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Cycle Law

Cycle Law FAQs

At present, there’s no legal requirement to wear a cycle helmet in England and Wales. It’s your choice whether to wear a helmet and there’s still much debate as to how much protection a helmet offers.

It’s illegal to ride on public roads after dark without certain lights and reflectors fitted to your bike. The lights and reflectors must be clean and in proper working order. Your lights must be switched on if you’re cycling between sunset and sunrise.

When riding at night, you must have the following fitted:

  • Front lamp – this must show a white light. If capable of emitting a steady light, it must be marked as conforming to BS6102/3 or an equivalent EC standard. If it’s a flashing light it must emit one candela. The front light must be positioned no more than 1.5-meters from the ground. While helmet-mounted lights can be useful in helping cyclists see where they’re going, your bike must also be fitted with a secondary light conforming to these requirements, otherwise you may be breaking the law and could also be jeopardising your own safety.
  • Rear lamp – this must show a red light. Again, it can either show a solid red light or a flashing light. If it shows a solid light, it must be marked as conforming to BS3648 or BS6102/3, or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must again emit at least one candela.
  • Rear reflector – this is required. It must be coloured red and marked as complying with BS6102/2 (or equivalent).
  • Pedal reflectors – these must be amber in colour, marked as meeting BS6102/2 (or equivalent) and positioned so that one is visible to the front and another to the rear of each pedal.

There are some minor exceptions to the above requirements. Bikes manufactured before October 1990 can have any kind of white front lamp fitted as long as it’s visible from a reasonable distance. Bikes manufactured before October 1985 don’t need to have pedal reflectors.

If you’re cycling on the road during the hours of darkness, your lights must be switched on. The hours of darkness are legally defined as from one half-hour after sunset to one half-hour before sunrise. The same period also applies to motor vehicles, which must also have their lights switched on during this time.

Strangely, cyclists are not legally obliged to switch on their lights during conditions of seriously reduced visibility in the daytime. This is due to an unusual loophole in the law which only requires lights that are “required to be fitted” to be switched on during adverse weather. As bikes are not “required to be fitted” with lights during daytime hours, there can be no legal requirement for you to switch them on.

That said, it’s clearly very sensible to switch on your lights in such conditions and, in fact, many cyclists choose to have their lights on at all times of day and night to help increase their visibility to other road users. If you’re involved in an accident during adverse weather and your bike is fitted with lights which you have not switched on, you may be held to be partly at fault for the accident.

It’s not a requirement to wear high-visibility clothing. However, if you intend to ride on public roads, it may be a sensible precaution as it could help other drivers see you and avoid an accident. It can be beneficial to wear high-visibility clothing even during the daylight hours, as well as at night. High-visibility clothing can help other road users see you in all lighting conditions. You should also try to avoid wearing any loose or baggy clothes, which may get tangled up within the moving parts of your bike or obscure your lights at night.

Using a handheld mobile phone while cycling is not illegal in itself. However, you could commit an offence of “careless riding” or “riding without due care and consideration”. We would strongly advise against riding while using a phone, for obvious safety reasons. Also, an electrically-assisted pedal cycle is technically viewed as a “motor vehicle” in law. Using a mobile phone while riding such a machine is, therefore, illegal.

Yes, but it may not be very safe. It’s not illegal to listen to music via ear phones while cycling on public roads. Listening to music may, however, distract you from what’s going on around you and may also prevent you from hearing other vehicles approach, jeopardising your own safety.

No. The law currently requires new bikes to be fitted with a bell at the point of purchase, although this requirement is likely to be scrapped soon. The Highway Code recommends that you fit a bell to your bike, but does require it. It’s sensible to have some audible warning device to make other road users aware of your presence, particularly if you’re overtaking another cyclist or a pedestrian on a shared cycle route. This will avoid startling them. An audible warning device does not have to be a bell, however. It could be a whistle or horn, or you could simply give a polite “excuse me”.

No, but it could be a very good idea. The Road Traffic Act 1988 requires any motor vehicle driven on a public road to be insured. The definition of a “motor vehicle” includes any mechanically-propelled vehicle. As a bike is powered by your legs, it’s not mechanically propelled in the eyes of the law, so it doesn’t have to be insured. If you ride an electric bike, however, this is classed as mechanically propelled and must, therefore, be insured. Beyond the obvious benefits of your bike being insured in the event of theft or accident damage, insurance will also protect you if you cause loss or damage to the third party.

We must accept that occasionally cyclists might be the offending party and cause an accident. If an uninsured motor vehicle causes an accident, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau will ensure that any victims are properly compensated (and will attempt to recover the money paid out from the driver at fault). The same does not, however, apply to cyclists – there is no such thing as a “Cycling Insurers’ Bureau”.

