Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Bicycles and the Law

First let me say the this piece is based on the law in the United Kingdom, and other jurisdictions may vary ...

First the basics.

The bike itself.
Although the wording is a bit vague, you must ensure that your brakes are "efficient"
Lights and reflectors: 
At night, lights must be fitted (white front, red rear) AND a red rear reflector must also be used. Handily some rear lights have built in reflectors, and most rack-mounted lights do
(Anna has such a light/reflector combo on her bike - neat, AND legal!)
Anna's bike with the original "generic" rear reflector
Rear, rack-mounted, reflectors can be upgraded with a
combined light/reflector unit

The combined light/reflector unit is a neat, unobtrusive upgrade.
Like many part of a bike, a determined thief (with tools) can steal it, but a rack-mounted light is less prone to casual pilfering than a clip-on/clip-off unit. Note also the "legal" pedal reflectors in the "after-market" pedals,
At night, if the bike was manufactured after 1st October 1985, then pedal reflectors must also be fitted.
So those of you that ride fancy clip-less pedals on a dark evening in the winter may be breaking the law (!)
Remember those doofy pedals that came with the bike - the cheap looking ones?
They ARE "legal", and any replacements should also be "legal".
The "lights and reflectors" part of the Highway Code is rule 60.
The specific law covering bicycles is The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989, Schedule I, Table III, which states that you have no have a front light, a rear light, a rear refelector, and pedal refelectors (and a specified exception is made for cycles manufactured before 1/10/85).
Can't get clearer than that!

The "legal" cheap pedals that come with
many new bikes.
Anna much prefers these metal pedals, but they still have reflectors!
(See the picture above, in the section on lights, for a clearer view
of the reflectors)

What then of the "rules of the road"?
Traffic signs and signals:
You must obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals.
No surprises there, then.
A respectable-looking cyclist hopping on to the pavement,
where there is bike parking. Note the "red" traffic signal.
Did he park? ...

... no, he did not. After passing the "red" traffic signal, he rejoined the road and continued on his way.
A clear violation of the law.
But that is well-dressed, middle-class, middle-aged, thugs for you.

Cyclists tend to be overtaken more than they overtake other vehicles.
So what is the law on overtaking?
Well, we'll start with "double solid white lines" - one of the places where overtaking is not usually permitted if it causes a driver (or cyclist!) to cross or straddle the "solid" white lines.
There is an exception - a driver (or cyclist, or, for that matter, a "road user" in general) CAN cross or straddle the double "solid" white lines to overtake (providng they have adequate visibilty and it is otherwise safe to do so):
a) a stationary vehicle or obstruction
b) a pedal cycle, horse or road maintenance vehicle providing they are travelling at 10 mph (16 km/h) or less.
So, in many cases, it WILL be illegal to pass a fit cyclist where there are solid double white lines, as they will bemoving faster than teh 10 mph exception. Indeed, on my recent Tour de Vale ride (a 100km ride), I AVERAGED 19 km per hour (about 12 mph) over the entire 100km. So, given that some of the hills were pretty steep, much of the time I was going faster than the 10 mph (16 kph) limit! And most riders were going faster than me!
General Overtaking:
Other road users should give give "motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car". But note that this rule is a "should", not a "must" - so it is an example of good driving, rather than a strict legal requirement (!)
Highway Code - Rule 163 Give Vulnerable Road Users At Least As Much Space As You Would A Car
The "example" picture from the "Highway Code".
If only all drivers behaved like this!
(Crown Copyright!)

The problem arise in that the advice to give cyclists "at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car" sounds good in principle, and looks even better in the picture, BUT it can also be interpreted as leaving a gap of 6 inches to three feet between the cyclist and car, because that is the sort of gap that a driver might leave when passing another car (!).
Further more, in the picture shown (the "official example", the passing vehicle IS NOT actually passing the cyclist "as they would a car", because the driver is straddling the lane line, rather than properly using the other lane.
You may also have observed that the gap shown between the driver and the cyclist is MUCH wider than the gap that would be left if the driver shown WAS ACTUALLY passing another car.

And that's it for now, Just a short summary of some of the issues in the United Kingdom.
By all means suggest anything you want clarifying (and in some cases, e.g. overtaking, the laws have a certain "looseness" about them, while in other cases, e.g. pedal reflectors at night, they are VERY clear!),

Comments are also VERY welcome.
Thanks for reading.

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