cycling and the law

As a solicitor who specialises in cycling cases I often have riders emailing me with thoughts and queries about the law for cyclists. Here is a collection of some of the rules of the road and the affects that breaking the rules can have on an injury case.

Cycling and Alcohol

It is common knowledge that motorists have a specific blood alcohol level that, if reached, means it is illegal for them to drive. For cyclists the law is not so specific.

The test for cyclists is whether or not they are “fit to ride”. This refers to whether the cyclist themselves is capable of riding safely, irrespective of how much alcohol they have consumed. The relevant law is section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1988:

A person who, when riding a cycle on a road or other public place, is unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle) is guilty of an offence.


Cyclists cannot be booked for speeding as there is no requirement for a bike to be fitted with a speedometer. Some may find this surprising – especially when the record speed for a cyclist is 152 miles per hour. You can read more about this record here:

There is a gloriously named offence of “cycling furiously” under section 28 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 for:

Every person who rides or drives furiously any horse or carriage, or drives furiously any cattle.

Also, section 28(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that:

A person who rides a cycle on a road dangerously is guilty of an offence.

The test under section 28(2) is whether:

(a) the way he rides falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful cyclist, and

(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful cyclist that riding in that way would be dangerous.

Clearly this could apply where a cyclist rides in a dangerous way.

Red light jumping

Cyclists caught jumping a red light can expect a £50 Fixed Penalty Notice. Theoretically this is what motorists should receive when entering an advanced stop line which enable cyclists to position themselves ahead of other traffic. I say theoretically as the police do not seem too interested in booking drivers for this.

Jumping a red light is an offence under section 6(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988:

Where a traffic sign…has been lawfully placed on or near a road, a person driving or propelling a vehicle who fails to comply with the indication given by the sign is guilty of an offence.

Cycling without lights

When cycling “between sunset and sunrise,” or in seriously reduced visibility, cyclists must have lights on their bike. The relevant law is found in the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989.

This requires a cyclist to have:

  • white front light;
  • red rear light;
  • rear red light reflector;
  • amber reflectors on the front and rear of both pedals.

The lights can flash as long as it is between 60 and 240 times per minute under section 6 of the Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) Regulations 2005.

Under regulation 24(9)(a) lights are not required on “a pedal cycle being pushed along the left-hand edge of a carriageway”.

Cycling on the Pavement

It is illegal for cyclists to ride on the pavement unless the pavement is marked as a shared use cycling path. This is an offence under section 72 of the Highways Act 1835 (as amended):

If any person shall wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers….[they shall]…forfeit and pay any sum not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.

The maximum fine for riding on the pavement is £500, although it is more usual to receive a £50 fixed penalty notice.

Cycle lanes

Cars and lorries parking in cycle lanes forces riders into moving traffic, often with little warning.

Rule 140 of the Highway Code states:

Cycle lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs. You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line during its times of operation. Do not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line unless it is unavoidable. You MUST NOT park in any cycle lane whilst waiting restrictions apply.

In other words, where the cycle lane has a solid line it is illegal for a motorist to drive or park in the lane. In general, it is not illegal to drive or park in a cycle lane with a broken white line running down its right side.

Motorists who are caught parking in a mandatory cycle lane may be given a £50 Fixed Penalty Notice.

Bus Lanes

Nearly all bus lanes are open to cyclists. Where this is not the case there should be signage to specify this.

One-Way Streets

It’s not uncommon for cyclists to ride the wrong way up a one-way street (salmon cycling as it is known in New York). One-way streets can be attractive for cyclists as they may avoid busier roads and be more direct. However, cyclists can only ride legally where there are signs stating it is permitted.

How would being in breach of the laws of the road affect a legal case

At times it can be tempting to jump red lights, cycle without lights or otherwise break the rules of the Highway Code. However, if you are involved in a collision you are more likely to lose the case if you have acted in breach of the law. Even if you win the case you can still have your damages reduced where your actions have contributed to the incident or the severity of your injuries.

In the case of Malasi v Attmed a cyclist’s damages were reduced by 80% when he was injured in a collision after he jumped a red light. It is unlikely he would have received any damages had the motorist not have been driving over the speed limit when the incident occurred. Of more importance for Mr Malasi, of course, is that he would not have sustained serious injury had he not followed the Highway Code.


Oliver JeffcottAbout the Author: Oliver Jeffcott is an associate solicitor at BL Claims where he specialises in helping injured cyclists. He also blogs at