CHAPTER ONE – INTRODUCTION
Cycling continues to grow in popularity, led by an increase in female riders, according to the statistics released by Sport England. The annual Sport England Active Lives survey, published in October 2019 (before the pandemic), showed that approximately 100,000 more people were cycling for leisure and sport than in the previous year. That alone is reason enough to produce a book concerning the civil law surrounding cycling. Additionally, however, the latest edition of the Highway Code, which came out only weeks ago, has been viewed by many as significantly shifting the emphasis of the law and guidance surrounding cycling. The revised and updated Code has caused some consternation, at least within some news and social media outlets. On 15 February 2022, the Daily Express described the “fury” surrounding rules that are designed to protect vulnerable road users, reporting a “demand that cyclists should be obliged to take a ‘driving test’”. A day later, the Daily Mail described the revised Code as “controversial”, suggesting its implementation should be delayed so as to avoid a “spike in road rage incidents” given the “adverse impact on the country’s motorists”. The key complaint, it appears, is that “someone driving will have more responsibly to watch out for people cycling, walking or riding a horse.” Neither article analyses why less responsibility to watch out for more vulnerable road uses could be considered a good thing; or why the desire to make drivers more vigilant is too onerous.
In any event, it is hoped this book will help explain why the “new” rules are perhaps less novel or controversial than some commentators appear to be believe; and what impact they are likely to have on civil litigation involving cycling. The book is not, however, merely a recitation of the Highway Code. It also looks to analyse the current case law and statutory obligations relating to every aspect of cycling, from a road user’s duty of care and contributory negligence to injuries in the professional peloton. The aim is to give the reader a swift but comprehensive overview of the law as it stands, and some suggestions as to how it may evolve in the near future.
The book does not have a chapter specifically dealing with e-bikes and e-scooters as proper analysis of these forms of transport would likely amount to a volume in itself, not least because they have their own rules and regulations separate to fully self-propelled bicycles. For instance, there is an age restriction to electric bikes (you need to be 14 years or older to ride one); there is obligatory information that must be displayed (the power output or the manufacturer of the motor / the battery’s voltage or the bike’s maximum speed); and the e-bike must be restricted in maximum power output and must cut out at a certain speed (250 watts and 15.5mph respectively). However, it is worth noting that if an e-bike does conform to these strictures, it is classed as an “electrically assisted pedal cycle” (EAPC) and treated as a normal pedal bike and therefore can be ridden on cycle paths and anywhere else pedal bikes are allowed. If they do not conform, they are classed as motorcycles or mopeds and need to be registered and taxed – and require a driving licence and a crash helmet in order to be ridden.
For the same reason, there is no chapter on mobility scooters or powered wheelchairs, both of which have their own set of rules depending on type: class 2 – which cannot be used on the road and are limited to 4mph – and class 3, which can be used on the road and are limited to 8mph. They are treated very differently to pedal bicycles, with all types of mobility scooter and powered wheelchair being legally allowed on footpaths and pedestrian areas1, but being banned from cycle paths marked ‘cycle only’.
The law surrounding the introduction of semi-autonomous vehicles on to our roads, on the other hand, would not amount to more than a few paragraphs, let alone a chapter or book, so again, this is not subject to much analysis in (this edition?) of the book. Obviously, this is an area of law which will require considerable legislation in due course, but at present, there is little to say other than we have to wait and see.
These topics aside, it is hoped that this book is a useful, practical guide to an area of litigation which is increasing in volume and significance. As published by HM Government on 30 September 2021, cycling fatalities have increased by 5% from 2004 to 2020; serious injuries have rocketed by 26%; and pedal cycle traffic has grown by 96%. Between 2015 and 2020, an average of 2 pedal cyclists are killed and 83 seriously injured per week2. Most commonly, these deaths and serious injuries involve another vehicle, overwhelmingly either a car or a heavy goods vehicle3, so it is fair to say, the law surrounding the world of cycling is worth knowing.
Insofar as it is ever appropriate to dedicate a slim volume like this to a person, we would like to dedicate it to our friend and colleague, Richard Viney, who sadly lost his life in a cycling accident in August 2021. A brilliant barrister and experienced cyclist, his loss is, and will always be, keenly felt by many of us. May he ride in peace.
The content of this book is believed to be accurate and up-to-date based on the law as it was on 15th March 2022.
1 Bicycles are statutorily banned from doing so: s. 72 of the Highways Act 1835 (for an offence in England and Wales) and s. 129 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.
3 It should be emphasised, however, that the government factsheet rightly points out that factors contributing to a collision or accident are largely subjective as they reflect the opinion of the reporting police officer. To quote the factsheet: “They are assigned quickly at the occurrence of the collision and often without extensive investigations and so should be interpreted with caution. They are likely to be affected in part by preconceptions police officers have of certain vehicle groups.”