Like all road users, cyclists must ride responsibly and within the law. This includes obeying traffic signals such as red lights, not putting pedestrians in danger by riding on the pavement, maintaining their cycle to a road worthy standard and not cycling recklessly or dangerously. Adherence to these rules not only protects the personal safety of cyclists and other road users but flouting these laws can also have an adverse effect on any potential legal claim a cyclist can bring in the event of an accident.
It is well known that drivers who are on their phone or changing the radio station can be found to have contributed to an accident and this can reduce the damages which they may receive in court following an accident. In the same way that a motorist’s behaviour is taken into account when assessing damages; the same rule applies to cyclists. This rule is called ‘contributory negligence’.
The rule of contributory negligence applies to a situation when the claimant’s (the cyclist’s) injuries, which can be either personal or damage to property, have been caused partly by the negligence of the other person(s) in the accident and partly by the claimant. Factors which courts can consider to be contributory negligence for cyclists can include distractions such as listening to music through headphones and, in the cases of personal injury, not wearing a crash helmet.
For the courts to make a finding of contributory negligence, the judge must establish that the cyclist was at fault in some way and contributed to the injury to the extent that the injury would have been avoided or less serious in its absence. If the judge considers this to be the case, they can reduce the damages awarded.
A case, decided in February 2014, resulted in a judge finding a cyclist to have contributed to an accident by looking at his heart rate monitor. The award of damages was reduced by 25% from £70,000 to £52,500 with the judge considering the heart rate monitor as a distraction as otherwise the cyclist may have been able to see where he was going. Another example of a cyclist’s behaviour contributing to the accident can be found in the case of Phethean-Hubble v Coles where a cyclist was found one third responsible by suddenly riding from a pavement into a road even though the vehicle which hit them was travelling 5mph above the speed limit.
The reason the courts apply this rule is to deter dangerous behaviour. The Institute for Road Safety Research in the Netherlands found that cyclists who listen to music through headphones are 40% more likely to be involved in an accident than those who do not. Compare that to the 0.5% increase in the likelihood of an accident for car drivers listening to music. It this shows that the use of headphones and media devices can play a large part in accidents involving cyclists.
It is recommended to cyclists that they behave in a way that is sensible and considerate, not just to protect their own safety but also to ensure the safety of other road users. The National Cycling Charity advises that cyclists can behave in such a way by being aware of other road users and making their own intentions clear, ensuring they are competent to ride in traffic, obeying traffic signals, ensuring that they are visible and maintaining their cycle to a roadworthy standard. By following these guidelines cyclists can protect their personal safety and the safety of others.
 WVH Rogers, Winfield and Jolowicz on Tort (18th Edition, Sweet and Maxwell, 2010), p363
 McAllister v Campbell  NIQB 24
 McAllister v Campell, 21
 Phethean – Hubble v Coles  EWHC 363
 The Insitute for Road Safety Research, ‘Use of media devices by cyclists and pedestrians’ (2013)
 The National Cycling Charity, ‘Cyclists’ behaviour and the law’ (January 2014), 3