Sharing the road

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?

Mandatory Registration

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 medicine160(11), 1621-1628


Categories: Discussions

12 replies »

  1. The law should be ‘mandatory lights’. Being SEEN early and easily is the key. Angry motorists are usually angry because they nearly hit a cyclist. Lycra shorts are usually black, and they all strive for the flat back so any colours up top do nothing for visibility (see the story image above). Germany has mandatory lights (and no helmet law) and has far less problems like this. I love everything bikes, except the dark-lycra-wearing light-less road riders, they’ve created this motorist hatred for all of us.


  2. I find that when a motorists gets upset that I have cycled through a red light (even if it is a pedestrian crossing light) asking them do they never jay walk or if there were pedestrians crossing with you why are they not abusing them tends to leave them speechless, or you get the reply “that’s different”! But I am sure it leaves them realizing that they have just shown themselves up as being bigoted.

    I strongly agree with Stuart’s comment above that cyclist should be wearing more visible gear and have lights, it is required in the transport, construction and mining industries as it has proven to improve safety. It is not just when dark as when driving on a bright sunny day I have had occasion not to see a cyclist in black in the shade of trees along the road side until uncomfortably late.

    Unfortunately the statistics do not separate out the young teenagers, not wearing helmets, no lights and showing off that have come to grief through not obeying travel or being ignorant of traffic law. I expect they make up most of the 20% cyclist at fault.


  3. The Brisbane inner-city commute has got a lot more cycle-friendly in the last few years, although renegade Uber drivers with limited respect for road rules in general are the ones to watch now – pull u-turns whenever without looking for us or drop passengers in bikes lanes increasing likelihood of getting doored. there’s more commuters on ebikes and e-skaters and we’re all getting along. I’ll say however that there’s increasingly more lycra clad chaps on hi end bikes ripping it up at a blistering pace on shared pathways with a lot of aggro and little respect for walkers/runners. that can’t be good for relations


  4. For 23 years I have ridden 12km to and from work every day without incidence or abuse. Like Stuart says above, being visible is the answer to this cyclist /motorist war. I wear a flouro vest and have good front and rear lights.
    I admit I have been the angry motorist on more than a few occasions… precisely because I nearly hit them! It’s a fleeting moment of hatred for someone that nearly ruined MY life because I killed them.
    Make lights compulsory. That’s so easy.
    Make flouro compulsory. That’s a bit harder but still easy.
    But even without the laws, any cyclist that gets hit/killed without these things only has themselves to blame. Being seen is your responsibility!
    Forget what the law says, the Australian government is so so behind, again as Stuart said above, most European countries have no helmet laws but compulsory lights and everyone is happy.
    Be seen!


  5. Lights are compulsory on bicycles already, so what’s the issue?

    I’m always suspicious of the argument, “if cyclists just did [this one thing], I’d be fine with them”. It both presents cyclists as some homogenous out-group, and assumes that they have yet to earn a right to use the roads. Sorry, that’s not what Australian law says. Bicycles are road-legal vehicles and cyclists are already subject to traffic law the same as any other road user.


    • Annette, maybe you’re in another country?? No Australian state or territory has compulsory bike lights, unless you’re riding at night.
      That’s the issue.


      • The evidence of the benefit of light on in daylight can no better be seen that that of motorcyclist who in the majority ride with their lights on during the day. I also note that the most recent models of medium range and above cars have daytime headlights on all the time. Volvo recognized the safety benefit over 40 years age and slow each car manufacturer and government is catching up. If it is of benefit to cars to have lights on during the then surely there must be a benefit to cyclist also doing the same.


      • Exactly right Kelvin.
        High-visibility is proven to save lives and is now mandatory in so many jobs. Yet to ride a bike on the road with cars and trucks overtaking you just one meter away you’re legally allowed to blend in with the road (and crouch down as small as you can). The Australian government adopted the European electric bike laws, why not the rest?


  6. If it would make any difference to driver attitude (sadly it won’t) and it could be implemented in a discrete way (sticker on seat stay?) and it was free or near free then sure why not.

    Stuart I saw some research a while back it was pretty inconclusive if high viz made any benefit over running lights (I’m sure most would prefer to run lights over high-viz)

    Also wondering if Annette meant reflectors being mandatory rather than lights?


    • The truth is, hi-vis works better at day, lights work better at night.
      Hi-vis requires UV(sun) light to reflect. It won’t reflect from headlights or streetlights.
      Lights work better the darker the ambient light is. ie bad weather or nighttime.

      Any cyclist using neither has a death wish. And they’ll boldly claim it was the drivers fault for not seeing them.
      If you don’t wear a seatbelt, and you die in a car crash, society will lay the blame on you… “he should’ve had his belt on”. Simple.
      If you are driving over the speed limit and crash… it will be your fault… simple.
      If you ride your bicycle on the road without lights or hi-vis… getting hit will be your fault… simple.

      Darren, you say ‘most would prefer to run lights’… that’s great and a huge step forward, but 80% of them are not doing it. I’m really not concerned for them, I’m concerned for the poor driver that has to live with killing someone.

      Next time you get abused by a driver, ask yourself why. You might have nearly just died.


      • I was reading a while back – the reflective strip part of hi-viz only works when a light is shined on it – ie headlight at night when lights are more effective anyway. The Fluro part of the hi-viz I don’t think is light activated – it’s just very brightly coloured like a lot of cycling kit already is. Maybe cyclists just need to get more flamboyant with colour selection?


  7. Flouro colours do react with UV and reflect better in sunlight, than artificial light.

    Hi-Viz is a term that encompasses flouro, reflectors, lights…. and also movement.

    In Denmark (where everyone rides a bike) they want you to wear hi-viz socks or leg straps because your legs are constantly moving (whilst you pedal).
    Same reason they abolished the trials of new traffic lights that simply changed colour of the same single light. It didn’t move, so wasn’t as noticable.
    What ever happened to reflectors on pedals, every bike 20 years ago had them!


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