Cycle licences and number plates – a great way to improve safety for our kids?

Cycle licenses and number plates- a great way to improve safety for our kids?

I first wrote this article in 2019, and every so often it needs re-sharing, as a celebrity, politician or journalist decides it’s a good idea to tout the idea of having cycle number plates, or licences, for cyclists.

At that time I first wrote the article it was two “celebrities” – Lord Professor Robert Winston (you know, the one on the TV who’s a professor, medical doctor and scientist – the one who presented “Child Of Our Time”) and Julia Bradbury (yes – the one off the TV who is always going on about getting out in the fresh air) who had been giving interviews about cycle licensing schemes.

There’s been more since – most recently and perhaps worryingly – the transport Secretary Grant Shapps*.  There will no doubt be more.


You can read all about Lord Winston’s well-considered research into this topic, based on a statistically valid sample population of…. thousands himself here.

If you’d like to see Julia’s reasoned interview (based on the number of cyclists during rush hour at one London roundabout) you can watch this interview**.

I know from first hand experience that when I was cycling in Amsterdam with my Sprogs I was riding along this stretch of road thinking to myself “You know what, we should really start a cycle licensing system back in the UK – it’s clearly working here”.

9 year old boy ycling on the segergated paths Amsterdam

When I’m trying to work out a safe route to get my boys to where we want to go by bike, the thought that often comes to my mind is “You know, this would be so much easier and safer if we all had a licence and number plates.”

I’m sure you often think the same too when you’re out riding with your family.

Cycling safely alongside a lorry in Amsterdam, Holland


No! Obviously, transport corridors that have space for people who want to walk and cycle safely, as well as drive, would be ridiculous.

Dublin Cycle Paths

Instead, as I’m being close passed by a car on my way home I think to myself “Hey, if I had a licence to ride this bike all would be great! Drivers would treat me with much greater respect if I had a number plate attached to my bike.”

When I’m stuck behind long queues of parked cars, trying not to inhale the fumes, I think to myself “You know what would make the planet better?  A cycle licensing system!”.

When I make the call that it’s just too dangerous to cycle somewhere with my children, because there’s no well designed cycling infrastructure, but instead a narrow line painted on the road surface that suddenly comes to a halt at the busiest part of our journey, I often think longingly of a licensing system.

I did a little check with Cycle Sprog readers on Facebook (all parents who cycle with their kids), as to whether this was just what they were waiting for:

Using the same rigorous scientific methods of the advocates of cycle licences, I can report that Cycle Sprog readers (parents who cycle with their children) think it’s an amazing idea:

Tim even came up with a great way to enhance the scheme:

“Make it a graduated licensing program and it could improve safety. Anyone wishing to get a driver’s license must first have a cycling license for at least 1 year and have 200 miles of documented riding on roads cycling.”

Ben agreed, suggesting I think you could make it simpler and say that the only way to get to the driving test centre is by bike. If you haven’t ridden there, you can’t take your test.”

Melissa has given the entire licensing thing a good think, and even wants it extended to pedestrians – bring it on!!! Although she does go a bit AWOL with words like tolerance, vulnerable road users, so ignore that bit.

I agree there are some bad cyclists out there but even if you had to pass a test to have a licence they wouldn’t do it. There are plenty of drivers out there who don’t have a valid licence.
If we are going to make cycling tests and licences compulsory then surely we should do the same for pedestrians?
Better education of drivers and tolerance of all road users is needed. I would love to see changes in priority to more vulnerable road users like in many European cities. In Vienna the cars turning off the main road into the side streets have to give way to cyclists. And I believe it is the same in Amsterdam and Budapest amongst others. We really need to rethink our road and cycle network as well as pedestrian routes.”

Some of our followers, such as Alice, might need a bit more persuading. I’m sure when it’s implemented she’ll see the light, and change her stance from this:   “Once again deflecting the focus from where it needs to be. Cyclists mowing down pedestrians is not a widespread problem. Cyclists recklessly throwing themselves into the paths of sensibly-proceeding motor vehicles is not a widespread problem. I doubt that requiring people to have licences would solve those problems even if they existed: plenty of people crash their cars despite having full clean driving licenses. What is a problem is that our culture sees cars as paramount and cyclists as inconvenient. Further “othering” of cyclists is the last thing we need.”

I’m rather embarrassed to say that some of our other followers (all parents who cycle with kids) seem to think that investment in quality infrastructure might be the way forward (yawn!!). I’m sure they’ll come to their senses soon and I refuse to give air time to their ridiculous opinions.

So, thank you to Lord Winston and Julia Bradbury for your huge contributions to the debate on how to make the UK’s roads safer for our children to get to school, for how we can tackle the growing problems of air pollution, childhood obesity and mental health, spiralling NHS costs due to inactivity, and how we can transform our cities and towns into pleasant, safe and well designed places for all to live. Thank you so much!

* If you’d like to read the governments 2018 response to why cycle licensing is a bad idea, you can do it here (page 40). I’ve copied the relevant passage for you though, to save you the trouble.

Registration and licensing of cyclists - Government response

** Big call out to Susanna Reid who was the only person in the “interview” speaking up coherently for people who choose to ride bicycles.

It’s hard to get a voice against the might of media celebrities who can command huge amounts of air time with their ideas whilst our children are breathing in toxic fumes and being killed on our poorly designed roads. If you’d like to me continue writing these sorts of posts, please share it on your social channels.  You may also want to consider supporting my efforts. Thanks, Karen (a mum who cycles) 

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