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Lifestyle Guides

Sharing the road: understanding the rules for cyclists and drivers

If you've ever seen cyclists riding two abreast and wondered if what they're doing is legal, take a look at our cycling mythbuster.

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From improving your physical fitness to reducing your carbon footprint, cycling has many benefits. And there's never been a better time to get into cycling, as the Department for Transport has announced it'll be updating the Highway Code, with a focus on keeping cyclists and pedestrians safer on our roads.

The revisions to the Highway Code will also advise on some of the main safety issues facing cyclists and pedestrians, such as remembering to check the road is clear before opening your car door. The Department for Transport has also issued changes to the national standard for cycling training manual.

While the changes implemented by the Department for Transport are centred on helping drivers do their bit to help keep cyclists and pedestrians safe, it’s crucial to remember that cyclists and pedestrians are at the forefront of their own safety.

Cyclists and pedestrians must follow the rules of the road too, but they also sometimes act in ways that doesn’t make sense to drivers. With that in mind, we’ve put together this guide to help clear up why cyclists do what they do on the roads, and what they need to do to ride legally.  

Bear in mind The Highway Code isn’t a direct statement of the laws, but a combination of advice and mandatory rules which apply to all road users in the UK. From the 29 January 2022, this will be updated with changes to help protect cyclists from other users. You can find out more about the changes here.

Let's take a look at some frequently asked questions about cycling. 

Can you drink and cycle?

No. While there’s no breathalyzer test or legal limit for cycling under the influence, if caught, you could face a £1,000 fine. If you’re stopped on your bicycle and deemed unfit to ride, you can be found guilty of an offence.

Additionally, cycling under the influence can be incredibly dangerous. Cycling while inebriated can make you ten times more likely to get injured than cycling sober.

Do cyclists have to stop at red lights?

Yes. Crossing the stop line at a red light is an offence, as is cycling through an amber light. The consequence for failing to stop at a red light is a £50 fine.

Do cyclists have to be single file, or can they ride two abreast?

There’s no law against cyclists riding two abreast. However, you shouldn't ride more than two abreast.

Rule 66 states that you should "be considerate of the needs of other road users when riding in groups", but that you can "ride two abreast and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders."

Cyclists often ride two abreast for safety reasons, however, and Cycling UK advises that safety should be the overriding factor when deciding whether to ride single file or not.

Rule 66 states that you should move into single file to allow drivers to overtake, but only "when you feel it is safe to let [drivers] do so." 

Can cyclists ride in the middle of the lane?

Cycling in the middle of the lane is known as ‘taking the lane’ or ‘primary position’. Cyclists do this for several reasons, including:

  • Passing parked cars (in case the door opens suddenly)
  • To prevent traffic overtaking in a dangerous way on narrow roads
  • When turning or manoeuvring

Cyclists are now instructed to ride in the centre of the lane in slower moving traffic, "on quiet roads or streets, moving over to the left if a faster vehicle comes up behind them, but only if they can do so safely" and "at the approach to junctions or where the road narrows, where it would be unsafe for drivers to overtake them".

What counts as careless, dangerous or furious cycling?

Cycling carelessly is defined as cycling without care and attention or reasonable consideration to other road users. Dangerous cycling is, simply put, cycling dangerously.

While cyclists cannot be charged for speeding, they can be charged for ‘furious cycling’. If a cyclist is found guilty of causing injury while cycling furiously, they can face up to two years in prison. 

Cycling carelessly has a maximum fine of £1,000, while cycling dangerously can carry a fine of up to £2,500. Furious cycling without causing injury is subject to a fine of up to £1,000.

Do cyclists have to wear a helmet?

The Highway Code advises that cyclists should wear helmets, but this is not a legal requirement. However, there are lots of reasons to wear a helmet, including protecting your head and improving your visibility to drivers through the reflective strips often fitted on them.

Do bicycles have to be fitted with lights?

Yes. When cycling after sunset you must have bright, working lights fitted to the front and back of your bike. It’s important to note that lights aren’t a legal requirement during the daytime, even if there’s reduced visibility.

That being said, it’s important for your safety that, should you still decide to cycle in poor conditions, you’re highly visible to cars and pedestrians.

Can more than one person ride on a bicycle at the same time?

According to Section 24 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, it is illegal to give a backie unless your bike is "constructed or adapted" to do so.

Incorrectly "giving a backie" is an offence and you can be fined up to £200.

Do you have to wear hi-vis jackets when cycling?

The Highway Code advises cyclists to wear hi-vis or reflective clothing while cycling. This isn’t a legal requirement, however, but having reflectors on your bike is – although you only legally have to wear reflectors between sunset and sunrise. You must, by law, have a red rear reflector and four amber reflectors (one at the front and back of each pedal).

Can cyclists ride fixed gear bikes without brakes?

No. Not only is this extremely dangerous, but it’s illegal. Riding a bicycle on a public road without two efficient braking systems is an offence.

Does a cyclist have to use a cycle lane if one is available?

No – it’s not compulsory to use a cycle lane. Cycle lanes can be safer, and you should choose to cycle where you feel confident. 

You can cycle on pavements when they have been converted to a shared-use path. These are signposted with the blue, circular signs that shows a bike and pedestrians together. 

Usually, this means having a common-sense approach to riding on pavements and to be considerate of those walking. 

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