My last post posited several rules that I think would help level the playing field for bicycling. In researching that post, I came across a few other ideas that either don’t fit neatly into the “Rules” rubric, or I’m torn about whether to propose as rules. Here they are:
Licensing and registration
If motorists have to be of a minimum age and acquire a driver’s license before legally taking the wheel, then bicyclists (as the operators of a ‘vehicle’) should also be required to get a license before riding their bike, right? Legally, that would appear to be the case. Notwithstanding that some states have already adopted such a law (under dubious pretenses, IMO), a person on a bike is a whole different ball game from a person in a car. There are plenty of arguments for and against licensing and registration, and I’m just not sure where I come down on this one quite yet. On the one hand, registration could have a degree of positive financial impact by appropriating registration fees to build or maintain infrastructure. Bikes don’t wear as heavy as vehicles, but creating facilities does cost, so it makes sense that bikers pay a proportionate share. But licensing seven year olds who cruise the ‘hood? Doesn’t make sense.
Statewide uniformity means that only state government can regulate biking, so bike laws are the same no matter where you are in the state. States without uniformity laws allow sub units of government—counties and municipalities, for instance—to provide an additional layer of regulation over what the state requires. I see this issue as being less about whether uniformity is the right approach and more about just getting in the right rules in the first place. If you’ve got uniformity and bad laws, then it’s bad across the state. If you don’t have uniformity and have good laws, well then, good.
There are a few companies now offering insurance for bicyclists. Providing some level of medical and financial protection to cyclists through insurance seems a good idea, chiefly because insurance minimums for motorists are less than what would be needed to cover the medical costs of a moderate injury (and because as many as one in seven motorists go uninsured – even though auto insurance is required in 49 states. Way to go New Hampshire.) I’m not convinced with the notion that cyclists should be required to carry insurance however. For one, I think the cost alone could be a barrier to getting more people into biking in the first place. Also, most insurance policies will cover, to a degree, a bikers self-inflicted injury (like breaking an arm).
The best rules are only as good as they can be enforced. So my rules are predicated on these things actually being enforced. Law enforcement officials should be better trained in bike laws and able to enforce them properly and equitably. There are resources available (which should be regularly updated) that provide training to officials.
Bicycling rules of the road should be taught at the same time as drivers education for motorists. Yes, it’s true that up and coming motorists are taught to share the road, but recalling my own experience in drivers ed it occurs to me that there should have been more emphasis in this arena. This could be accomplished by incorporating a bicycling module into the curriculum. One where the student spends a day or so on a bike, learning to navigate in and with motorists while applying what they learned in class. Not only does this help the student learn the rules by practice, it also gives her an appreciation of the cyclist’s experience.
Let’s be honest, the only way to really get at the issue here—that of making bicycling safer and ubiquitous—is to build up the nation’s bicycle infrastructure. Just as we’ve invested billions of dollars in infrastructure for cars over dozens of years, so must we now invest in facilities for our bicyclists. Golden, Colorado has done it—is doing it—to great effect. Innovations like the protected intersection and tried-and-true methods like complete streets all show that accommodating bicyclists is anything but impossible. Resources for additional reading:
- Bike laws by state: http://bikeleague.org/content/state-bike-laws-0
- Canonical report of bike laws in the U.S. with good recommendations: http://bicycledriving.org/law/guide-to-improving-laws
- Great interactive map for state-by-state comparison of bike laws: http://iamtraffic.org/advocacy-focus-areas/equality/u-s-bicycle-laws-by-state/