Opinion: Do bicycles need to become registered?

A number of Vancouver area patients had their long-awaited surgeries postponed earlier this month.

Their surgeon was hit by a cyclist as he crossed the road and was unable to work. He suffered three broken ribs, a black eye and other scrapes and bruises.

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Fortunately, he is now back at work and will not likely experience any lasting physical effects from the accident. But as a small group gathered around him at a recent dinner party where he displayed his wounds, the question came up as to what would have happened had he not been able to return to work?

Had he been hit by a motorist, ICBC would have likely compensated him for his injuries and loss of income. However, since he was hit by an uninsured cyclist, although he could sue, he would likely be out of luck.

This prompted a question that is frequently voiced in cities around the world: “Should bicycles be registered?”  

I promised to do some research on the pros and cons of registration. However, having once proposed the idea myself to former city councillor Gordon Price following a personal incident involving a cyclist, I knew the cons would likely outweigh the pros.

In my case, I was driving at the time and not injured. What made the accident remarkable was that I did not hit a cyclist; a cyclist hit me as I was waiting for someone to vacate a parking space.

As the cyclist lay motionless on the pavement, I feared he was seriously injured. I also feared that no one would ever believe that a well-dressed middle-aged real estate developer driving a large Lexus SUV was somehow not responsible for his injuries.

Fortunately a witness came forward and told the police he saw the whole thing. The cyclist was a courier and apparently had been “bunny-hopping” down the sidewalk before hitting my car.

Fortunately he recovered. However, I had to pay to repair the damage he did to my car.

As a child growing up in Toronto, I had a licence plate on my bicycle because it was a legal requirement from 1935 to 1957. However, the law was discontinued because, according to Toronto authorities, “it often resulted in an unconscious contravention by young children and poor public relations with police officers.”

Toronto considered bringing back bicycle registration in 1984, 1992 and 1996 to address bike theft, riding on sidewalks and traffic law compliance, and couriers.

However, each time registration was rejected since the costs were estimated to be far greater than the revenues.

Other countries around the world have either implemented bicycle registration programs or considered doing so.

Until recently, it was compulsory to register a bicycle in Switzerland as a way of getting cyclists to purchase third party liability insurance. However, earlier this decade, the Swiss parliament abolished the licences since the costs far outstripped the revenues.

Japan is one country that does require all new and resale bicycles to be registered with the local government. This is done as an anti-theft measure. New bicycles are registered at the time of purchase.

Resale bicycles are registered at a neighbourhood police station with appropriate documentation to prove they have not been stolen.

In Vancouver, arguments in favour of bicycle registration are: it will help ensure cyclists pay their fair share towards road improvements; licensing and registration programs will make cyclists more lawful; bicycle registration will reduce theft; and as the surgeon pointed out, increase the likelihood that third-party insurance is in place.

Arguments against a registration program are: rather than raise money, it would cost money; it would discourage people from cycling at a time when we want to do the opposite; and it would be difficult to enforce.

For these reasons, I do not expect bicycle registration in Vancouver’s immediate future. However, we do need to do a better job of preventing bike theft and discouraging reckless and unlawful behaviour by cyclists.

After all, none of us wants to have our surgery cancelled because our doctor has been hit by a cyclist and is lying in a nearby hospital bed.


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