Stop Talking About Registering Bikes

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If you’re an avid bike commuter like me, you loath the often-heard statement we all know too well…

“If bicycles and cars share the road, then bikes should be insured and registered!”

If you still think bicycles need to be registered and insured like cars, remember the reason cars need to meet these criteria in the first place.  Cars, trucks and SUVs turn a single individual into a 2500-plus-pound machine capable of speeds up over 100 miles per hour. Their ability to cause severe damage to property and human life when abused or neglectfully piloted is immense.

A bike, on the other hand, adds 18-25 pounds to the average human, propelling them at speeds that usually range between 10-15 miles per hour.  Their ability to cause harm when miss-piloted is almost negligible when compared to the destructive potential of an automobile.  

Furthermore, hundreds of billions of tax dollars are spent to build and maintain our roadway, bridge and highway systems in our country.  This is done because cars are heavy, fast and large in size. Bikes, however, take up a fraction of the space on the road, and weigh 100 times less than the average car.  The impact of bikes on our infrastructure is almost nonexistent.

Cars also generate a tremendous amount of pollution and waste.  Bikes, on the other hand, have been deemed the most efficient form of transportation ever created.  They are zero emissions vehicles, and their cradle-to-grave waste impact is incredibly small.  

Cars are can cause property destruction and massive amounts of injury and death in seconds.  The infrastructure required to facilitate their daily use is incredibly costly to the American taxpayer.  And finally, their environmental impact is unsustainable. Cars need to be registered and insured because they have a tremendous impact on human life, property, infrastructure and our planet.  

In contrast, bikes, pose little-to-no threat to other human lives, personal property, infrastructure or the environment.  Because their impact is so minimal, registering and insuring their use is unnecessary.

Want a clearer comparison?  In this country, we register guns because of their potential to cause tremendous harm if misused.  We do not, however, require Americans to register a slingshot. While they both fire projectiles and have the potential to be misused, the impact of a misused gun is far greater than that of a misused slingshot, which is why we register guns and not slingshots.

I get it, it’s easy to simply see bicycles like we see cars in the eyes of the law, as they often share the same roadway.  At a glance, it might make sense that if two types of vehicles appear on the same strip of pavement, they should both adhere to the same rules, including registration and insurance.  But the occupation of the same space does not make these two modes of transportation “equal.” We have a rigorous legal framework that was built exclusively for cars and their potential negative impact.  We have a costly national infrastructure to accommodate the automobile’s massive size and speed. Neither of these things would be necessary at anywhere near their current scale if we prioritized bikes, walking and public transit (all of which are far more cost effective and sustainable forms of mobility).  In other words, cars have been so over-prioritized for so long, it’s hard to even imagine that strict laws, big bridges, traffic lights, wide roads and raised highways and… dare I say it… massive parking lots… would simply not exist, or at least, would not exist at anywhere near the scale that we see today.  In sum, the rules, laws, expectations (like registration and insurance) and infrastructure we have on our roadways today exist because cars are, quite simply, huge, fast, and potentially extremely dangerous. Bikes, also quite simply, are not.

While bikes can be dangerous for riders, they have an extremely minuscule ability to cause extreme harm to others or to personal property. And when harm is incurred by riders, it is usually due to the presence and over-prioritization of automobiles who fail to share the road. 

So let’s end this conversation and move on to making our roads safer and more accessible for bikes and cars… and all modes of transit. Only then will we truly address the issue of safe and convenient active transportation in this country.