Aided by environmental concerns and government promotion, there has been a resurgence of cycling over the past few years in the UK for leisure, sport, fitness and commuting. However, Cycling and cyclists are subject to many laws, just as other road users are.
The Highway Code devotes an entire chapter to cyclists (rules 59 to 82). Many of these are recommendations for what to wear when cycling, addressing where to safely cycle on the road and risks to be mindful of. There are some laws, identified in the code by ‘must’ or ‘must not’ that have to be followed.
There are many recommendations for safe cycle equipment; make sure it’s the right size, keep tyres in good condition, ensure the gears work correctly and the chain is oiled and the addition of a bell. It is not currently law in the UK that you have to wear a helmet but it is highly recommend.
At night, by law, cyclists must have white front and rear red lights, as well as a rear red reflector and amber pedal reflectors. You may have noticed a recent trend for flashing lights on bikes; these are permitted but the recommendation is for a steady light. One law that does not seem particularly well known, or perhaps is and is just disregarded regularly, is that bikes and not allowed on the pavement – and this includes the pedestrian section of any path split between that and a cycle path.
It is also a legal requirement that your bicycle brakes are efficient.
It is worth reminding ourselves that cyclists must obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals. For safety reasons you cannot legally carry a passenger (unless adapted for the purpose), hold onto moving vehicles, ride in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate manner, or ride under the influence of drink or drugs (including medicine).
Unlike motorised vehicles, it is not compulsory for cyclists to have insurance. Although specific policies are available and offer protection not just for you and your cycling possessions, but for claims made against you. The question of insurance hit the headlines last year following an unfortunate accident between a cyclist and a pedestrian for which the cyclist was held partially responsible. Unfortunately for the cyclist, he had no insurance in place. As a result of a claim made against him he incurred a bill for almost £60,000 for damages and legal costs. Most insurance policies will provide an option for legal expense insurance to assist you with hiring solicitors to represent you should there be a need.
Most accidents for cyclists involve motor vehicles, with often significant consequences for the cyclist. Whilst he courts will place the onus of responsibility on motor vehicle drivers and the Highway Code stresses that they should be constantly aware of smaller and more vulnerable road users, cyclists can still be found to be liable for, or to have contributed to, an accident.
In the case of Phetan-Hubble v Coles, the cyclist was found 50% responsible for an accident when he was hit by a car at night, as he rode from a path into the road and into the path of the car. Furthermore his cycle was not displaying illuminated lights. In Rickson v Bhakar a cyclist taking part in a time trial was hit by a van that crossed his path, but was found to have contributed to the accident by 20% for keeping his head down (to lower his drag and better his time) meaning he did not see the van until it was too late.
So next time you pull your bike out of the shed and jump on, whether to pop to the shops, join up with a cycling club, or just to take advantage of summer’s day, don’t forget that there’s more to it than just pushing the pedals – remember the law, and stay safe!