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Is Cycling on the Pavement Legal? You Asked, We Answered

By Principal Lawyer, Personal Injury - Serious Injuries

Q: My question is about insurance. If Cycling UK members cycle on pavements, are they still covered by insurance should a member collide with a pedestrian or animal? In recent articles and on TV, it has been suggested that pavement cycling is okay if done safely. 

Pavement Cycling

A: The simple answer is cycling on the pavement is against the law. As stated in the Highways Act 1835, it is illegal for cyclists to “lead or drive” a “carriage of any description” on “any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers”. It is worth noting that there is no blanket ban on cyclists using footpaths which are not by the road side.

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs), which were increased from £30 to £50 in 2013, may be administered by police officers for various cycling offences, including cycling on the pavement. The maximum penalty is £500. Failure to pay a FPN may lead to a higher fine or prosecution for the underlying offence.

Guidance as to how and when FPNs should be used has been varied and controversial. In 1999, Mr Paul Boateng MP, speaking on the introduction of FPNs, said, “The introduction of the fixed penalty notice is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so.”

Children are the obvious example where discretion should be exercised. Children under 10 are below the age of criminal responsibility and children under 16 cannot be served with an FPN. Boateng explained that because children and young people are afraid to cycle on the road, “sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”

In Lincolnshire, one policeman threatened to confiscate a four-year-old’s bicycle after he saw her cycling on the pavement. Not only can the officer not legally do this, it is clearly a ridiculous exercise of police power as the rule was implemented to keep pedestrians safe and it would be unreasonable to expect a young child to cycle on the road.

A four-year-old cycling slowly along the pavement, accompanied by her father, poses very little risk to the public. The CTC have said the police must differentiate between those whose behaviour is dangerous and antisocial and those who are acting out of concern for their own safety without presenting a threat to others.

Despite the guidance given, when FPNs were introduced in 1999, the Metropolitan Police handed out approximately 1,200 notices in an eight-week period. Last year the Transport Minister, Robert Goodwill, spoke openly about the use of FPNs and urged police to use their discretion when exercising the right to fine cyclists who choose to use the pavement. Those in agreement with Goodwill have argued that it is often necessary to mount the pavement at difficult and dangerous junctions.

Cycle campaigner and co-founder of Stop Killing Cyclists, Donnachadh McCarthy, said, “Fining vulnerable cyclists for cycling responsibly on the pavement at extremely dangerous junctions is a bedroom tax on two-wheels as there is no safe alternative for them to cycle on.” Given the number of cyclists killed on the roads, particularly in Central London, this is certainly food for thought.

Whilst cyclists are responsible for a far smaller proportion of serious accidents and deaths on the road than motor vehicles, stories of irresponsible cycling are unfortunately not uncommon, for example, the recent media coverage concerning the hit-and-run cyclist who collided with a toddler on the pavement in Blackpool. In another example, earlier this year a woman in her forties was hit from behind by a cyclist in Bermondsey, South London, leaving her with serious facial lacerations.

Bad cycling of this nature obviously needs to be punished and FPNs are a good way of controlling irresponsible behaviour on the roads. Unfortunately this often means that responsible cyclists are caught out whilst attempting to negotiate difficult junctions. Whilst the police have discretion when it comes to FPNs, cycling on the pavement is still against the law and should be avoided wherever possible. My advice would be to stick to the roads where it is possible and safe to do so.

The CTC Third Party Liability Insurance provides £10million of indemnity insurance. This provides protection to CTC members if their negligence results in a collision. Unlawful activity such as cycling on the pavement or jumping a red light does not invalidate the insurance. The Third Party Insurance is a valuable member benefit and provides peace of mind in the event that something goes wrong.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have secured more than £40 million in compensation for Cycling UK Members who have been injured in cycling accidents since 2002. Call us for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

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