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Motorists Mistake Your Legal Cycling Rights

Bikes chained to bike stands
26th September 2013

Cycling organisations believe that the key to transforming road safety culture is changing motorist negative attitudes towards cyclists. Naturally, motorists disagree and are often heard ranting that cyclists “don’t pay road tax, jump red lights and shouldn’t even really be on the road, end of..."

Quite apart from the fact that road tax was replaced in 1937 by Vehicle Excise Duty and fewer than one in every 50 serious cycling incidents were caused by a cyclist ignoring a red light, defendants in bicycle accident claims constantly and often mistakenly refer to “illegal” cycling behaviour as the reason why an accident occurred.

Fragile safety...

Between 2012/13, cycling injuries increased for the eighth consecutive year, by 4 per cent to 3,222, and cycling deaths hit a five-year high of 122. Lorries and vans together are responsible for more than a quarter of all cyclist fatalities. So rather than deliberately ignoring the law, as  a motorist might see it, cyclists may adopt perfectly legal riding positions and behaviour aimed at improving their fragile safety in the unforgiving rush hour traffic. 

Motorists will sound their horn, flash their lights and wave their hands around in self-righteous indignation at any perceived infringement of their right of way or when they see a cyclist “getting away with it”.

Two abreast...

But is the cyclist making an “illegal” move when he rides alongside another cyclist or is travelling more than three feet away from the edge of the road? According to the Highway Code, riding “two abreast” is legal (although the maximum number allowed) except when riding on narrow, busy roads or round bends.

Road positioning...

Likewise, there is no law which states where on the road a cyclist must be positioned other than to cycle “well clear of the kerb” with 1 metre in from centre of the left lane being the best position. Cyclists know that they need to constantly be seen by motorists, especially when overtaking and turning left at junctions. In slow-moving traffic, the Highway Code advises motorists “to be aware of cyclists and motorcyclists who may be passing on either side.” 

Cyclists are legally entitled to ride on dual carriageways, in most bus lanes and in the “middle of a lane” unless it is specifically signposted otherwise. However, it is illegal to cycle on the pavement unless it is marked as a “shared use” cycle path but it is legal to cycle on a footpath away from a road, unless prohibited. Use of designated cycle lanes is actually not compulsory but as cycling infrastructure improvements currently underway across the UK are completed, cyclists will be encouraged to use them and feel safer doing so.

Red lights and cycle boxes...

Although very rarely the cause of road accidents,  yes - cyclists must obey and stop at red lights, although it has been suggested the UK might change the law and adopt the model operating in some EU countries where cyclists are allowed to filter left at a red light.

In the meantime, plans were announced earlier this year to crack down on vehicle drivers who stop in cycle boxes at traffic lights with increased fines of £60 and three penalty points.

Cyclists can’t get away from the motorist quick enough, apparently...