Some notes on the rules and laws of cycling. Though, whatever rules are – there’s a lot to be said for using common sense to stay safe and respectful of other users.
Difference between legal requirements and advisory notes
The Highway code reflects some legal requirements.
At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights [Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24)] This is a law.
The Highway code also offers ‘advisory notices’ on how you should behave.
You should keep both hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear.
The difference is that there is no legal requirement to keep both hands on handlebars – so it is OK to drink a bidon and eat a banana without risk of prosecution… It could be considered ‘best practise’ to keep hands on handlebars.
Generally, rules and laws are there to promote a more harmonious and safer experience on the road. When people ignore road traffic laws it can be both frustrating and dangerous. But, whilst it’s important to be aware of all the legal issues around cycling – you can’t beat plain common sense. If you cycle blindly through a red traffic light whilst under the influence of drink, you shouldn’t need a law to tell you it’s a dangerous thing.
Also, the next time someone beeps at you for cycling two abreast or 1 metre from edge of road, it is quite a comfort to know that what you are doing is perfectly legal and within your rights, even advised by the department of transport.
Common Questions on Cycling and the Law
Is it legal to cycle on pavement?
No, it is illegal to cycle on pavement (footpath by side of road) unless, it is marked as shared use cycle path [Laws HA 1835 sect 72 & R(S)A 1984, sect 129]. Cycling on pavements can lead to a fixed penalty notice of £30.
Can children cycle on pavements?
No. However, children under 16 are unlikely to be issued with fixed penalty notice. In theory, police and community support officers are supposed to use considerable discretion in dealing with people who cycle on the pavement. This is to reflect the difference between a young children seeking a safe passage on the pavement and others who might be cycling at high speed putting pedestrians at discomfort. See more at: Cycling on pavements
Can you cycle on Bridleways and Footpaths away from the road?
The law specifically relates to footways by the side of a highway. In theory, if you are on a footpath away from a road, it is legal to cycle – unless there is sign saying otherwise.
Can you cycle across a Pelican Crossings?
No. The highway code states ‘Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across.’ However, you can cycle across a ‘toucan crossing’ A toucan crossing is a wider version of pelican crossings. It will have an extra light to indicate a green cyclist.
To confuse matters, some pelican crossings have an extra green light for cyclist. A green cyclist light gives the indication it would be OK to cross on the bike.
Can you cycle on Dual Carriageways?
- Yes, unless there is a specific sign saying cyclists prohibited.
- Motorways are prohibited to cyclists.
A no cycling sign, might appear on some three lane dual carriageways.
Can you cycle in Bus Lanes?
Yes. Most bus lanes are open to cyclists unless indicated otherwise by signs.
Can a Cyclist cycle in the middle of a lane?
There is no law stating where on the road a cyclist must be. There are different guidelines offered. One guideline is to cycle ‘well clear of kerb. 1 metre on in centre of the left lane (best position on road for cyclists) and (Direct Gov link) However, this would also mean ignoring small bicycle lanes.
On one occasion a judge in Telford found a cyclist guilty of ‘inconsiderate cycling’ he was cycling on a single carriageway and the police stopped him because cars were having to overtake him across double white lines. They said he should have crossed over to a cycle lane off the road. Fortunately, this was overturned on appeal and it remains the case that cyclists are not legally obliged to use cycle paths (Victory for cyclist who refused to stay in gutter)
Note, in the US, generally bicycle specific statues state ‘to ride as close to the right as practicable’
Lights – Legal Requirements
It is a legal requirement to have a working front and rear light at night. You must have a rear reflector and amber pedal reflector [Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24)]
Can you use flashing lights?
According to Direct Gov [link] it is now permissible to have flashing lights, though in built up areas they recommend steady lights.
Can you use LED Lights?
For a long time LED lights were a grey area. They are now legal if they meet approved British standard specification. In theory, lights that don’t meet approved standards are not legal. Many cyclists may unwittingly use non-approved lights but feel they offer effective light.
Can you carry someone on bike?
No, it is illegal to carry someone on bike, unless it has been specifically adapted to carry a second passenger [Law RTA 1988 sects 24, 26, 28, 29 & 30 as amended by RTA 1991]
Can you be prosecuted for drinking and cycling?
