Battling for space on our increasingly busy roads is a daily occurrence, one of the biggest grievances seems to be cyclists vs car drivers. Car dwellers believe there’s no reason for bikes to be on the road, whilst pedal pushers feel they’re never given enough room by ignorant drivers.
So we thought we’d take a look at what’s legal on a bike and what isn’t, to try and clear things up a bit.
Ride two or more abreast
There is, in fact, no law that stops riders from cycling two or more abreast, it’s just an advisory in the Highway Code.
The confusion happens in the way the Highway Code (HC) is worded. If a rule says you ‘must’ or ‘must not’ there is some sort of legal requirement backed by legislation behind the rule, breaching it will be a criminal act.
When the words ‘should’ or ‘should not’ along with ‘do’ and ‘do not’ are used, this is just advisory, or best practice behaviour. There would be no legal implications if you broke this rule.
Getting back to the two abreast scenario, rule 66 in the HC starts with the words “You should” but later on you’ll find “never ride more than two abreast”. This confuses advisory behaviour with what sounds like a legally backed rule.
It is however not illegal to cycle two or more abreast. Although it may not entirely be recommended and rule 66 states that cyclists should “ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends”. Again, that’s just advisory.
Ride in the middle of the road
Cycling in the middle of the road is also not illegal, but it’s another confusing rule from the Highway Code that gets misunderstood.
Rule 169 states that all road users should not “hold up a long queue of traffic” and should “if necessary, pull in where it is safe and let traffic pass”. Rather than applying to all road users, it’s mostly directed at large and slow moving vehicles which are hard to pass.
In fact, cycling in the middle of the road, also known as the ‘Primary Position’ can be the safest thing to do, especially if there are parked cars on the left hand side of the road. It only takes a careless driver to fling his door open or pull out without checking their blind spot and you’re off.
It’s also the recommended way to stop cars overtaking you if you feel there is insufficient space or the situation is unsafe. Another reason to ride primary is that it’s the place you’re most easily visible.
Ride outside the cycle lane
Rule number 63 in the HC describes cycle lanes, but it doesn’t say you must use them; merely that you can ride in them depending “on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer”.
That last part can refer to a well maintained cycle lane, not one strewn with potholes, glass or are dangerously designed. Therefore you should make your own decision as to whether or not you choose to use cycle lanes.
Jump red lights
We’ve left one of the biggest bugbears of drivers until last, jumping red lights. There’s nothing more infuriating to approach a red light, stop and then watch a cyclist barrel past without so much as a dab of the brakes. But is it legal?
No, it’s totally illegal. Crossing a stop line when the lights are red is an offence, it’s normally dealt with via a fixed penalty notice of around £50. The same goes for riding across a cycle-only signal crossing if the green light isn’t showing.
Things change when you come to Toucan crossings though. The lights are there to tell pedestrians and cyclists it’s safe to cross, but the lights aren’t a legal rule not to cross.
It’s also against the law to ride through an amber light unless you’re too close to it that stopping may cause a collision, the same goes for car drivers.
At the end of the day, cyclists have the same rights as car drivers, we all need to use the limited space we have safely, being both respectful and courteous to each other. Both sides are to blame when it comes to fuelling the underlying disdain that seems to brew to heated arguments whenever and wherever the chance arises.
Cyclists and motorists forget, we’re all human and should have compassion no matter our mode of transport.