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Cycle Law

The Responsibilities of a Cyclist

In the same way that a car must fulfil certain criteria to be deemed roadworthy, there are also some legal requirements for a bicycle to be  allowed on the road. This article will consider what is legally required, what is recommended in the Highway Code and the legal position regarding having a bell fitted on a bicycle. Under The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 and its subsequent amendments, it is illegal to cycle on a road without lights and reflectors after dark. Cyclists must have a white front light[1] and red rear lights lit at night,[2] have their cycle fitted with a red light reflector on the rear[3] and each pedal needs two amber light reflectors, one on the leading edge and the other on the trailing edge.[4] The finer details of the regulations such as the size, positioning and manufacturing standard of the lights and reflectors are rarely enforced however any illegality, regardless of how minor, may be regarded as contributory negligence if there was a night time accident. Unlike other vehicles, cycles are not required to turn on their lights (if fitted) when there is seriously reduced visibility during the day, for example when it is foggy, however The National Cycling Charity recommends doing so for safety reasons.[5] It must also be noted that what is important for cyclists is the position of the sun, not how dark it is. Therefore, as soon as the sun drops behind the horizon bicycle lights should be switched on even if there may be plenty of light left to see by on a clear evening. Following the 2005 amendment to The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations[6] it is now also legal to have a flashing light on a pedal bike as long as it flashes between 60 and 240 times per minute. You can be issued a Fixed Penalty Notice for failing to have the correct lights and reflectors where the maximum penalty is £30[7] or you can be subject to a maximum fine of £1000 in the courts. Under the Road Traffic Acts it is illegal to sell or ride on a public road a bicycle which does not meet the 1983 Pedal Cycles (Construction & Use) Regulations. Fortunately, in the case of pure pedal cycles (i.e. no electrical assistance) these regulations are simple and only refer to the brakes which are required to be “efficient”.[8] This essentially means that the bicycle is required to have a braking system which works on the front and back wheels independently and actually stops the wheels from rotating.[9] You can’t be issued  with a Fixed Penalty Notice by a Police Officer for not having the proper brakes therefore, you can only have a penalty imposed on you if they prosecute you with the maximum fine being  £1000. The Highway Code recommends that cyclists should wear:[10] – a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened; – appropriate clothes for cycling which should not get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel or may obscure your lights; – light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light; – reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark. Although the Highway Code is not a legally binding document, the Road Traffic Act states that a failure to observe the Highway Code will not constitute an offence in itself but can be relied upon as evidence to establish or negate liability in legal proceedings for offences under other Acts such as the Traffic Acts. Finally, the Pedal Bicycles Safety Regulations require that a pedal bicycle be fixed with a bell at the point of sale, there is no legal requirement for bicycle to be fitted with a bell for it to be ridden on the road. The Highway Code, however, recommends having a bell in order to let pedestrians know where you are. Moreover, The National Cycling Charity states that having a bell fitted  is a good idea if the bike is to be used outside of Great Britain because a bell is part of the minimum requirements for international use of a pedal cycle as required by the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.[11]

[1] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 2, Part I
[2] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 10, Part I
[3] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 18, Part I
[4] The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, rs.11, 18, 24 and Schedule 20, Part I
[5] Chris Juden, Lighting Regulations The National Cycling Charity (4th January 2013). Accessed April 2014.
[7] The Road Traffic Act 1991, s.42; The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, ss. 51, 54 Sch 3; The Fixed Penalty Offences Order 2009, Sch 1
[9] The National Cycling Charity, ‘Construction & Use’. Accessed April 2014.
[10]The Highway Code, paragraph 59.. Accessed April 2014
[11] Chris Juden, Safety Regulations May 2013). Accessed April 2014

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