May is blossoming as I write this article and, wherever you go, you can’t miss noticing the number of cyclists on our roads, both country and urban. I thought it would be a good idea to remind cyclists of certain legal issues that affect them from racers to folding bike commuters to BMXers.
The recent revamp of the Highway Code provides us with the ‘hierarchy of road users’ in descending order with larger vehicles such as lorries and buses, going down to cars and to motorcycles and scooters, then to cyclists and to pedestrians. Cyclists, you will note, are second bottom of the ladder. There are crucial new parts of the Code. There are new rules about cycle tracks and shared spaces; cycling positioning and riding in pairs and riding in the centre of the lane, together with passing and overtaking, action at junctions and roundabouts and not riding on the pavement. Part of the Code also states that car drivers opening car doors onto cyclists use the ‘Dutch reach’, i.e. the driver looks over their right shoulder when parked and reaches round to open the door with their left hand rather than opening with their right hand, forcing them to look over their shoulder into their blind-spot.
This should be reflected in court decisions on proof of liability in claims and in criminal prosecutions for driving incorrectly.
There is nearly a ‘must’ in the Highway Code at Rule 59 for ‘cyclists should (my underlining) wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, a cycle helmet…appropriate clothes for cycling. Light coloured or fluorescent clothing (which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light)… reflective clothing and/ or accessories in the dark.’
What’s the effect of not abiding by Rule 59? It doesn’t say ‘must’ but says ‘should’. I see arguments against the cyclist for not abiding by the Highway Code. Does this mean that a cyclist will not get the benefit of the doubt of a Judge in proceedings?
The old Rule 163 stated that cyclists should be given at least as much space as you would a car. Now, the Code says when you pass a vulnerable road user you have to give at least one and a half metres safe passing distance in speeds up to 30 mph and two metres for horses and pedestrians. Another big change is for cars turning left at a junction, to give precedence to cyclists going ahead on their nearside.
This is a risky scenario for cyclists.
Another particular problem for two-wheelers is highway defect claims. Potholes are a particular hazard. Two-wheelers approaching a pothole on an already wet road are unable to see that there is a pothole under what appears just to be a bigger puddle of standing water. This requires a careful consideration of the depth, width and length of the pothole and the inspection regime of the highways authority normally the local council, depending upon the frequency of inspection intervals (often six months) but can be daily on a motorway or yearly on a country road. I include negligent ‘banding’ and/or linear gullies as cyclists can tram line along them. These are often bitterly contested cases especially if the injuries of the cyclist are severe. Witnesses at the scene, immediate and detailed photographs with measurements, enquiries of the nearest householder to the scene as to the level of complaint/inspections, are essential.
These are a few topics that I felt would interest cyclists (and other two- wheelers). Cycling is a healthy, gregarious, inspiring and very enjoyable pastime (or way of life) and you can argue that the UK is miles behind our friends on the continent in how we look after our cyclists. How long will it take for the UK to reach a similar situation on our overcrowded islands? Keep pedalling – and gan canny!
Mark Hipkin is a Partner/ Head of the Personal Injury and Civil Litigation department. He welcomes your e-mails or calls on the law (or your biking experiences) at email@example.com or call 0191 2533509.