By - Megan the The Cyclist Lawyer
TheCyclist-Lawyer Megan Hottman sits down with cycling advocate Mike Raber to discuss a growing movement to license cyclists
A concerning trend over the last year has been the increased call by frustrated residents for the mandatory licensing of bicycles and the requirement that cyclists display a license plate and/or pay a license fee to operate their bicycle on public roads. This will supposedly increase accountability of riders. While many cyclists obviously oppose such a move, it could find strong support from many community groups and HOAs, especially in areas where cyclists ride in overwhelming numbers, such as popular canyons and climbs. There is a sense among these communities that if they can identify cyclists, they can more easily report law violations to the authorities-- i.e., instead of calling the sheriff to report a cyclist “wearing a blue jersey on a black bike,” they can (in theory) report a license plate number from the rider's bike, and the rider can be pursued or greeted at their home with a citation.
[Megan] Michael, please introduce yourself and explain your riding background and your experience with bike advocacy issues.
[Michael] My first childhood memory at four years old was when I forgot how to work my coaster brake and crashed my bike into a car tire. The thrill of that experience turned me into an avid cyclist. I’ve got 63 years of cycling behind me now, including 42 years as a licensed racer with USA Cycling/ USAC & BRAC in Colorado. I currently race for GMS Velo in Colorado, and participate in bicycle advocacy activities with the Clear Creek Bikeway Users Group, Bike Jeffco, Cyclists Have Rights, and Bicycle Colorado. In Colorado I am affiliated with Team Evergreen Bicycle Club, and in England with the CTC Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC) -which does bicycle advocacy in the UK. My international cycling experience includes riding in 21 countries in Europe, Central America, South America, Asia, New Zealand, and Canada. I became involved in bicycle advocacy activities out of concern over the large number of cyclist deaths and injuries caused by motor vehicles, and the lack of multimodal transportation planning focused on bicycling.
[Megan] Michael, I know you've done a lot of research in this area of licensure, and that you've ridden your bike in several states and countries. You've seen some local municipalities try this approach. I consider you a bit of an expert on this topic -- In your opinion, what are the biggest reasons why licensing riders does not work in application?
[Michael] First, there would be a serious driving safety issue with motorists trying to record license numbers on bicyclists. A license small enough to be placed on a bicycle is going to be difficult, if not impossible, for a motorist in the process of driving to safely record and report. Imagine the consequences to cyclists caused by motorists trying to get close enough to record a license number.
We are well aware of the challenges motorists have in focusing on their driving. Motorists’ fatalities in the US are reported to exceed 40,000 deaths a year, and that doesn’t count the multiples of that number who are seriously injured. This does not speak well for the ability of motorists to avoid hitting people who are cycling, walking, or driving when the motorist tries to record a cyclist’s license plate number.
Second, is the issue of false reports, which will be called into law enforcement by motorists who don’t know the Colorado Revised Statues laws as they pertain to motor vehicles, let alone the laws as they apply to bicycle-vehicles. It will be a nightmare for law enforcement authorities.
Which law enforcement agencies are going to be tasked with reacting to this type of incident reporting, and at what cost to their significant law enforcement activities? How will we avoid nuisance reporting from motorists against a cyclist when no issue exists? You know it’s going to be a problem based on the amount of unreasonable motorist behavior we already experience both when we are in our motor vehicles and on our bicycles.
Third, compliance with licensing is a difficult, if not impossible, requirement to enforce, particularly in a state like Colorado where we have a large number of serious cyclists who absolutely oppose attaching a license of any kind to their high-end bicycles. The bigger challenge however comes from the reality that worldwide hardly any licensing of bicycles exists. How do you enforce a county or a state requirement for bicycle licensing when riders come here to cycle from other counties, states, and countries where licensing is not a requirement?
