Cycling and the Law

Many people who enjoy cycling are nevertheless confused by the law that surrounds the use of bicycles on public roads and so it is no surprise that there are lots of questions surrounding cycling, including those regarding the use of footways, the relevance of the Highway Code and about whether or not speed limits are applicable. Here, we look at some of the most common questions that are posed about cycling and find definitive answers.

Are Children Allowed to Cycle on a Footway?

While there is a law which states that cyclists can be fined a maximum amount of £500 for cycling on a footway, generally this misdemeanour is enforced through the Fixed Penalty Notice procedure which incurs a fine of £30 and the popular view indicates that this type of penalty can only be issued to persons over the age of 16. Although this is not strictly true, and the law applies to everyone, police are encouraged to show discretion with regard to young children riding on a pavement as opposed to on an unsafe, busy road. That said, technically it is only children aged under 10 that can cycle on a footway without any fear of being fined as this is the age of criminal responsibility.

Am I Allowed to Cycle in Pedestrianised Zones?

If there is signage which indicates that cycling is prohibited in a pedestrianised area then cycling is definitely forbidden. However, should there be no local bye-law signage apparent, cyclists should give priority to any pedestrian in the area and should be extremely careful when proceeding. The Department for Transport state that cyclists should use their judgement, and if there are lots of pedestrians in the space they should dismount and push their bike rather than riding through a crowd.

When Must I Dismount?

Usually, signs that tell a cyclist to dismount are found at the end of paths or at road crossings. This signs, however, are only advisory and therefore cyclists are not committing any offence should they ignore this signage. However, as these signs are located in places which are considered to be dangerous, it is important to take them as a warning. There are some signs that you cannot ignore, and these are the ones that have a surrounding red circle.

What are the Requirements About Carrying People and Things?

It is forbidden under the terms of the Road Traffic Act for two people to ride one bike unless the bike has been specially adapted or constructed for carrying multiple people. If you are caught carrying a passenger you could be fined up to £200 unless your passenger is aged under ten and is therefore below the age of criminal responsibility. A child riding in a weight-appropriate fitted child seat complies with the law, however it is forbidden to carry a passenger on a rear rack that has not been specifically designed to serve this purpose, or in a basket that is for the purpose of carrying luggage. If you are pulling a trailer, there are no legal requirements, however it is important to note that you could be required by the police to stop and prove that your brakes will be able to stop you.

What the Legal Requirements Surrounding Bikes?

The primary laws applying to bikes relate to the fitting of red rear reflectors as well as amber pedal reflectors for any bike manufactured after 1985 that is ridden at night on a public road. They also require that any bike which is ridden during the night to have a front and rear light which can either be steady or flashing.

Which Highway Code Rules Apply to Cycling?

The Highway Code has made rules that are applicable to cyclists, and everyone who rides a bike should note that they have responsibilities too and not just rights. Any “must” rule outlined in the Highway Code is a law and therefore has to be obeyed. Rules that are not a “must” are not compulsory, however they are advisable. Anyone who does not adhere to the Highway Code’s provisions could find themselves having to establish that they were not liable for any incident that they are involved in.

Can I Cycle if I Have Been Drinking Alcohol?

While everyone knows that drinking alcohol and driving a car is illegal, the rules relating to cycling are not so well known. Although there is a law (the Licensing Act of 1872) which made it an offence to ride a bicycle while drunk, this law is never enforced and cyclists are not required to the same rules as a motorist. That said, the Road Traffic Act of 1988 made it an offence for anyone to use a bike on a public road or in a public place if they were considered to be unfit to ride because of drink or drug use and the offence of “cycling dangerously” can result in a fine of up to £2,500. It is not possible to be given an endorsement on your driving licence if you are fined for “drink cycling”, however cyclists should be aware that the courts are allowed to disqualify cyclists from driving a car if they commit any offence.

Does the Law About Speed Limits Apply to Cyclists?

Cyclists have often made jokes about the fact that, although they cannot be fined for speeding, they can be fined for the crime of “pedalling furiously”. While there is no offence specifically called “furious cycling”, it is possible, according to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, to fine a cyclist of “riding furiously” under the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847, as well as “wanton and furious-driving” under the wording of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 which was amended by the 1948 Criminal Justice Act. Conviction under this act can result in a prison term of up to two years, and one case in which this Act was cited was in the 2009 case of a supermarket worker called Darren Hall who was imprisoned for 7 months and given a one year driving ban for killing a pedestrian when he rode on the pavement. However, the courts can only use this Act if a cyclist has injured someone due to racing or furious driving.