If a cyclist causes injury or damage, they are personally responsible for compensating their victims. If, for example, an accident is caused by a cyclist travelling at speed and perhaps losing control and hitting a pedestrian, the injuries caused to the pedestrian could be severe. The pedestrian could seek compensation for their injuries, which could run into tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds – particularly if the pedestrian is unable to work. If you’re not insured, you’ll be personally responsible for paying these sums. In light of this, it might seem wise to pay these relatively small insurance premiums for the peace of mind it can provide.

For adults over the age of 18, a claim for personal injury must be brought within three of the accident. For children below the age of 18 at the time of the accident, claims for personal injury must be brought before their 21st birthday. If you’re claiming for property damage only (and there is no claim for personal injury), an adult’s claim must be brought within six years of the date of loss and a child’s claim must be brought before their 24th birthday. Only in extremely exceptional circumstances can a claim be brought after these dates. It’s always best to bring a claim as soon as possible after the accident, in order to assist with in any investigations.

Despite what some motorists will shout at cyclists, there are no rules that you must stick closely to the kerb. In fact, this may often be the least safe position for you to take, as it may encourage motorists to try to “squeeze” their vehicles past you when there isn’t really sufficient room for them to do so. Also, by riding so close to the kerb, you are likely to encounter drains, broken and eroded edges of the road surface and debris that has been swept to the side of the road by passing vehicles.

By riding further out in the flow of traffic, you will position yourself directly in a motorist’s field of vision, rather than being on the periphery of their vision, as you would be by hugging the kerb. It’s also less likely that motorists will try to squeeze past you without allowing sufficient room. If you’re able to keep up with the flow of the traffic around you, for example, when riding around a town, it may be safest to position yourself within that traffic. In other situations, however, such as when you can’t keep up with the traffic around you, or if there is little other traffic and the road is quiet, you may feel safer riding closer to the kerb (but not necessarily “hugging” it ). You must not jeopardise your safety. Position your bicycle where you feel safest. If a motorist shouts at you, at least you know they’ve seen you!

Yes. Rule 66 of the Highway Code states that cyclists should never ride more than two abreast and should ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when going around bends. It’s perfectly legal for cyclists to ride side-by-side on most roads. It may, however, be sensible to cycle in single file on narrow roads or where a car is attempting to overtake.

No. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend upon your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.

Unfortunately, the law does not provide a clear answer to this question. There are no specific legal rules on how, as a cyclist, you must pass other traffic. You will commit an offence if you do not comply with the general rules of the road which apply to all road users (for example, if you cross a solid white line in the middle of the road while overtaking).

The Highway Code recommends that you overtake on the offside (that is, towards the centre of the road) when it is safe and legal, but also suggests that cyclists can undertake on the nearside (that is, closest to the kerb) if you’re in a queue and moving faster than the traffic to your right.

Your main concern as a cyclist, however, is more likely to be what is the safest way for you to pass stationary traffic. Many cyclists take the view that “undertaking” traffic on the nearside is the more dangerous option, as it puts you in a position where you can’t easily be seen and the drivers of vehicles don’t expect bikes to undertake them. You also run the risk of a passenger in a vehicle opening their door into your path.

The safest option is usually to remain in your position in the queue of traffic, especially when your speed is close to that of the traffic around you. If you feel confident doing so, and if it’s safe to do so without breaking the rules of the road, passing on the outside of cars, where drivers are more likely to see you, is perhaps the safer option. Every cyclist must, of course, use their own discretion and only ride in a certain manner if you feel safe and comfortable doing so.

In law, cyclists can only cross majority of pedestrian crossings if they dismount your bike and wheel it across. The exception to this rule is the “Toucan Crossing”. This is a light-controlled crossing that allows pedestrians and cyclists to share the crossing space, hence the name – “two can cross”.

Toucan crossings are usually wider than a regular pedestrian crossing and may even have a designated cycling lane at which to cross. They are operated via a push button, which will often show images of both a pedestrian and a cyclist. Toucan crossings are often found where designated cycle lanes cross roads.

If you’re riding on the road and encounter a pedestrian crossing, the same rules of the road apply to you that would to any other road user. You must stop if the crossing is in operation. Some cyclists choose to ride through a red light at a crossing, or even ride through red lights at traffic light-controlled junctions.

They raise the argument that it is safer to do this because it means you’re not setting off at the same time as cars and other motor vehicles, which are all trying to “get off the mark” at the same time. We do not advocate such action, and there’s certainly no law that specifically allows cyclists to do this.

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