Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Oregon Bicycle License

A guy in Portland is proposing a ballot measure to require licenses for all cyclists in Oregon. The proposal (which has not been finalized) is said to include licensing for both riders and bicycles. It is interesting that this started after a street was closed due to the number of car/bicycle collisions. I didn't see anything to indicate the collisions were caused by cyclists breaking the law. Because cars keep running into bikes, cyclists need to be licensed?

I am dubious that this would actually do anything to increase safety. I don't think the reason that cyclists break the law is that they don't know them. They do it for the same reasons that drivers do. Because it is faster and makes their life easier. Licensing someone doesn't change that equation. Sure, stricter enforcement measures might reduce the behavior in some instances. I doubt it would be to the benefit of the drivers. The truth is that both sides break the law. If the enforcement were done evenly, I think cars would come out the worse for it.

The law also makes the assumption that it is the cyclists breaking the law that causes the majority of accidents. I realize that cyclists breaking the law do cause accidents. I just don't think that accounts for most bike/car collisions. The times that I have been hit, or come close aren't times I have been doing something illegal. Mostly it is drivers not being aware of bikes when they are making turns. Knowing that it is illegal for someone to crash into me, isn't going to help them see me any better.

It seems like the real effect of this measure will be to discourage people from cycling. Not only would you need a license, which most people I know have, but you bike would need a license plate. Each bike. It isn't just about the cost either. There is the paperwork to fill out and the lines to wait in. We don't need more incentive for people not to ride.

Maybe that is the real intent of the law. It would make driving easier if there were less cyclists. My guess is that is the reason it has seen so much support.

I am not sure the backers are even conscious that this is the intent. I would say they believe they are making the world safer and better. The thinking is if cyclists can't be bothered to follow the rules and get licensed they shouldn't be doing it. That will keep drivers safe from having to deal with them. 

At its core this is a classic debate about the "other". It is natural to think that problems are caused by someone else. I understand why drivers feel this way. Bikes are hard to see. They go faster than you expect. They come out of tight spaces a car can't get through. No doubt, bikes make driving more difficult. That problem isn't going to get any better. The number of people commuting by bike doesn't look like it is going to go down anytime soon. To my mind, drivers have a choice. They can learn to drive with bikes around, or stop driving.