The Highway Code is not, in itself, law although many of the rules in the Highway Code demonstrate legal requirements and if a person disobeys those rules then they would be committing a criminal offence
It contains all the main motoring offences and is applied by courts across the country. The accompanying Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 regulates the penalties for many motoring offences.
The main part of the Highways Act 1980, relevant to cyclists, is Part 4 (Sections 36 to 61), which covers the maintenance of highways.
The common law relating to road traffic accidents, in particular cycling accidents, is vibrant and fast moving. With increased traffic, changing social attitudes and a constant demand for improved safety, the law is constantly developing.
By-laws are laws of limited or local application made by local councils using powers granted by an Act of Parliament. They are therefore a form of delegated legislation.
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Britain’s transformation into a nation of cyclists has been nothing short of remarkable. Over the last decade cycling has gone from very much a minority pursuit to an important part of daily life for many of us.
It is now estimated that around 2 million Britons are regular cyclists and they have had a major impact on our urban life. You only have to stand by the side of a major road leading to the centre of our cities at rush hour to watch the constant stream of bicycles passing as commuters forsake the car, bus or tube to use their bikes to get to work. It is a pastime that has boomed in the last few years, whether that is measured by participation or by our spending on bicycle related produce. Only recently, shares in Halfords, the bicycle and car part retailer, surged following a sharp increase in sales which were up by 14.2% in the last six months. Cycling is boosting the economy as well as our levels of fitness.
The rise in cycling participation has been fuelled in part by our outstanding success in the Tour de France and recent Olympic Games. Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Laura Trott, Chris Froome and Victoria Pendleton are among the most recognised names in British sport. Modern day icons inspiring a new generation of young cyclists.
As cycling participation has increased it should follow that UK cycle law would evolve to reflect the increasing importance of cycling in our everyday life. It would not be too much to ask for sensible legislation to have developed over the years and it would be nice to say that we have a properly codified set of rules that clearly set out the law that governs cyclists and their interaction with others. Regrettably, that has not happened. The law that governs cycling cannot be found in any one document or specific Act. There are a number of different sources of law which makes assessing rights and duties very difficult.
The main sources of cycle law are:-
1. Statutory law
2. Common law
3. The Highway Code
4. Bylaws and local provisions
These are Acts of Parliament which deal with cycling. The main relevant Act is probably the Road Traffic Act 1988. It defines dangerous cycling and also deals with concepts of careless and inconsiderate cycling. It also makes it an offence to cycle when under the influence of drink or drugs. Also relevant is the Highways Act 1980 which, among other things, defines the duties owed by a local authority to keep roads and cycle ways in a proper state of repair.
Common law or “judge made” law runs alongside the statutory provisions. The law is developing all the time through decisions made by judges, particularly in the higher courts of England and Wales.
The Highway Code was first issued under Section 45 of the Road Traffic Act 1930. It is not actual law but provides guidance and instruction for road users, including cyclists.
In addition to laws which are applied on a national basis, local areas have their own rules which can complicate the duties owed by cyclists to each other and other road users.
These various sources of UK cycle law interact with each other in a complicated way so that providing a definitive view on the duties owed to, and by, cyclists is very difficult.
It is unfortunate that as cycling has increased in importance as both a hobby and a mode of transport, UK cycle law has not developed at the same pace. For example, there has still been no definitive case on the issue of wearing cycle helmets and whether the failure to do so in an accident should deprive the cyclist of a percentage of their compensation should the wearing of a helmet have prevented or reduced their injury.
Cycling in this country is continuing to increase and develop. The relationship between cyclists and other road users is evolving over time. New safety developments have been proposed with a view to protecting cyclists from motor vehicles and cycling has become very much a political issue. It is important that our politicians and the judiciary realise that the law that governs cycling must adapt so that it provides our increasingly cycle obsessed nation with the UK cycle law that we deserve.