Bicycles are considered by law to be ‘carriages’ and their riders, therefore, have the same rights and responsibilities as the drivers of any motorised vehicle. Although cyclists are more vulnerable on the road, like any other driver they must obey traffic signs, stop at red lights and give way when required. All of the Highway Code that applies to 'all vehicles', applies to cyclists. There are also additional sections which apply only to cyclists. (Sections 59-71).

Below, our expert cycling claims lawyers highlight cyclists' rights on the road and the consequences of not abiding by the Highway Code.


Cycling on the pavement

Cyclists have no rights to cycle on the pavement, defined by the law as ‘footways’ (pavements by the side of a carriageway) in towns and cities.

Section 329(1) of the Highways Act 1980 defines a “footway” as “a way comprised in a highway which also comprises a carriageway, being a way over which the public have a right of way on foot only”.

Cycling on footways is prohibited by law and is punishable. According to the Department for Transport, the maximum fine for cycling on a pavement from the courts is £500. However, it is usually enforced by way of the Fixed Penalty Notice which carries a £30 fine.

The law on pavement use applies to all cyclists, irrespective of age. However, if a child is under the age of criminal responsibility (10) they cannot be prosecuted.


Cycling under the influence

It is an offence under the Licensing Act 1872 to be drunk in charge of a bicycle on a highway or in a public place.

Section 30 Road Traffic Act 1988 says: “It is an offence for a person to ride a cycle on a road or other public place when unfit to ride through drink or drugs – that is to say – is under the influence of a drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle”.

Although prohibited by law, bicycles are not ‘mechanically propelled’ and cyclists are therefore not subject to the same drink drive rules as motorists. The fines and penalties are different.

If you cycle while intoxicated, you endanger yourself and possibly others by your actions. This can result in a fine of up to £2500.


Cycling while using a mobile phone

Using a mobile phone whilst driving a motor vehicle is illegal, but this law does not apply to cyclists. It is not advisable to use a mobile phone while cycling as you may be putting yourself and others at risk, but by doing so you are not breaking the law.


Cycling two abreast

According to the Highway Code cyclists should never ride more than two abreast, and on narrow or busy roads, or when travelling around bends cyclists should be in single file. The Highway Code is not legally binding; it provides factual information and guidance to all road users to follow.


Cycling past stationary traffic

There are no legal binding rules on how cyclists should pass stationary traffic. All cyclists should comply with the general rules of the road. Extra care will always be needed in the proximity of larger vehicles. In return, Section 162 of the Highway Code advises motorists to “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as they would when overtaking a car.”


Dangerous, careless or furious cycling

Cyclists can be prosecuted for a number of criminal offences if they ride in a dangerous way. These include:

  • Dangerous Cycling - riding a bike in a way which falls far below the standard that would be expected of a careful and competent rider, in a way that would pose a danger to other people or their property. If convicted, the rider could face up to a £2,500 fine.
  • Careless and Inconsiderate Cycling - riding a bike on the road without reasonable consideration for other road users. If convicted, the rider could face up to a £1,000 fine.
  • Furious Cycling - riding a bike “furiously” so as to endanger other road users. If convicted, the rider could face up to a £200 fine.

If cyclists cause the death of a person by furious cycling, wilful conduct or willful neglect, then a prison sentence of up to 2 years could be imposed. Depending on the nature of the cycling, a charge of manslaughter may also be brought which carries a prison sentence of up to life imprisonment. An example of such behaviour was the high profile case of Charlie Alliston who was cleared of manslaughter but jailed for 18 months for speeding through London on his bike with no front brakes and killing Kim Briggs.


Cycle races

It is legal to hold a bike race on an open road; however, the organiser of the race must have sought permission from the police and comply with any conditions they impose. All the normal rules of the road and the Highway Code will still apply during the race and the riders will be breaking the law if they ride on the wrong side of the road or ignore other traffic signs.

Traffic does not have to stop at the request of a bike race marshal.