Cyclists have been able to enjoy a lot more freedom on the roads than normal during the coronavirus lockdown, as many people steered clear of public transport, while others ditched their cars in favour of a push bike to get around.
It is often an uneasy relationship between motorists and cyclists on the roads at the best of times and, unfortunately, the tragedy of serious accidents is all too common.
But with lockdown measures easing and the mass return of motorised traffic to the streets of the city, towns and villages, it may be a good time to remind ourselves of the rules of the road for cycling.
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To start with, it must be understood that the Highway Code is not a statement of the law by itself, but a combination of both advice and mandatory rules which apply to all road users in the UK.
So, firstly, here’s the guidance, meaning what cyclists are advised to do, as reported by Wales Online.
Single file or two abreast?
There is no law which prevents cyclists from riding two, or even three or more abreast.
There is advisory rule 66 of the Highway Code, but this is not well-drafted.
It starts with the words “You should”, and later says “never ride more than two abreast”.
‘Should’ is advisory, but ‘never’ sounds like it’s directory, leading some drivers to assume that riding more than two abreast is illegal when it isn’t.
Rule 66 further advises that cyclists should “ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends”, however the interpretation of this rule undoubtedly causes problems.
Cyclists often ride two abreast for safety reasons, whereas some drivers believe cyclists should single out to avoid delaying motorists, forgetting that motorised users don’t have enhanced rights to the road over cyclists.
Cycling UK agrees that there are times when cyclists should single out, but it’s safety that should be the over-riding factor when making that decision. Not whether the driver behind might have to wait a few seconds before overtaking.
High-visibility clothing and helmets
Rule 59 of the Highway Code advises that cyclists should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened.
Cycling UK believes that whether or not to wear a helmet is a matter of personal choice.
Similarly with hi-viz clothing; there is very little evidence to suggest that hi-viz (as opposed to reflective strips and items) makes a significant impact on cyclists’ safety.
The research suggests that it may help drivers to spot pedestrians and cyclists more readily, but there was no evidence by how much and it was impossible to say whether that made them safer, as spotting them was one thing and driving safely around them another.
Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory.
What’s more, the common belief that cyclists are advised to use cycle lanes is also slightly overstated.
Rule 63 of the Highway Code describes cycle lanes, but does not say that cyclists should use them, merely that use of them “depends on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer”.
Most cyclists will choose to use good quality cycle lanes where they exist, but where they are badly designed, littered with glass or badly maintained, they won’t.
Cyclists are entitled to make their own choice, and the Highway Code rule merely reflects that.
Also, the reality is that a significant number of cyclists can comfortably achieve speeds of 20-25mph on the flat, too fast for a path on which pedestrians, dog walkers and children may be using.
Riding in the middle of the lane
Some cyclists choose to ride in the middle of the lane, or the “primary position”.
Whatever you call it, this means ‘taking the lane’, so cyclists are effectively in the middle of the lane, with the general flow of traffic rather than to the left of the traffic.
Riding in this position can in some circumstances be the safest option. If there are parked cars to the left it allows sufficient space to avoid any car doors unexpectedly opening.
It can also discourage or prevent drivers from overtaking where there is insufficient space or it would be unsafe to do so.
Finally, it is where cyclists can most easily see and be seen.
The above points are all guidance from the Highway Code. However, below we have listed the laws that dictate what a cyclist can and cannot do.
Red lights and advance stop lines
Crossing the stop line when the traffic lights are red (jumping red lights) is an offence, as is riding across a cycle-only signal crossing if the green cycle symbol isn’t showing.
Where there is an advanced stop line (ASL) cyclists can of course position themselves ahead of the motorised traffic but behind the ASL, though crossing the ASL on red is still an offence.
Police usually deal with instances of cyclists jumping red lights with a fixed penalty notice fine (typically £50).
Unsafe cycling offences
There are two offences for unsafe cycling: careless cycling, and dangerous cycling.
The former, careless cycling, means cycling without due care and attention or reasonable consideration for other road users.
Guilty cyclists can be fined up to a £1,000 maximum fine.
Dangerous cycling is riding in a way that is obviously dangerous to a competent and careful cyclist. It carries a maximum fine of £2,500.
It’s the ‘reasonable consideration for other road users’ point which occasionally causes difficulty, with some police officers interpreting this incorrectly as a requirement for cyclists to move over to allow cars to overtake.
There are two further offences: causing injury by cycling furiously (two year maximum imprisonment) and cycling furiously (no injury caused).
Riders can’t be prosecuted for speeding while cycling as speeding offences are specific to motor vehicles, although there are exceptions where local bye-laws apply, such as the Royal Parks.
Under the 1847 Town and Police Clauses Act cyclists can however be fined up to £1,000 for cycling furiously, hence cycling too fast for the conditions can potentially lead to either a furious cycling or careless cycling charge.
It’s an offence to drive a carriage on “any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers”, i.e a footway next to the highway
However, this is a grey area. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) have issued guidance to all forces which says there must be “discretion in taking a reasonable and proportionate approach, with safety being a guiding principle”.
In other words, cycling on the pavement is an offence, but there is clear guidance that the police are supposed to exercise discretion. It would be ludicrous to prosecute a family with young children on bicycles for using a pavement.
Giving your friend a croggy on your bicycle is a criminal offence as it’s illegal to carry more than one person on a bicycle unless “it is constructed or adapted for the carriage of more than one person”.