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Can Cyclists Break the Speed Limit, or Does the Law Only Apply to Motorists?

By Principal Lawyer, Personal Injury

Do speed limits apply to bicycles? The short answer to this question is no although there are various bylaws in place that could impose speed limits on cyclists.

In general, British cyclists share no legal obligation to adhere to the same speed limits as motorists. Motor vehicle speed limits were introduced in 1903 and set at 20mph.

After this limit was routinely breached, the speed limit in towns was changed to 30mph in 1934. Since then there have been no amendments enacted to make cyclists also adhere to the same regulations.

Speed limits listed in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and also Rule 124 of the Highway Code relate to motor vehicles and not to bicycles.

“It shall not be lawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle on a restricted road at a speed exceeding 30 miles per hour.

“A person who drives a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a limit imposed by or under any enactment to which this section applies shall be guilty of an offence.”

Rule 123 of the Highway Code includes a table that sets out the speed limits for various types of vehicle on various categories of road. The table does not include bicycles.

As such, cyclists who breach the speed limit may not be prosecuted for a speeding offence but they can, however, be prosecuted for “cycling furiously” or “wanton and furious cycling.”

“Wanton and furious cycling” is the closest offence to dangerous driving that a cyclist can be charged with although it can only ever be used when the circumstances of a cycling accident involve someone suffering serious injury or death as a direct result of the cyclist’s actions.

The last such conviction in the UK occurred in 2008 when a cyclist collided with a pedestrian in Weymouth after mounting the pavement on a blind bend to avoid a red traffic light. The cyclist was sentenced to seven months in prison after the man he collided with died of his injuries.

A cyclist cannot actually be stopped for “wanton and furious cycling” as the offence only applies if an injury is suffered. A bike is considered a carriage under highways law, and The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1948) states:

“Whosoever, having the charge of any carriage or vehicle, shall by wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years.”

It is, however, possible for local bylaws to impose speed limits on cyclists. For example, on Hampstead Heath in London there is an 8mph speed limit for cyclists, and in Richmond Park the speed limit of 20 miles per hour for vehicles also applies to cyclists.

It is also open to the police to prosecute cyclists for ‘careless and inconsiderate riding’. For example, in the Box Hill area of Surrey so popular with cyclists, the police have posted leaflets warning cyclists against antisocial cycling.

The main concern of the police, however, is cyclists riding together in groups and slowing the flow of traffic down. With the exception of local bylaws, I have never come across a cyclist being prosecuted for cycling too quickly on a road.

So, while technically cyclists are not legally obliged to adhere to speed limits, in practice it is obviously the sensible and safer option – although of course the prospect of most cyclists ever reaching, let alone breaking the speed limit, is unlikely.

Paul Kitson is Slater and Gordon’s Principal Lawyer for the CTC, the UK’s national cycling charity.

We have many years’ experience dealing with cycling accident claims caused by potholes, motorists, buses, animals, faulty equipment and road defects.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have secured more than £40 million in compensation for CTC Members who have been injured in cycling accidents since 2002.

For a free consultation or to claim compensation for cycling accident injuries, call our specialist Cycling Accident Solicitors 24/7 on freephone 0808 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.

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