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Bike licensing fixes traffic problems about as well as mercury cures syphilis

Human beings will come up with strange solutions for the problems they face.

The ancient Egyptians cured dental pain by placing dead mice in their mouths. The Romans cured constipation with a bull's gall suppositories. In the 18th century, doctors treated syphilis with mercury.

The newest example of this phenomenon appeared a little while ago in the form of a survey by Toronto-based consulting firm Campaign Research Inc. The company found that many people believe we can fix some of our traffic woes by forcing cyclists to get licences. Six out of ten questioned said they believe that the government "should test bicyclists for competency, requiring a licence and insurance similar to motorists." This was favoured most by people over 65.

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According to Campaign Research CEO Eli Yufest, "It appears that while Torontonians are enthusiastic about the city developing its network of bike lanes, they also strongly think cyclists should be subject to testing, licensing and insurance much like motorists."

Well break out the bull gall suppositories, because licensing cyclists has about as much chance of fixing traffic problems as bull's galls do of being a reliable and soothing laxative.

That's because majorities are often wrong. A majority of Torontonians believe this is the year the Maple Leafs finally win the Stanley Cup. That doesn't mean they're right. The reality is that solving traffic woes with bike licences is like curing syphilis with mercury. It's been tried. It failed and the side effects were worse than the cure. Cities such as Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Regina all got rid of their bike licence programs. Ottawa considered a licence program but found that it would cost around $100,000 per year and only bring in $40,000 in revenue.

The best strategy for getting cyclists to obey the rules of the road is to change those rules so they are compatible with how cycling works and to encourage better habits through education (as they have in countries such as the Netherlands). Are there idiots who cycle? Yes, many. They're an insufferable bike-short-wearing nuisance, but they're nothing compared with the menace of some motorists.

If we are serious about using licensing to help alleviate road issues, then we should be considering mandatory retesting for drivers. At present, you get your licence and that's it. As long as you don't break the law you're good to go until you're in your 80s. During those years we can develop a few bad habits. We do rolling stops and get lax with our mirror checks; even the best driver can get rusty. If you selected 100 drivers at random and had them take the driving exam again, a significant number would fail. Why not require drivers to retake their driver's exam every 10 to 15 years? It would lessen all the sloppy and dangerous driving we see on the roads.

There's as much chance of mandatory retesting happening as there is of substituting a dead mouse for a root canal. It would be a logistical nightmare, and there isn't the infrastructure in place to execute it. Voters would rebel. Retesting would be a political disaster for any provincial government that even suggested it. Canadians believe that driving is a divine right. It doesn't matter what you do or how often you do it, you deserve to drive.

I wonder if coating myself in honey and rolling naked in sesame seeds could cut 15 minutes off my commute?

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More

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