As you may now realise since taking the Great British Cycling Quiz, the rights and laws that apply to cyclists aren't always clear. Here, we sort the fact from the fiction, so you know exactly what's correct when on your bike, or around others who are on two wheels.
Q: In which circumstances can you ride on the pavement?
A: Cyclists must never ride on the pavement.
Contrary to popular belief, it is against the law to ride a bike along the pavement (The Highway Code, section 64). While most cyclists will have taken the option on at least one occasion – and it does not seem to be particularly policed – it underlines the importance of pedestrian safety on these walkways.
- When the road is too narrow for cars to pass cyclists in busy circumstances.
- When no pedestrians are present on the pavement.
- The ruling depends on the local council's own by-laws.
Q: At night, what lighting should you use on a bike?
A: White front and red rear lights, a red rear reflector, and amber pedal reflectors.
Section 60 of the Highway Code states that night-time cyclists require more than the standard-issue reflectors fitted to modern bikes; white front and red rear lights are seen as just as important as they are on other road vehicles. While white front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen, they're not required; amber pedal reflectors also need fitting if a bike is manufactured before October 1st, 1985.
- White front and red rear lights.
- White front and red rear lights, and a red rear reflector.
- A red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors.
Q: Which items of protective clothing must a cyclist wear when on the road, by law?
Section 59 of the Highway Code is a recommendation, not a law: "[y]ou should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened." On top of this, rightly-coloured clothing is also still only a "should", not a must.
While many people may be shocked by this, cycling charities such as CTC actively campaign against mandatory helmet use, stating: "CTC is not only concerned about the harmful effects of mandatory helmet use … By creating exaggerated perceptions of the risks of cycling, even voluntary helmet promotion campaigns have been found to deter some people from cycling."
- A helmet.
- A helmet and one item of brightly-coloured clothing.
- A helmet, one item of brightly-coloured clothing, and leg straps (if wearing baggy trousers or jeans).
Q: How does the law respond to cyclists under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including medicine)?
A: Cyclists are independently judged on whether or not they are fit to ride, so the legal limit and breath tests do not apply.
As CTC again highlights: "The drink/drive limit as defined by the Road Traffic Act 1988 section 11, only applies to drivers. For cyclists, the test is whether or not they are fit to ride so both the legal limit and the breath tests that the police use for drivers do not apply." While the Highway Code's section 68 implies otherwise, prosecutions are extremely rare.
- The same limits apply to all road users, regardless of transport.
- The limit that applies to alcohol is set at roughly double that of drivers, while drug influence has no laws applied to it.
- There are no rules concerning alcohol, drugs or medicine.
Q: Which traffic signs or signals do not apply to cyclists?
A: Cyclists must follow traffic signals in the same way as all other vehicles.
While more careless cyclists may give the impression that they are able to take more liberties than other road users, the Highway Code is clear: cyclists must adhere to the exact same rules as everyone else.
- Red lights, when the junction is clear.
- All pedestrian crossings, as cyclists have the same right of way as those on foot.
- Give way signs, when turning left.
Q: When can a cyclist cross the stop line when a traffic light is red?
A: When there is an advanced stop line (a red boxed area) that enables a cyclist to wait and position themselves ahead of other traffic.
The advanced stop lines are often marked with a bicycle outline, making it clear who is allowed in this area. It is becoming a much more common practice across the UK for councils to add these to major junctions, particularly in London.
- When the distance between the stop line and the intersection is greater than one bike length.
- When the road is too narrow to have a vehicle and a bike side-by-side in the same lane.
Q: How much room should a motorist give a cyclist when overtaking them?
A: The same amount of space needed to pass another vehicle.
Cyclists may be much smaller than your average five-seat family sedan, but their immediate danger around traffic is much higher than someone sat inside a vehicle – hence the reason this law is in place (Highway Code, section 162). Again, however, it seems to be a relatively unpoliced law.
- Four feet (120cm).
- There is no set distance given in the Highway Code.
- Half the width of the lane the driver is in.
Q: When are you allowed to carry a passenger on your bike?
A: If your bike has been fitted with additional seating space.
Giving friends a ride on the same bike as you may seem like harmless fun as a child, but the law does not take too kindly to people getting on bikes with just one seat (Highway Code, section 68).
- Only when riding a tandem or rickshaw.
- Only a child under the age of seven in an approved bike seat.
If you're inspired by the Tour de France and you want to get on your bike, then ensure you follow the law, at the very least. However, as you can see above, sometimes it's worth going above and beyond for the sake of other road users – the more sensible and visible you are, the safer you'll be.