Why aren’t cyclists required to sit tests before using the public highway?

It’s good to know that this site is getting its message across to those who believe in the existence of long-dead ‘road tax’. Cyclists tend to know that roads are paid for by general and local taxation; sadly, some motorists believe their graduated vehicle excise duty coughs up for provision and maintenance of the carriageway. Earlier today I got an email from a motorist who clearly stumbled upon the site via Google. He left with some facts (his email subject was “I have learned something”) but asked why cyclists don’t have to sit tests, as motorists do. I replied to his question with two emails (I’d missed out a pertinent fact in the first) and the correspondence is below.

I am a car driver and motorcycle rider. For both I pay vehicle tax. I have just come to renew my tax and came across your site.

I must admit that when I am commuting on my motorcycle, I am one of those people who mutter under my breath “pay some bloody road tax” to those cyclist that get in my way. Thanks to your site I now know better. I like to be educated about things (especially my prejudices) and would like to thank you for putting me straight on this.

May I make one suggestion though. Before I was allowed on the road, on a motorcycle, I had to spend a morning learning road proficiency followed by an afternoon of tutored on road riding. This was in addition to having to pass a theory exam. I realise that the administration of such a routine would be prohibitively expensive to administer and enforce for bicycle riders, but feel that a few incompetent cyclists are giving the rest of you a bad name.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Yours (a little wiser),


Dear Roger

Thanks for letting me know that.

The law has tended to be quite clear on the testing issue: testing is proportional to power output. Adding a motor creates faster, more powerful vehicles so operators of motor vehicles are subjected to a form of test before being allowed to propel their machines on the public highway. It’s important to stress there’s no requirement for a motor vehicle operator to have formal lessons before starting to use the road under power, merely that they must sit an exam.

Road users propelled by engines often have a great deal of power at their disposal so, potentially, pose a risk of harming others. The compulsory examination of a motor vehicle operator happens just once and, as is plain for all to see, does not lead to automatic compliance with road laws. For instance, the majority of motorists admit to breaking speed limits and some do so habitually, at great risk to others.

Regrettably, cyclists also break road laws and, yes, such law breaking is often deemed to be behaviour common to all cyclists.

Given that cyclists do not have engines (apart from those who operate electric bikes, but that opens up a whole new can of worms) the law has not seen fit to require testing before cyclists start using the public highway, even though they operate what the law has considered a carriage since 1888. This carriage, ridden carefully by an unprotected operator who risks injury to their self, is deemed to be capable of causing little harm to others. In this respect cyclists are like pedestrians. Test cyclists who use the roads, and you’d have to test pedestrians who use the roads.

However, despite there being no legal requirement for cyclists to sit tests, a great many cyclists are given road training. Many children get Bikeability training at school and there are many cycle trainers around the UK who offer Bikeability training for adults.

It’s also worth pointing out that nearly ninety percent of cyclists own cars and so have passed the driving test.




Road tax doesn’t exist. It’s car tax, a tax on cars and other vehicles, not a tax on roads or a fee to use them. Motorists do not pay directly for the roads. Roads are paid for via general and local taxation. In 1926, Winston Churchill started the process to abolish road tax. It was finally culled in 1937.

The ironically-named iPayRoadTax.com helps spread this message on cycle jerseys. Car tax is based on amount of CO2 emitted so, if a fee had to be paid, cyclists – who are sometimes branded as ‘tax dodgers’ – would pay the same as ‘tax-dodgers’ such as disabled drivers, police cars, the Royal family, and band A motorists, ie £0. Most cyclists are also car-owners, too, so pay VED.

  • http://twitter.com/1dangerouself MarkDangerousElf

    Roger does create an interesting discussion point; since the law does not require skills testing below a certain ‘power output’, it appears that cyclists do not need to demonstrate such skills.  And, since BALANCE is the key skill in cycling, it seems self-evident.

    It does make one wonder, though, about a simple KNOWLEDGE test of traffic laws, applicable either at age 16 or 18 — perhaps as a corollary test for school graduation.  I can’t imagine this being a negative, since there cannot BE ‘too much practical knowledge’.  Sort of like a civics/citizenship/government studies class….

  • JD

    I don’t object to a test of knowledge by any means, but that is a surefire way of stopping children from cycling, to the detriment of their health among other things.

