The UK Highway Code is a combination of legal requirements and guidance designed with safety for all road users alike in mind.
Cyclists are considered vulnerable road users, a fact all too frequently illustrated by some of the terrible injuries our clients suffer following road traffic collisions. As vulnerable road users, it is essential that all road users – including cyclists - have a good knowledge of the Highway Code so that they may be vigilant in identifying risks and ensuring they are road-ready.
There is no separate handbook for cyclists, per se; guidance for cyclists can be found in sections 59 to 82 of the Highway Code and a useful annex provides information and rules about you and your bicycle.
Rules of the cyclists’ Highway Code cover:
- clothing you are advised to wear, including helmet laws;
- cycle routes, tracks, lanes, junctions and roundabouts are covered with regards to where a cyclist should be on certain roads;
- when a cyclist must dismount and how they should cross roads.
It is always a good idea for frequent road users – whatever their vehicle - to remind themselves of the rules from time to time in the interest of safety for themselves and others – you may surprise yourself into the need for a spot of revision.
“Shoulds” And “Musts” in The Highway Code
When a rule is expressed using the words ‘must’ or ‘must not’, then that rule is a legal requirement backed up by legislation. However, when an HC rule is expressed in terms such as ‘should’ or ‘should not’, or ‘do’ or ‘do not’, it does not reflect a legal requirement.
It is important to recognise that even where a rule is advisory, any failure to comply could mean that it is brought up when proving liability during any legal action. This could negatively affect your claim in the event of an injury.
What if The Highway Code Isn’t Enough?
There are unfortunately times when a cyclist may follow the Highway Code to a T and find themselves injured as a result of another road user’s negligence. When bringing a claim following a road traffic collision, an injured cyclist would need to prove a defendant driver’s negligence on a balance of probabilities.
There are unfortunately times when a cyclist may follow the Highway Code to a T and find themselves injured as a result of another road user’s negligence. When bringing a claim following a road traffic collision, an injured cyclist would need to prove a defendant driver’s negligence on a balance of probabilities. This can be difficult and evidence would be required. Along with witness statements, a helmet camera can ideally reveal a cyclist’s every move, showing how they have clearly abided by the Highway Code up to the point of collision.
Looking at the bigger picture of how the law may better protect vulnerable road users, cyclists may look forward to the day English and Scottish law follows in the steps of our European neighbours and adopts the ‘presumed liability’ system wherein a defendant driver would be presumed to be at fault unless they can prove otherwise.
Richard Gaffney is Slater and Gordon’s principal lawyer for Cycling UK, the UK’s national cycling charity.