Cycling on the right side of the law

Interest in cycling has grown during recent months if sales of bicycles are anything to go by. 13 million of us bought a bike during lockdown. There’s also government support for travelling on 2 wheels to reduce pressures on public transport and encourage healthier, greener habits.

For getting around using a bicycle offers a range of benefits not found elsewhere. It’s much cheaper than owning and driving a car. There’s no fuel to buy (although you might work up a bit of an appetite). Maintenance work on your ‘vehicle’ can be done at home with a small range of tools. And you can enjoy having your own wheels as soon as you can balance on them.

Compared to driving a car on the roads cycling seems so much less fuss for a little more leg work. It might seem that the only legal issue you need worry about is protecting yourself from personal injury. But hold on. Before you rush to the nearest bike shop take some time to familiarise yourself with your rights and responsibilities.

Getting started with cycling

There’s no requirement to have a licence for a pedal-powered bicycle. Nor do you need to register your two-wheeled carriage. So no requirement for the expense of lessons, tests and tax.

That said an understanding of the Highway Code is going to be extremely useful. Bear in mind though that the Highway Code is not a statement of law. It is composed of legal requirements, mandatory rules and useful advice. You can tell which is which as the clue is in the language. Find the word ‘must’ and you’re looking at a legal requirement. However, this doesn’t mean that you can just ignore the rest. Pay attention to the ‘should’ and ‘do’ items as failure to comply with these could still be used in legal proceedings.

If you’re cycling for the first time or it’s been awhile then consider voluntary Bikeability cycle training. Running at 3 levels it offers an opportunity to develop your cycling skills and learn how to cycle on today’s roads.

Is it legal to cycle on the pavement?

Every road user in the UK needs to drive or ride on the left. If you’re lucky there will be a cycle lane although two-wheelers are not legally obliged to use it. However, you are obliged to obey red stoplights.

Driving is one of the more hazardous activities undertaken by the population and a wobbly cyclist going slowly up a hill does not induce confidence. Cycling on the roads can feel extremely uncomfortable for both parties.

You might have considered the pavement as a safer alternative. This avoids the cars but potentially incurs the wrath of the pedestrians. But The Highway Code states that you MUST NOT cycle on the pavement. This is based on the wording of The Highways Act 1835 which prohibits ‘carriages’ from using “any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers”.

The only exception to this rule is cycle tracks. These come in 2 forms. The segregated type have separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians. With these, you need to stay in your lane. The other type has everyone sharing the same space. So, yes, you’re on essentially on the pavement away from the cars. Take it slow in this shared space and show pedestrians the same courtesy you’d like drivers to show you.

The rules are around pavement cycling apply to all ages. Children under 10 years of age might get away with as criminal liability does not apply to them.

For the rest of us, there are fixed penalty notices. The Minister for Cycling in 2014 urged police officers to use their discretion over such things. Fear of traffic and cycling on the road is not uncommon. However, it’s probably best to use the road if at all possible. Join the cars and put that Bikeability confidence to good use.

And on the subject of road use, it’s legal for cyclists to ride side-by-side. But do remember that unless you’re on a tandem or have a baby carrier or similar added a two-wheeled carriage should only be used by a single person. So you can’t give your mate a lift.

What about bicycle maintenance?

Brakes top the list here. You must have a front and rear brake which works efficiently. The law doesn’t define what efficient means in this context but do you really want to have a brake that isn’t reliable?

Next up is lights. Bikes only require two lights and you only need to use them from half an hour before sunset and the same post sunrise. During those times you’ll need a white light facing forward and a red light facing back. If you’ve added a saddle bag or any other accessories ensure that they are not obstructing your lights.

Flashing lights are ok but make sure they comply with the legally required minimum number of flashes per minute.

You can add other lights to your bike if you feel so inclined but for obvious reasons, white lights facing back and red lights facing forward are not permitted.

While you don’t have to use lights during the daytime it would be sensible to use them if cycling in conditions with reduced visibility such as fog or mist.

Don’t forget the need for a rear reflector and four amber pedal reflectors. Although it fills much of the same requirement the law does not allow wearing ankle reflectors or similar as an alternative to pedal reflectors.

Cars legally require a working horn. Bicycles don’t have to have a bell but just like a horn they work in a useful ‘be aware of my presence’ manner.

Should you wear a bike helmet?

Amazingly cyclists in the UK are not required to wear a helmet. But as with so many cycling-related things common sense suggests that it’s a good idea.  As is reflective or hi-vis clothing.

Can cyclists speed?

There’s no legal speed limit for bikes but cycling in a dangerous or careless manner is not permitted. You can be fined and the test for these offences replicates that for careless driving; it questions whether there was reasonable consideration for other road users. ‘Dangerous’ refers specifically to incidents where injury to a person or damage to property takes place. If you’re a ‘dangerous’ cyclist it’s probably time to talk to one of our solicitors with expertise in this area..

Can you cycle after drinking?

In a similar manner, there is no legal limit on the amount of alcohol you can consume before cycling. But cycling while under the influence is not advisable and you need to be in control of your bicycle.  And just because points cannot be added to your driving licence for cycling offences that doesn’t prevent you from being disqualified under the power of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 as being unsuitable for driving. Basically don’t cycle home if you’ve been out for a few pints.

Tips for getting started in cycling

Stay both safe and legal on your bike by doing the following:

  • Read and apply The Highway Code
  • Take a Bikeability course and improve road cycling confidence
  • Check your brakes
  • Ensure you are using lights and reflectors
  • Buy and wear a helmet
  • Cycle in a careful manner on roads and cycle tracks
  • When cycling apply your common sense as well as following the law

Stay safe but if there is a time when your bike adventures don’t go as planned – from experiencing road rage to accidents – our experienced team of solicitors is here to support you. If you are involved in a cycling incident then talk to Foys Solicitors with our expertise on personal injury and motoring offences.

Get in touch using our online form – or call your local Foys Solicitors office:

  • Doncaster – 01302 327 136
  • Retford – 01777 703 100
  • Worksop – 01909 500 511
  • Clowne – 01246 810 050
  • Rotherham – 01709 375 561
  • Sheffield (Waterthorpe) – 0114 251 1702
  • Sheffield (Chapeltown) – 0114 246 7609

This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstance. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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