Why isn’t cycling illegal?

Cycling enthusiasts are all over the place these days… donning their questionable lycra outfits at ungodly hours to fly through the standstill rush-hour traffic, saturating our cities with bright neon colours and flashing lights. Maybe some people don’t really get the appeal… but to many, cycling is fun, it makes them happy, and it benefits their lives in loads of ways.

It’s not without its risks of course, but so are many things in life. We get around those risks by wearing helmets, lights and fluorescent jackets. The government builds us cycle paths and spends money on education and awareness. Overall it’s a pretty good system; people understand the risks and work hard to minimise them. And people have a great time cycling.


Let’s say the government becomes unhappy with the numbers of cycling-related injuries and deaths. They respond by increasing their campaigns of safety-awareness, introducing new regulations to keep cyclists safe on the roads, and build better, safer cycle paths. Maybe they even pedestrianise city centres! I think most people agree that this is a pretty rational reaction.

Now let’s say that instead of that rational response, the government decides to put a blanket ban on cycling. They decide that the number of deaths is too high, and the risk is too great. Anyone caught cycling, or selling a bike to someone (or even encouraging their friends to cycle), could end up in prison; that’s how serious the government is about abolishing cycling.


But this doesn’t stop people from wanting to cycle. They enjoy cycling, and feel their freedom is being abused by this blanket ban. So they keep cycling, but now they have to stay away from the police; so they cycle on dangerous country roads, where their risks of getting hit by a car are much higher. They ride on illegally-manufactured bikes, that are unsafe and unregulated. They aren’t aware of correct safe cycling behaviour, because the government has stopped funding their information campaigns. Now, naïve cyclists are at much greater risk of injury, and could also end up in jail.

Country road

Does that approach sound more sensible? We all know it doesn’t make sense, and that’s why the government responds to cycling risks by building better cycle paths and keeping the public informed with cycling awareness campaigns.

And here’s the message you’ve surely by now figured out yourself: this reasoning can be applied to drug policy. Many drugs are relatively harmless, and most are less dangerous than activities such as cycling. In fact, there are all sorts of drugs that could benefit your life, and benefit society as a whole. We can minimise the risks associated with drugs by ensuring they are manufactured responsibly, in a regulated legal market. We can limit their sale to responsible adults through licensed vendors. We can fund information campaigns that can spread knowledge about drugs: how to use them responsibly and how to avoid risky behaviour.

cycle accident

Banning all drugs will just push people onto those dangerous country roads. Perpetuating the myth that ‘all drugs are bad’ just keeps people ignorant of the true risks and benefits of drugs. Naïve drug users are at a much greater risk of injury than if they were taught about responsible drug use, and protected by safety measures.

It’s the government’s responsibility to safeguard us and minimise the risks in our lives without corrupting our freedom. That’s why cycling isn’t illegal, and why drugs shouldn’t be either.

5 thoughts on “Why isn’t cycling illegal?

  1. Really enjoying your blog, Patrick. This article is great — hits the nail on the head regarding our irrational, hypocritical drug policies. What’s more, you’ve done it succinctly and without condescending. Kudos and keep up the good work.


  2. Hi, Patrick,

    I’m a PhD Student in Medical Sciences in Brazil. I’m also have a blog for popularization of science, mainly to Brazilian audience. I’d like to translate this text and post it on my blog, keeping all credits and source. Please, tell me if I’m allowed to do it.

    I’m very interested in the drug research topic; I’ve done an interview with Carl Hart, which was published at Skeptic Magazine and it’s avaialble in my blog over the link: http://skepticismandscience.blogspot.com.br/2015/11/where-drugs-myths-die.html

    My only question regarding the text is the following. The best evidence I know of (those published by public health centers, such as Harvard Injury Control Research Center, or Johns Hopkins) came to the conclusion that guns availability is linked with an increased risk of homicide and suicide. Since the topic of this text was about prohibition/legalization of drugs and other activies or behaviours that have risks, how can we respond to people when asked that guns should be legalized and readly avaialable, using somehow the same argument you’ve provided for drugs?

    Thank you,
    Felipe Nogueira
    Twitter: @felipejacknog

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Felipe,

      Thanks for your comment! I am happy for you to translate and re-host my article, as long as you let me know when it’s up!

      Thanks for the link to your interview, it’s really interesting.

      As for the gun control argument, I would say that every situation is different. Although in this article I’m comparing cycling to drug policy, I’m obviously not saying that the policies for the two things should be absolutely identical. I’m saying that policy should always consider the evidence of potential risks, as well as the evidence of potential benefits, and weigh them against the possibility of controlling those risks and amplifying the benefits.

      So in the case of gun control, I would argue that the potential risks are enormous, and the potential benefits very minimal. It’s also pretty much impossible to reduce the risks to nothing. Even if you need extensive background checks to purchase a weapon, and are monitored frequently and follow all sorts of gun safety legislation, there is still the possibility of using that weapon to murder your family or innocent strangers.

      With gun control, the evidence shows that without extremely tough restrictions on gun ownership, mass murders occur frequently. Allowing drugs to become legally regulated would not lead to mass addiction, or mass hospitalisations, or mass incarceration; these things are all happening right now with our current drug policy.

      Liked by 1 person

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