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Cycle Law

Cyclist Behaviour

Like all road users, cyclists must ride responsibly and within the law.

This includes obeying traffic signals such as red lights, not putting pedestrians in danger by riding on the pavement, maintaining their cycle to a roadworthy standard and not cycling recklessly or dangerously. Adherence to these rules not only protects the personal safety of cyclists and other road users, but flouting them can also have an adverse effect on any potential legal claim a cyclist can bring in the event of an accident.

It is well known that drivers who are on their phones or changing the radio station can be found to have contributed to an accident and this can reduce the damages which they may receive in court. In the same way that a motorist’s behaviour is taken into account when assessing damages, the same rule applies to cyclists. This is called “contributory negligence”.

The rule of contributory negligence applies to a situation when the claimant’s (the cyclist’s) injuries, which can be either personal or damage to property, have been caused partly by the negligence of the other person(s) in the accident and partly by the claimant [1]. Factors courts can consider to be contributory negligence for cyclists can include distractions such as listening to music through headphones and, in the cases of personal injury, not wearing a crash helmet.

For the courts to make a finding of contributory negligence, the judge must establish that the cyclist was at fault in some way and contributed to the injury to the extent that the injury would have been avoided or less serious in its absence. If the judge considers this to be the case, they can reduce the damages awarded.

A case decided in February 2014 resulted in a judge finding a cyclist to have contributed to an accident by looking at his heart-rate monitor [2]. The award of damages was reduced by 25% from £70,000 to £52,500, with the judge considering the heart-rate monitor as a distraction, as otherwise the cyclist may have been able to see where he was going [3].

Another example of a cyclist’s behaviour contributing to the accident can be found in the case of Phethean-Hubble v Coles, in which a cyclist was found one-third responsible by suddenly riding from a pavement into a road, even though the vehicle which hit them was travelling five miles per hour above the speed limit [4].

The reason the courts apply this rule is to deter dangerous behaviour.

Cyclists are recommended to behave sensibly and considerately, not just to protect their own safety, but also to ensure the safety of other road users. The National Cycling Charity advises that cyclists can behave in such a way by being aware of other road users and making their own intentions clear, ensuring they are competent to ride in traffic, obeying traffic signals, ensuring that they are visible and maintaining their cycle to a roadworthy standard.

By following these guidelines, cyclists can protect their personal safety and the safety of others.



[1] WVH Rogers: Winfield and Jolowicz on Tort (18th Edition, Sweet and Maxwell, 2010), p363

[2] McAllister v Campbell [2014] NIQB 24

[3] McAllister v Campell, 21

[4] Phethean: Hubble v Coles [2011] EWHC 363

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