    Carlton’s last point in the correspondence is also pertinent, in that as surveys show almost 90% of cyclists are also car owners, it stands to reason that those cyclists have presumably passed the driving test and have therefore already taken a theory test including knowledge of road laws etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Protista-Amoeba/100000817399571 Protista Amoeba

    Well put Carlton.

  • 1

    What a load of bull. I have car and a motorcycle. I have to pay road tax for both. When I started riding I had a 50cc bike that would only just hit 30mph. I Had cyclists pass me going quicker. Yet I was the one who needed tax and insurance. The tax disc on the bike also stated it was a biceycle there for a biceycle should have to display one.also if a mobility scooter that isn’t aloud on the public road needs to provide a tax disc so should cyclists.

  • Dominic

    But it isn’t road tax. That’s the whole point of this site! VED doesn’t fund the roads. You can drive an Audi A1 diesel and not pay VED. Why would a cyclist pay VED, if a diesel car doesn’t? You’re a bit thick, aren’t you?

  • Damn-Deal-Done

    Pedestrians do not use the road like a cyclist does, if at all. Once a cyclist uses the road he is not just a danger to himself, but also to other road users who might have to swerve. Once a cyclist becomes part of road traffic there should be measures in place to ensure they know the rules and are safe. If a cyclist can cause a car to move or change speed then they need to be tested as competent riders and they need to understand the rules of the road. The theory text and a short cycling proficiency course should suffice to those who do not hold a driving license. It’s a no brainer to those who aren’t blinded by their own biases.

  • azra

    You cannot adequate pedestrians with cyclist for a number of reasons and I have to agree with you D-D_D. There is a definite biais in Carlton’s answer, and this is a real shame.
    For example: if you were to be breathalised on your bicycle with 0.5 alcohol in your blood, would you be considered as a drink driver and subject to a fine? What about if you are a pedestrian?
    Your description of the law might be correct, it does not make this particular law correct in all aspects

  • plasticm

    Pedestrians can fully legally use the roads to get about, since we have no jaywalking law in the UK. From Wikipedia, “In England, Wales and Scotland it is legal to cross (or indeed, walk along) all roads…”. In (usually rural) areas without pavements pedestrians have to walk in the road. The only reason people don’t usually walk in the road is that they have a better option. Ergo, the solution is not tests which would be horribly difficult and expensive to implement and enforce. The solution is to give cyclists a better option where needed – not the carriageway with lorries, cars and buses, and not the pavement.

    azra, cyclists are not subject to the same drink-driving rules as drivers (for similar reasons to the ones Carlton makes above). Cyclists don’t have to submit to breath tests. There is a charge of being “drunk in charge of a bicycle” but it’s the same act which states public drunkenness is illegal (even in a pub) so it’s rarely if ever enforced. What was your point?

  • plasticm

    We’re looking at this the wrong way round.

    By virtue of the arguments presented above it makes little sense for a person on a bike to require a test similar to a driving test.

    But the person on a bike is on the same potentially dangerous road as the driver – so why should they get to avoid the test?

    The logical flaw is that we have assumed it makes sense for the person on a bike (whether child or pensioner) to share the dangerous road with the motor traffic. The answer is that the cyclist should neither have to take the test nor share the busy road.

    This is what the Dutch learnt a long time ago, but we still haven’t worked it out.

  • Dominic Boyson

    I ride a motorcycle… (can’t drive a car). I think there should be
    some sort of cycling proficiency test, because a push bike is a two
    wheel vehicle and requires balance. Regardless of the 90% who can drive a
    car. (you sit in a car!)

    The cycling proficiency test should
    be more geared around the module 1 motorcycle test… Slow ride, swerve
    avoidance, emergency braking, controlled slalom ride, u-turn.

    And emphasising the importance of checking blind spots.

  • TeaKay

    Would testing work? As 90% of cyclists hols driving licenses you are talking about 10% of these probably some have done some form of cycling proficiency. Then you look at the number of drivers that regularly do things they would not during a driving test – mobile phone use, speeding etc. The tests obviously didn’t stop this. Ì would hazard a guess that the % of drivers and motor cyclists that break the law and the percentage of cyclists is the same. And it is probably the same % that drive inconsideratly as ride inconsideratly.