Cyclists' behaviour and the law

Briefing
Cycling UK advocates responsible cycling, but believes that cyclists should never have to choose between keeping safe and obeying the law

Cyclists' behaviour and the law

Headline Message 
  • Cyclists should behave responsibly and within the law. They pose little risk to others, however.
  • Cyclists are often faced with a difficult choice: either act legally or keep safe. Children, for example, may feel safer cycling on the pavement alongside a busy, hostile road, but commit an offence if it hasn’t been converted to shared use. It is important that the law and those who apply it take this into account. Planners and designers of the road network need to be mindful of this too.
  • Whilst Cycling UK encourages cyclists to take advantage of cycle training and to be insured, making either of these compulsory is not only unworkable, but would not solve any problems. It would probably put people off cycling occasionally or giving it a try, and the costs to the taxpayer would be prohibitive.
Policy Key Facts 
  • In 2016 (GB), 11,783 cycles were involved in incidents in which a police officer assigned one or more ‘contributory factors’ (CFs) to at least one of the parties at the scene. They assigned 138 CFs for ‘disobeying an automatic traffic signal’ to the cycle, i.e. to just over 1% of them - about the same percentage as it was for cars; and 236 CFs for ‘not displaying lights at night or in poor visibility’ to the cycle, i.e. to 2% of them.
  • From 2007-16 (GB): 98.9% of pedestrian fatalities and 95.6% of pedestrian serious injuries that happened in collisions on a footway/verge involved a motor vehicle of some kind; no pedestrians were killed by red light jumping cyclists, while around five a year were killed by red light jumping drivers.
  • With around 25 million children and adults aged five+ 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 (of which there are almost 38.5 million) and private cars (over 29 million).
  • In the Netherlands and Denmark, where 27% and 17% of trips are cycled respectively, there is no requirement for cyclists to be tested, licenced/registered etc.
  • A variety of regulatory systems for cyclists have been introduced in other countries or in cities elsewhere (e.g. Toronto and Switzerland), but subsequently abolished (e.g. in Toronto and Switzerland); either that, or their main aim isn’t/wasn’t to tackle irresponsible behaviour, but bike theft (e.g. in Japan).
Cycling UK View 
  • 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.
Download the full detailed campaign briefing 
Cyclists should behave responsibly and legally, but the law should recognise that they do little harm and should not have to choose between keeping safe and obeying rules.