Cycling on the road is one of life’s great pleasures, with it, for the most part, being a harmonious experience with the other road users. However, look at any news story with a cyclist in it and you’ll no doubt see an unprecedented amount of hate directed towards anyone clad in lycra. If you ride on the road, you’ve surely heard people campaigning for one of two things: that cyclists need to be registered, and that they need to pay the same amount of tax that drivers pay. So let’s take a closer look at those questions: would registration really make any difference, and do cyclists really pay any less tax?
Ask anyone who has been inconvenienced by a cyclist and they’ll likely tell you that if there was a number plate, they could have reported them. This is often a justifiable reaction to an incident, but it probably isn’t the best solution. Possibly the most prominent argument against registration is that no other country in the world has such a system, and there is no evidence to suggest that it would make cycling or driving any safer, or reduce the number of cyclists who disobey the law.
In an analysis of 61 collisions in South Australia (1), a cycling heavy state, drivers were found to be at fault in 79% of the time. This is a small study, and more research needs to be conducted in the area, but it does provide an insight into the causes crashes. These results show that the cyclist was found to be in the wrong in only 1 out of 5 incidents, which suggests that registering cyclists primarily to make them accountable for being at fault may not be very useful in most instances.
Another issue with registration, is, to whom does it apply? With driving, it’s cut and dry: if you’re legally allowed to drive a car on the road, you need to be registered and licenced, but since there’s no age limit on riding bicycles, would this mean that the 12-year-old kid who rides their bike to school also needs to have their bike registered? And also need a licence? Understandably, that seems a little excessive.
Furthermore, cars are designed with number plates in mind, with a space being allocated on every car. This just isn’t the case with bikes. Bike models are extremely varied, and no great place for an identifying marking, especially one that can be seen and recorded on a moving vehicle.
The amount cyclists pay for road use has long been an issue of contention for some drivers, with a select few stating that cyclists don’t pay registration fees and therefore shouldn’t have the same rights to access the road. So who’s paying what, and should cyclists have to pay an additional tax to use the roads?
Legally, and with the exception of a few situations, cyclists have the exact same rights as any other motor vehicle, regardless of whether or not they contribute an equitable amount of tax revenue. Let’s put that to one side for the moment and just consider how much everyone is paying.
The funding of roads is extremely complicated, with revenue coming from a number of varying streams. It isn’t simply a case of paying rego’ fees and consequently covering the cost of our roads. These revenue streams include but are not limited to a portion of registration fees, income tax, the petroleum tax, GST, and the luxury car tax. Now, if you take that at face value, you’ll see a myriad of taxes associated with owning a car, and only a few that apply to cyclists. However, to then draw the conclusion that cyclists pay far less tax and therefore need to be additionally charged would be premature. The major reason for this is, according to an American study (1), 90 percent of cyclists also own cars, meaning that, in reality, cyclists pay as much into the system as non-cyclists, perhaps minus whatever they save on fuel.
However, to only consider the costs of roads when arguing the rights of cyclists to access them is myopic. The allocation of money with the government is fluid, with the required funds being pulled from other projects or just added to the national debt. Some chronic diseases such as a cardiovascular disease (3) and dementia have been found to occur at lower rates amongst cyclists. The healthcare system contributes billions of dollars to the research and care surrounding these devastating health issues every year, so by improving their own health and lowering their chances of chronic disease, cyclists could even be helping to promote a healthier lifestyle and lessen the growing need for additional health care in future generations – needless to say, that would be an excellent outcome for reasons other than just financial.
As drivers, we all know that cyclists can sometimes slow us down when it isn’t safe to pass, which might seem frustrating at times, but as cyclists as well, we ask that you remember that we’re all just trying to get somewhere safely, and, much like drivers, the majority of us are trying to always do the right thing and stay safe while sharing the road. Don’t let one cyclist breaking the law ruin your opinion of the rest of us. Let’s learn to share the road more positively and all get home safely.
Note: Please feel free to contribute to the discussion in the comments below, but please keep it friendly – we’re promoting discussion about safely and positively sharing the road, so whether you’re a cyclist, a driver, both, or neither, negativity, blame and angry comments are not welcome.
(1) N.A (2009). Bicycling Perceptions and Experiences in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Inavero Institute for Service Research.
(2) BIS Shrapnel, Road Maintenance in Australia 2011 – 2026, 2011 and Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Road Maintenance: Options for Reform, 2011; Commonwealth Grants Commission, 2011; BITRE, 2011; Australian Local Governments Association, Study of local roads funding in Australia 1999-00 to 2019-20, 2010
(3) Andersen, L. B., Schnohr, P., Schroll, M., & Hein, H. O. (2000). All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports, and cycling to work. Archives of internal medicine, 160(11), 1621-1628