The Road Traffic Act 1988
Cyclists do not have to use allocated cycle paths, they are permitted to use public roads.
They are, therefore, required to abide by the statutory regulations and laws that govern road users. Perhaps the most important legislation for cyclists is The Road Traffic Act 1988. It contains all the main motoring offences and is applied by courts across the country. The accompanying Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 regulates the penalties for many motoring offences.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 is broken down into the following sections…
Part I – Principal Road Safety Provisions
Part II – Construction and Use of Vehicles and Equipment
Part III – Licensing of drivers of vehicles
Part IV – Licensing of drivers of large goods vehicles and passenger-carrying vehicles
Part V – Driving instruction
Part VI – Third party liabilities
Part VII – Miscellaneous and general
There are several sub-sections relating specifically to cyclists.
The main and arguably most obvious obligation for a cyclist using the road is to comply with all traffic signs and signals, which is dealt in Section 36 of the Act.
Section 24 confirms that “not more than one person may be carried on a road on a bicycle not propelled by mechanical power unless it is constructed or adapted for the carriage of more than one person”. Both the cyclist and the passenger will be guilty of an offence in these circumstances. Within this section, reference to the “road” also includes a bridleway.
Under Section 26, it is an offence for a cyclist to hold, or get onto, a vehicle in order to be towed or carried.
Section 28 deals with dangerous cycling. A person who rides a cycle on a road dangerously is guilty of an offence. So what is riding dangerously? A cyclist will be regarded as riding dangerously if the way he rides falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful cyclist, and it would be obvious to a competent and careful cyclist that riding in that way would be dangerous.
Within the Act, dangerous refers to danger of injury to any person, or danger of serious damage to property.
Section 29 deals with careless and inconsiderate cycling. An offence is committed under the Road Traffic Act 1988 if a person rides a cycle on a road without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other people using the road.
Cycling while under the influence of drink or drugs is dealt within Section 30. A cyclist will be found guilty of an offence if unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle). In Scotland, a constable may arrest, without warrant, a person committing an offence under this section.
The regulation of cycle racing on public ways is dealt with in Section 31. Unless a race or trial is authorised and conducted in accordance with any conditions imposed, any cyclist who promotes or takes part in a race or trial of speed between cycles on a public way is guilty of an offence under the Act.
The Act specifies in Section 32 that an electrically-assisted pedal cycle must not be driven on a road by any person under the age of 14. Any person who drives such a pedal cycle when under the age of fourteen or, knowing/suspecting that another person is under the age of 14, allows him or her to drive such a pedal cycle is guilty of an offence.
There are other statutory provisions that are relevant, such as the Highways Act 1980, but the Road Traffic Act 1988 is probably the best starting point in considering how statute law affects cyclists.
View the Act in full here.
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