As far as requiring the cyclist to be individually licensed to ride a bike, most adult cyclists already have one –a driver’s license! Bicycles are regulated under the Motor Vehicle Code section of the Colorado Revised Statutes C.R.S.A. 42-4-1412 and C.R.S.A. 42-4-1113. A motor vehicle driver’s license provides the privilege to operate a vehicle on the road, and bicycles are vehicles under the Colorado Revised Statutes.
[Megan]Michael, based on some of the meetings you've attended in Jeffco over the last year, do you feel there is enough momentum behind this movement that it might actually happen?
[Michael] Yes, there is a serious momentum behind this effort. Some well-meaning people want to get more control over the small group of cyclists who flagrantly disregard courtesy and the traffic laws. Out of frustration they are requesting bicycle-licensing requirements from their County Commissioners and Legislative representatives. While this may be an activity that will not yield the results desired, there is a history in this county of passing feel-good legislation, which impose restrictions that lack substance.
[Megan]In your opinion, instead of licensing riders, what can be done to help motorists and homeowners feel cyclists are being held accountable for their actions?
[Michael] The best way to help motorists and homeowners hold cyclists accountable for their actions is to encourage them to use the existing reporting processes in place. Cyclists are vehicles with the same restrictions, traffic penalties, and fines as motor vehicles. Use the reporting methods for notifying the CSP, Sheriffs, and local municipal enforcement. The process is already in place and it works. Cyclists only travel about 15 mph on average; if law enforcement officers can catch motor vehicle violators doing 80 mph, don’t you think they can catch up to and talk with a violating cyclist or group when a credible report is provided in a timely manner? Cyclists are easy to identify even without a license plate hanging on their back or on their bike.
Homeowners and motorists have the options as well to talk with cyclists one-on-one in a civil manner when they feel inappropriate activity is going on. Provided it is done in a courteous manner, it is very effective. The cycling clubs and groups I am involved with are proactive in reaching out to the communities they cycle in, and act as liaisons to improve relationships and to help develop Exemplary Riders.
[Megan]Does a license plate on a bike help the cyclist in any way -i.e. if their bike is stolen, does it lead to quicker recovery?
[Michael] Having actually had bicycle license plates on bikes decades ago in Denver and Indiana, this was a totally futile and money-wasting activity for both the cyclist and the community. Bicycle licensing has not been a financially viable or profitable system, and was abandoned in those communities where I was required to have them. Having license plates on my bikes that were stolen never resulted in the recovery of any of them, let alone led to a quicker recovery. In my experience, having a license plate on a bike does not help the cyclist in any way.
[Megan]Do proponents of license plates recommend one plate per rider, or one plate per bike?
[Michael] I have heard the call for both license plates per rider, as well as per bike. There is no consensus on this as yet.
[Megan]What is your greatest concern about this movement? And what can we as cyclists do, to try and stop or slow this progression towards licensure?
[Michael] My greatest concern about this movement is the harm to cyclists that will occur as motorists try to record license plates. Cyclists already cope with threatening situations every time we get on a bike, and that’s why 60% of our US population would like to cycle on the roads but don’t due to safety concerns. My second greatest concern is the number of false reports that will be called into law enforcement distracting them from significant law enforcement activities.
We as cyclists in Jeffco and throughout Colorado can effectively stop or slow this progression towards licensure by promoting exemplary riding. Educate other cyclists and let them know when they do something that’s going to cause problems. (Let’s face it, it’s always the small minority of riders behaving badly that give us all a bad name. Like those who refuse to stand off the road because they don’t want to get their cleats dirty …or those who urinate in someone’s yard at the top of a climb in plain view). As much as motorists are ignorant of the laws as they apply to cyclists, many cyclists are equally as ignorant of the bicycle laws. We all have a responsibility to know what is required of cyclists under Colorado law, and to follow it. Bicycle Colorado, BikeDenver (and your firm, Megan –Hottman Law Office) are some of the organizations already engaged in safe & legal bicyclist training activities. Much more discussion & training on this topic is needed at the bicycle club and bicycle team level.