For most cyclists it’s almost a cliche nowadays, but it’s true. Every time a news story about the ongoing conflict between car drivers and cyclists hits the airwaves, the first thing you’ll hear car drivers say is cyclists are freeloaders. They should be registered, they say. And they should have to pay too. The comments section rages and rages and the debate never seems to end.
But why? Why are car drivers so hung up on the fact cyclists don’t have to pay registration?
Well, it turns out there’s a fair bit of psychological study on this subject. And the shortest answer suggests it’s all about adhering to a moral code and not gaming the system. It seems the human species requires co-operation and honesty for every society to work at an optimum. Built into the human psyche is a deep seated resentment for any one, or any group, who appears to be cheating.
But why vehicle registration? What is it about cyclists not paying vehicle registration which causes car drivers so much angst? In order to answer that question it helps to first understand the primary role of vehicle registration, and then it’s secondary role.
In it’s primary role, vehicle registration means identification, and that is the main reason vehicle registration exists. Identification allows law enforcement to catch the bad guys. With motor vehicles identification comes in the form of easily readable number plates.
Unfortunately, the secondary purpose for vehicle registration acts as a form of revenue collection. And that explains why most people conflate the costs of vehicle registration with a sort of pre paid toll charge which allows drivers to use the road. It also explains why cyclists are perceived as cheats.
Bad behaviour happens when people think there are no consequences.
Driving is a very ordered affair, and it has to be. Otherwise we’d have chaos and a stratospherically high road toll. Every day hundreds of millions of people around the globe negotiate their cars in peak hour traffic and it happens because people obey rules. But it’s not only rules, there’s a moral code too.
Ever been in a long line of cars patiently waiting your turn to merge with all the other cars, and then there’s that one asshole who goes flying up the outside and overtakes 20 cars and then barges their way into the front of queue? Do you remember how that made you feel?
Nobody likes queue jumpers, nobody likes someone who thinks it’s OK to cheat. The person who drives that way is seen as cheating the moral code. It happens in other forms of life too, like deliberately dodging your taxes while still enjoying all the benefits of society without contributing.
Respecting the moral code when we drive means sticking to your lane, not chopping people off, giving loads of advance indication, being polite; letting someone in, being let in, taking turns when two lanes merge into one. Such behaviour is part of an unstated expectation we’ll all benefit if we use the road system in a spirit of co-operation for the greater good.
And then along come cyclists. At your next set of lights you’ll watch the smart ass on a bike who doesn’t give a f**k and rides straight through a red, and then when the light goes green, they move at a speed which slows up everyone else. And then they fly up on to the footpath and hassle pedestrians and then they fly out on to the road into your path again.
Don’t even start on middle aged bunches of social cyclists who ride in large messy groups. That makes most people pull their hair out with exasperation. These types of road users are seen as free loaders who refuse to follow the same rules that the rest of US have agreed to abide by.
From a car driver's perspective, cyclists trigger every possible hot button. Not contributing financially, not adhering to the moral code, not respecting the rules. There are so many triggers and cyclists seemingly don't care at all.
Perhaps the most galling aspect is this…. cyclists are now taking their videos which they are filming on their bikes to the police. In those videos are incidents showing car drivers acting badly. And fines are now being written based on the number plates of the cars in those videos. In effect, cyclists have become the new evidence gatherers of the traffic infringement system.
Tell this situation to a car driver who sees cyclists behaving badly on a daily basis and red hot steam will come out of their ears. Nobody saw this coming when the Safe Passing Laws were introduced. We now have a new class of traffic infringement which sees fines being written, not on the danger presented to a cyclist but rather, if a car driver came within a mandated distance.
Quite correctly, car drivers see a massive inequity to the moral code when you tell them about this. If they do something wrong, they’re identifiable. Fair enough, the solution then is to NOT do something wrong. But where is the quid pro quo when it comes to cyclists? Why should cyclists be allowed to film motorists and have fines get written without having to wear number plates themselves?
At Single File Please cyclist registration is the second most talked about issue we ever encounter. It's impossible to overstate how many drivers want cyclists to be identifiable.
After discussing the issue with our readers for a number of years, most people agree lightweight plastic helmet ID tags are possibly (not definitely) the best and cheapest solution. In some countries helmets are compulsory so that would be a very easy solution to implement. A helmet mounted ID tag would be up high, and therefore easily seen from behind. ID Tags mounted under a bike seat for example would be obscured by other riders when they’re riding in large groups.
In countries where helmets aren’t compulsory another form of ID tag might be required. However, the common theme in all our discussions revolves around the following simple quote…. bad behaviour takes place when people think there are no consequences. If cyclists are identifiable, so the reasoning goes, they will be exposed to the same behaviour modification (in the form of deterrence) as car drivers.
In almost every country on the planet, forcing cyclists to be identifiable in the form of registration is what motorists passionately want. They want compulsory single file too, that’s still the number one issue. But the issue which is catching up real fast is the growing awareness car drivers can be filmed by cyclists and number plates will make drivers identifiable to the police but there’s no quid pro quo.
If it is true cycling is growing exponentially in the western world at the moment, it’s simply unacceptable for an entire class of road users to remain untouchable and unidentifiable while also having the ability to film (and identify) everyone else.