Number plates for pupils, pets and pigeons

pupils pets pigeons

A school in south London this week defended its decision to force pupils who wish to cycle to school to display number plates. Even though the school’s policy is impracticable, undesirable and arguably an over-stepping of its responsibilities, the media ignored the exploration of these arguments preferring instead the usual hand wringing about supposed bad behaviour by cyclists. Perhaps it’s because we trail so miserably behind other European nations in our provision for cyclists that we prefer to perpetuate fallacies about cycling rather than confront the primary cause of road danger.

Curiously, proponents of number plates for bicycles are not quite as enthusiastic about extending the idea to serial numbers for pedestrians, pets and perhaps even pigeons. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

According to the excellent

This fallacy proposes that some type of registration should be required before people are permitted to cycle, and that this would make cycling safer by making people take responsiblity for their actions and respect the rules of the road.

Though this has been proposed many times, no-one has managed to make registration of cyclists or their cycles a workable proposition. Aside from any concerns about how to register children, whether the registration is for the vehicle or the person, or what rules one would have to follow in order to acquire such a licence, we know that registration schemes have no real value.

If it were true that being registered made people safer, then it would be possible to link the levels of driver or vehicle registration to the safety of the roads. But as almost every car crash involves registered drivers in licenced vehicles, it is clear that registration does not appear to offer any meaningful disincentive to those who drive – or cycle – badly.

Furthermore, as cycling is a mode of transport which is widely acknowledged should be encouraged – as it is safe, efficient and doesn’t pollute – adding bureaucratic hurdles would only serve to discourage usage.

According to TfL, which monitors the 10 million journeys made in London using Boris Bikes not a single person has used the registration number printed on each bike to report any instance of supposed bad behaviour.

ETA cycle insurance


  1. Vincent Edwards


    Registering all bicycles would be an enormous undertaking and probably would discourage many from cycling.
    But this school seems to be seeking to operate a limited system which would apply only to its own pupils who wish to bring their bicycles through the school gates. Presumably they want to be able to identify pupils who are reported to have failed to comply with the rules of the road when on the way to school. Whether that’s a way of improving the behaviour and safety of pupils or a waste of scarce resources is something only the school can explain.
    I would welcome an extension of this idea to a companies which deliver take-aways by bicycle. Too many employees run through red traffic lights, ride at speed across pavements and hurtle the wrong way down one-way streets, endangering all road users. Motorists of a certain mindset see such behaviour and proceed to tar all cyclists with the same brush, to the detriment of responsible cyclists. Quite simply, they give cyclists a bad name which most of us do not deserve.
    Perhaps such delivery companies would like to introduce such a scheme voluntarily. Those caught offending (probably on dashcam or ‘phone evidence) could be warned the first time and sacked the second. It’s a limited and realistic scheme which would make us all safer. But of course deliveries would take longer and profits/earnings would fall. I suspect it won’t happen.

  2. Matt


    Vincent’s point is a good one. As a teacher who commutes regularly and has cycled nearly four thousand miles this year, there are very good reasons to track students in catchment bringing schools into disrepute by dangerous cycling. The flip side is also true, that it gives the school kudos if they conduct themselves properly. I also concur with him, that the minority of cyclists get the majority a bad name, as is also the case with bad drivers. We mustn’t assume that just getting on a bike gives us infallibility. Idiots who think they rule the road in a car are just as bad as cyclists who ride selfishly and dangerously.

    • Yannick Read


      Research by the Department for Transport reveals that the majority of drivers routinely break the speed limit (even though they display the type of registration plates you claim will help to identify supposedly dangerous cyclists) and schools frequently lament the amount of illegal and dangerous pavement parking and rat running outside their gates. Furthermore, to say that “Idiots who think they rule the road in a car are just as bad as cyclists who ride selfishly and dangerously” is simply not borne out by facts; five people every single day are killed by motorists and countless more are maimed and injured. Given that the number caused by cyclists is statistically insignificant, it would be useful if you were to define what you mean by ‘dangerous cycling’

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