It is illegal to be riding a bike whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol. [Law RTA 1988 sects 24, 26, 28, 29 & 30 as amended by RTA 1991]
Can you use a mobile phone whilst cycling?
It is not illegal per se to use a mobile phone while cycling, though you could be prosecuted for careless or inconsiderate cycling contrary to section 29 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. However, there have been suggestions that this could be changed and it soon could be made illegal to talk on a phone while cycling.
Do you have to use cycle lanes / cycle paths / shared use cycle paths? The highway code states:
Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). Keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer. Rules on using cycle lanes
Similarly it is not compulsory to use shared use cycle paths (usually part of pavement by side of road)
Shared Use Cycle Paths
These allow cyclists to use pavements by the side of the road. However, it does not mean a cyclist has the right over other pedestrians. The code of conduct for cyclists says they should be willing to give way to a pedestrian even if they veer into the cycle part. Shared Use Cycle paths
More on cycle paths
Not just an urban myth, there is a law about ‘furious cycling’ “…causing bodily harm by wanton or furious cycling under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which carries a maximum jail sentence of two years. Cycling Weekly link of cyclist prosecuted under the furious cycling lay.
The 1847 Town Police Clauses Act. also mentions (under section 28) it is an offence for “Every person who rides or drives furiously any horse or carriage, or drives furiously any cattle.”
Can a Cyclist be charged for Speeding?
Yes, cyclists can get a speeding ticket. See: speeding ticket for women doing 68mph (US)
Can Cyclists Ride Two Abreast?
Yes, the highway code advises:
You should never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends.
This leaves some room for interpretation (what is narrow, busy or bendy road). However, it is an advisory notice. There is no law against cycling two abreast. More on cycling two abreast
Can You Undertake Traffic?
The highway code states: 151 In slow-moving traffic. You should • be aware of cyclists and motorcyclists who may be passing on either side. Obviously this should be done with great caution as it is potentially dangerous. See Is it Ok to undertake
Cyclists must obey red lights. It is illegal to break them.
Some have suggested a change to law to allow cyclists to filter left, even at red like in some European countries. However, this is unlikely to be adapted.
Do Children Have to Wear Helmets?
In the UK there is currently no law stating children must wear helmets when cycling.
See also: should cycle helmets be made compulsory
Children cycle safety at Direct Gov
Can you cycle wrong way down a One Way Street?
No, unless it is signposted that you can. There have been proposals to allow cyclists to cycle wrong way down one way street. But, currently you must not cycle wrong way down one way street. (Direct Gov)
The legal limits for electric bikes in the UK.
- Speed limit of 15mph
- Weight of 40Kg
- Maximum power of 200Watts
- Max power of 250 watts for tricycles and tandems
Penalties For Infringing Law
- Cycling on pavements by roadside. Max fine £1,000. In practise, fixed penalty notice £30
- Furious Cycling. £200. Can be imprisonment, banned from driving a car.
- Drunk in charge of bicycle (licensing act 1872) – 1 month prison and £200 fine.
- Electric bikes cannot be ridden by under 14. £500 fine.
- Dangerously riding bike, max fine £2,500
- Riding bicycle without due car and attention max fine £1,000
Highway code states:
63 Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). Keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer. Multi-lane carriageways (133-143)
A really wide mandatory cycle lane in Oxford
For Car users:
Cycle lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs. You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line during its times of operation. Do not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line unless it is unavoidable. You MUST NOT park in any cycle lane whilst waiting restrictions apply. Multi-lane Carriageways
Mandatory cycle lanes seem quite rare, unless they are on double yellow lines.
How Often is Practicable to Use Cycle Lanes?
There is actually a cycle path to the left. It is as the bottom of a fast descent. I never use it, and the road has been narrowed.
I have had the odd motorist remonstrate for not using shared use cycle paths. The main reason is I usually don’t think it’s safe to use certain shared use cycle paths
- It’s dangerous for the cyclists because there are so many junctions to negotiate.
- It’s not pleasant for pedestrians to have to share narrow pavements with cyclists.
Therefore in this case, I tend to ride in road.
Shared use cycle paths can have their place, especially for cyclists not confident cycling in the road and who like to cycle slowly. But, since I tend to be cycling relatively quick I tend to avoid them. I do fear the day when cyclists are not allowed to use roads, but only use shared cycle lanes at a ‘pedestrian pace’.