As the conflict between road users exemplifies, the Highway Code is necessary for not only safety on the roads, but cohesion. Ever since its inception, its priority has been to encourage all road users to be careful of one another, to improve safety.
a. A brief history of The Highway Code and why it’s important
In 1931, there were just 2.3 million motor vehicles in Great Britain, but over 7,000 people were killed every year in road accidents. That same year The Highway Code launched its first edition and now hundreds of thousands of copies are sold each year, meaning it never leaves the bestseller lists. What’s more, it’s one of the few books in print that can lay claim to saving thousands of lives.
Although some things haven’t changed, namely the active encouragement for road users to be considerate towards others and put safety first, other aspects have undergone a complete transformation – mainly because of technology.
For example, in the first edition mirrors weren’t mentioned and more than a third of the 24-page booklet was dedicated to the various hand signals the police and road users should use, compared to the single page given to the subject in the current edition. Other fun facts include:
- The first edition cost 1 old penny
- Diagrams of road signs – just 10 signs in all – were first seen in the second edition
- The 1954 Highway Code was complemented by brand new colour illustrations
- The arrival of motorways in the late 1950s led to the inclusion, in the fifth edition, of a new section on motorway driving
Improved technology, greater public awareness, the introduction of British summer time and the Highway Code have cut the number of deaths dramatically. In 2015, there were 1,732 fatalities, a fall of 2% from the previous year and considerably less than when the Highway Code was introduced.
b. Laws and rules for cyclists
It’s vital for road safety that cyclists continue to abide by the rules. Here’s a breakdown from the Highway Code of rules applicable to cyclists:
Rule 59 – clothing
You should wear:
- A cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened
- Appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes which may get tangled in your chain, or wheel, or may obscure your lights
- Light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light
- Reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark.
Rule 60 – at night
At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85). White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.
Rule 61 – cycle routes and other facilities
Use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings unless at the time it is unsafe to do so. Use of these facilities is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.
Rule 62 – cycle tracks
These are normally located away from the road, but may occasionally be found alongside footpaths or pavements. Cyclists and pedestrians may be segregated or they may share the same space (unsegregated). When using segregated tracks you MUST keep to the side intended for cyclists as the pedestrian side remains a pavement or footpath. Take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older or disabled people, and allow them plenty of room. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary. Take care near road junctions as you may have difficulty seeing other road users, who might not notice you.
Rule 63 – cycle lanes
These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway. When using a cycle lane, keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.
You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement.
Rule 65 – bus lanes
Most bus lanes may be used by cyclists as indicated on signs. Watch out for people getting on or off a bus. Be very careful when overtaking a bus or leaving a bus lane as you will be entering a busier traffic flow. Do not pass between the kerb and a bus when it is at a stop.
- Keep both hands on the handlebars except when signaling or changing gear
- Keep both feet on the pedals
- Never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends
- Not ride close behind another vehicle
- Not carry anything which will affect your balance or may get tangled up with your wheels or chain
- Be considerate of other road users, particularly blind and partially sighted pedestrians. Let them know you are there when necessary, for example, by ringing your bell if you have one. It is recommended that a bell be fitted
We think it’s worth drawing your attention to Rule 66, as it states cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast – contrary to what many people will tell you.
- Look all around before moving away from the kerb, turning or maneuvering, to make sure it is safe to do so. Give a clear signal to show other road users what you intend to do
- Look well ahead for obstructions in the road, such as drains, pot-holes and parked vehicles so that you do not have to swerve suddenly to avoid them. Leave plenty of room when passing parked vehicles and watch out for doors being opened or pedestrians stepping into your path
- Be aware of traffic coming up behind you
- Take extra care near road humps, narrowings and other traffic calming features
- Take care when overtaking
You MUST NOT
- Carry a passenger unless your cycle has been built or adapted to carry one
- Hold onto a moving vehicle or trailer
- Ride in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate manner
- Ride when under the influence of drink or drugs, including medicine.
You MUST obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals.
When parking your cycle:
- Find a conspicuous location where it can be seen by passers-by
- Use cycle stands or other cycle parking facilities wherever possible
- Do not leave it where it would cause an obstruction or hazard to other road users
- Secure it well so that it will not fall over and become an obstruction or hazard
You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable you to wait and position yourself ahead of other traffic.
c. Dos and don’ts: a comprehensive guide to being a conscientious road user
Being a conscientious road user isn’t just about following the rules. We’ve gathered some top tips for making sure you’re a considerate cyclist, exhibiting a regard for safety.
What should cyclists do if they want to pass a horse?
If you’re coming from behind, it can be difficult for horse riders to hear you. To overtake safely, make your presence known by sounding your bell or talking out loud. They’ll let you know if it’s not safe to pass.
- Put yourself in someone else’s position. Very few road users will be doing something to deliberately annoy you or hamper your journey. Learn to be patient and understanding of someone’s else position on the road – they might be able to see something you can’t, for instance.
- Give everyone enough room. This is especially important in wet conditions, when you should allow everyone more space and time.
- Always wear bright or reflective clothing. Make it easy for everyone to see you.
- Research your route. Seek out safe and enjoyable routes that are suitable for your competence and confidence levels.
- Try and anticipate what others will do. Be especially aware of other cyclists and pedestrians around you. For example, if you see people likely to step out into the road, unaware of your oncoming presence, sound your bell.
- Slow down when approaching pedestrian crossings, road works, traffic lights or any control system. You have to be able to stop if necessary, so it’s a good idea to slow down in anticipation.
- Give plenty of notice of your intentions. Want to change direction or lane? Signal and give plenty of notice before doing the maneuver.
- Rush other road users. Pressurising others to go faster or move out of your way puts both you and them at risk.
- Distract yourself. Whether it’s with loud music or a phone or navigation device, don’t have distractions whilst you’re cycling.
- Don’t cycle too close to the kerb or parked cars. There’s a risk someone could open their door without checking the road.
D. What happens when you don’t follow the Highway Code
Remember, some rules of the Highway Code are legal obligations (those which include MUST/MUST NOT) and, like any criminal offence, you can face prosecution.
When Cycling UK spoke to the London Metropolitan Police about how they deal with cycling offences in the city, they said now that cycling has become more popular, the number of fines has increased. The most common offences being:
- Jumping red lights
- Riding on the pavements
- Not having lights lit after dark
In most cases, offenders receive a £50 fine. With a number of high-profile enforcement campaigns such as Operation Safeway in London (launched after a sharp rise in cycle deaths), fines for both cyclists and drivers have been on the rise. But the Met added that for more serious offences, such as careless cycling, it can result in a prosecution at court.
One cyclist on a mission, Lewis Dediare, captures hours of footage on London’s roads on his daily commute using five GoPro cameras. He told The Telegraph the most commonly broken rule is: "Point 163 of the Highway Code: the close pass rule. You have to give cyclists space. I have a metre ruler that I carry with me to show drivers they are too close."