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Aided by environmental concerns and government promotion there has been a resurgence of cycling over the past few years in the UK – as leisure, sport, exercise, and commuting.  During lockdown there has been a sharp increase in cycling levels, with a reported increase of up to 300% on certain days since lockdown in comparison to the same equivalent day in January or February.  However the image of the easy and care free mode of transport perhaps hides the fact that cycling and cyclists are subject to many laws, just as car drivers, motorcyclists, and 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 observant of (primarily large vehicles), but there are some laws – identified in the code by ‘must’ or ‘must not’ – that have to obeyed.

At night you have to 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.

Whilst there are many recommendations for your 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 – the only further law is that you must ensure your brakes are efficient.  It is not currently law in the UK that you have to wear a helmet – the government fear it will deter people for cycling – but it is highly recommend.

Some of the laws are more obvious, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that cyclists must obey all traffic signs, and traffic lights signals (and not cross the stop line at such junctions), and for safety you cannot 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) – rules that perhaps many of us were guilty of breaking as teenagers!

There is no legal requirement for cyclists to have insurance.  Although specific policies are available, and can certainly come in useful, not just for covering 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 and – to begin with – no legal representation.  When the dust settled he was left with a bill for almost £60,000, for damages, his legal costs and his opponent’s legal costs.  Most policies will provide you with an option for legal expense insurance to assist you with hiring solicitors to represent you.

Of course, most accidents for cyclists occur with motor vehicles, with often significant consequences for the cyclist.  The courts will place the onus of responsibility on drivers – they are after all in control of fast, heavy, potentially lethal machines – and the Highway Code stresses that they should be constantly aware of smaller and more vulnerable road users including cyclists.  But 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.  There are numerous cases taking different positions in whether damages in a case should be reduced for not wearing a helmet, with no definitive position taken – ultimately such an issue will be highly dependent on the specific injuries sustained, expert medical evidence, and the circumstances of the accident. 

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!