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 in Great Britain, the police are around twice as likely to assign no ‘contributory factor(s)’ to them than to the driver/rider of the other vehicle;
  • In 2014 (GB), in collisions involving a cycle where the police assigned a contributory factor to a road user, they decided that just over 1% (176) of the cyclists ‘Disobeyed automatic traffic signal’, and around 2% (296) were ‘Not displaying lights at night or in poor visibility’;
  • With around 23 million people aged 5+ owning a bicycle in England, a licensing and compulsory training system for cyclists/cycles would be complex and very costly – not much less so than the current system for licensed drivers (almost 32 million) and private cars (over 24 million);
  • Mile for mile in urban areas from 2010-14 (GB), motor vehicles were more likely than a cycle to seriously injure a pedestrian, and about twice as likely to kill them;
  • From 2005-14 (GB):
    • 98.5% of pedestrian fatalities and 95.7% of pedestrian serious injuries that happened in collisions on a footway/verge involved a motor vehicle;
    • Cycles were involved in just 0.6 pedestrian fatalities on the footway/verge on average a year, and about 19 serious pedestrian injuries;
    • 80% of the total pedestrian fatalities and almost three quarters of pedestrian serious injuries that involved a cycle happened on the roadway, not the footway/verge;
    • 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: 
July 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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