t begin to imagine …
    Sharon O’Hara

  6. As a cyclist, the idea that I would have to obtain a license in order to ride sounds pretty ridiculous to me. I am one of the aforementioned riders who will come to the front of the lane of cars at a stop light along the ride shoulder of the road, however I do also slow down to a speed of about 5-10 mph when doing so and will not obstruct a vehicle if it is indicating that it desires to turn right on the red. I do this so that I can make eye-contact with the driver to ensure that he or she sees me before the light turns green and I begin pedalling away. I have never had a driver become upset or show any hostility towards me when I do this. Most KC drivers have been nothing but courteous and respectful (and believe me, I have ridden on roads all across this country and in Japan as well). The idea of paying a tax for something that we should be encouraged to do is ludicrous; cycling not only is environmentally sound (and I am not a hippie or other “Go Green” fanatic), but has a myriad of health benefits.


  7. Sean…You have a good point but how do we separate the really good watchful cyclist from the ones I’ve described?

    I’ve twice gone on a three day cycling tour on my recumbent trike. Thanks to the volunteers leap frogging me out ahead of the hundreds of fellow two wheel tour riders who invariably caught up and passed me, I had plenty of time to observe the cyclists and passing car interaction hundreds of times and many different places.

    I’ve forgotten exactly how many riders carried bike flags, blinkers and other devices to warn the motorist…but not more than a handful of those several hundred riders carried the cyclist warning flag, maybe two.

    What I did observe is that the motorists gave my recumbent trike (tadpole) a wide passing space while seemingly barely skirting the two wheeled cyclists as they passed.

    I also moved over when I could so cars could pass and I ride on the shoulder when I can. A three wheeler can ride places that two wheelers can’t and gravel on pavement can knock out a two wheeler if their wheels hit just right.

    A time or two I even pulled over and stopped to let cars pass. I don’t mind…I want to encourage drivers to feel that three wheelers are a courteous group and not daring them to hit us.

    Yes, some two-wheelers make life tough for the rest of us through their inconsiderate actions.

    No one questions that cycling is environmentally sound and is a great health equalizer.

    Sharon O’Hara

  8. Travis, you remember correctly. Bremerton used to require bike license a long time ago. Got mine from Art Morken.

  9. When I went to Manette Elementary you had to have a bicycle license in order to ride to school. (Bikes were banned during ’59-60 because of the construction of the new wing replacing the original Manette school) Licenses were issued at city hall and If I remember correctly cost 25 cents. You got a metal license tag and a metal security band to strap it to your bike. The preferred location was facing rear under the seat and above the rear fender.

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