Lord Winston calls for cycle number plates after street assault

Prof Robert Winston, the Labour peer and fertility specialist, has called for cyclists to be required to have number plates after he claimed he was kicked and abused after challenging a woman not to ride on the pavement.

In a letter to the Times, Lord Winston, 78, said he encountered the cyclist on Wednesday riding on the pavement in Bloomsbury, central London.

After he pointed out that she was breaking the law, the woman became “abusive, grabbed my phone and attempted to damage it. She subsequently assaulted me by repeated kicking”.

He was helped by fellow pedestrians while the cyclist rode off. He identified her as being “clearly well-educated” and in her late 30s or early 40s, but said he had not reported the incident to police because it would be impossible to identify her.

Winston had asked a question in the House of Lords on 18 March to find out what assessment the government “have made of the case for requiring adults riding bicycles in city centres to have a licence and third-party insurance”.

He noted that “most cyclists are conscientious and law-abiding but an increasing number are extremely aggressive and ignore, for example, the fact that some streets are one way, pedestrian crossings and red lights at traffic lights, and from time to time they collide with pedestrians.”

The idea of licensing cyclists has been dismissed my many as impractical. Writing on the Guardian’s bike blog, Peter Walker dismissed the proposal saying “it’s an utterly silly, pointless thing to suggest, as evidenced by the fact that more or less no countries or territories anywhere in the world require cyclists to be licensed, or to have mandatory insurance.”

He added: “Would the licensing and insurance be just for adults, or also children? If the former, what about teenagers – would they suddenly have to carry ID on the ride to school to prove they are under 18? How would the system even be enforced – would it also require bikes to be registered with number plates?”

Roger Geffen, of Cycling UK, said: “We do not defend irresponsible cyclist behaviour, however we agree with the government that the costs of a cyclist licensing scheme would either deter people from gaining cycling’s health, environmental and other benefits, or else it would require huge public subsidies.

“It is also hard to see what it would achieve, given that driver licensing does not deter criminal behaviour by anti-social drivers. The real answer is to reverse the massive cuts to roads police numbers over the past decade. Traffic law enforcement is a highly effective road safety measure which has been seriously undervalued in recent years.”

Winston’s proposals gained approval from the United Cabbies Group, which represents London taxi drivers, who tweeted: “A perfectly sensible suggestion by Lord Winston that cyclists should have licence plates so they are identifiable.”