Cyclists' behaviour and the law

Cherry Allan's picture
Headline Messages: 
  • Cyclists should behave responsibly and within the law. They pose little risk to others, however.
  • Cyclists are often faced with the difficult choice of either acting legally or keeping safe. Children, for example, may feel safer cycling on the pavement alongside a busy, hostile road, but are in breach of the law if it hasn’t been converted to shared use. It is important that the law and those applying it take this into account. The planners and designers of the road network need to be mindful of this too.
  • Whilst Cycling UK encourages cyclists to undertake cycle training and to have insurance cover, making training or licences compulsory for cyclists is unworkable and would deter people from cycling occasionally or giving it a try. It would not solve any problems and the running costs would be prohibitive.
Key facts: 
  • In collisions involving cyclists and other vehicles (GB), cyclists are more likely to have no ‘contributory factor’ recorded in comparison to the others – 50% compared to only 27% in 2013;
  • In 2015 (GB), the police decided that, out of the 12,714 pedal cyclists involved in incidents where contributory factors were assigned to one or more of the vehicles involved, 178 of them had ‘Disobeyed automatic traffic signal’, i.e. just over 1%. ‘Not displaying lights at night or in poor visibility’ was assigned to 230 pedal cycles (2%). 
  • With around 25 million children and adults aged 5+ owning a bicycle in Great Britain, a licensing and compulsory training system for cyclists/cycles would be complex and very costly – not much less so than the current system for drivers (almost 38.5 million) and private cars (over 29 million);
  • Mile-for-mile in urban areas (exc. motorways) from 2011-15 (GB), motor vehicles were more likely than a cycle to seriously injure a pedestrian, and over twice as likely to kill them;
  • Very nearly all the pedestrian fatalities (c98.5%) and serious injuries (c96%) that happen in collisions on a pavement/verge involve a motor vehicle, not a cycle;
  • Collisions between cycles and pedestrians are more likely to happen in the roadway than on the pavement/verge. From 2005-15, the roadway was the location for around four fifths of pedestrian fatalities and almost three quarters of pedestrian serious injuries, where a cycle was involved;
  • From 2005-14, no pedestrians were killed by red light jumping cyclists, while around five a year were killed by red light jumping drivers..
Cycling UK View (formal statement of Cycling UK's policy): 
  • Cyclists, like all road users, should behave responsibly and within the law.
  • The enforcement of road traffic rules, and penalties for breaching them, should be proportionate to the potential danger imposed on other people, especially vulnerable road users. This principle also applies to off-road rights of way.
  • Road traffic rules should not put cyclists in situations where they feel they must choose between acting legally and protecting their own safety. Those responsible for making and enforcing the rules must take into account the reasons behind cyclists’ offending behaviour.
  • Cycling UK does not condone unlawful cycling on pavements (footway). However, the police should exercise discretion in the use of fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for pavement cycling and discriminate between those whose behaviour is dangerous and antisocial and those who are acting out of concern for their own safety without presenting any threat to others.
  • The police and others charged with applying the law should be able to send offending cyclists on training programmes as an alternative to prosecution or fixed penalty notices (FPNs).
  • Highway authorities should tackle any hazardous road conditions or poor design that may explain illegal behaviour by cyclists in certain locations.
  • A system of compulsory licensing and cycle training is unworkable and unjustifiable, not least because children have the same legal rights to cycle as adults and expecting them to hold licences is impractical. While the running costs would be high (i.e. similar to schemes that apply to motor vehicles and drivers), the benefits would be negligible, and the bureaucracy involved likely to seriously deter newcomers and occasional cyclists.
  • Cycling UK does not actively support Critical Mass, but recognises the motivation of those involved.
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Publication Date: 
November 2016

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ehcrozier's picture

Safety on shared paths.

Simply a comment on shared cycle paths. Routes shared with motorists......usually very noisy and where no physical barrier exists, eg raised kerb or similar, no great feeling of safety exists. Paths shared with usually feels quite safe, except when poorly trained and supervised dogs are allowed to run about freely. Sadly, some cyclists, usually in what most pedestrians consider to be racing kit and riding fast lightweight bikes tend to use these paths as training routes and ride much too fast for general safety.......they also tend to get ALL cyclists branded as irresponsible. Bell warnings tend to get a mixed reaction ( especially if sounded too late!) from 'Thanks for the warning'. to ' Damn! Another cyclist '.

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