The Highway Code
The Highway Code is a government publication of rules and guidelines designed to promote road safety.
The current edition of the Highway Code was published in 2007.
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. Such rules can be identified by the use of the words “must/must not” within the rule.
A person breaking these rules would not however be prosecuted for breaking the Highway Code but rather for breaking the original law which gave rise to the rule as set out in the Highway Code.
For example Rule 64 of the Highway Code states:-
“You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement.
Laws HA 1835 sect 72 & R(S)A 1984, sect 129”
This is a “must” rule and must therefore be followed. If a cyclist were to be prosecuted (or fined) for breaking this rule they would actually be held to be in breach of section 72 of the Highways Act 1835 (for an offence in England / Wales) or section 129 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 (for an offence in Scotland).
As in the above example, whenever the Highway Code includes a “must” rule it will also mention the original law which created the rule.
The full text of the Highway Code can be found here – https://www.gov.uk/highway-code
How does the Highway Code affect cyclists?
Many of the rules within the Highway Code apply to all road users including cyclists. As such a cyclist who intends to ride on the road must ensure that they are familiar with the Highway Code and that they ride in accordance with the rules. Provided a cyclist follows the rules they can be confident that they are reaching the standard required of a competent, careful cyclist would do.
The Highway Code does also include a number of rules which specifically apply to cyclists. These are found in rules 59 to 82 and include the following:-
• The type of clothing and helmet which a cyclist should wear – a cycle helmet which conforms to the current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened; appropriate clothes for cycling, avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain, or in a 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 59;
• The requirement that a bicycle must be fitted with white front and red rear lights when riding at night and that the bike must also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors if manufactured after 1st October 1985) – Rule 60;
• The use of cycle routes, advance stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings may make a cyclist’s journey safer but the use of these is not compulsory – Rule 61;
• When using a cycle track which segregates between cyclists and pedestrians cyclists must keep to the side intended for cyclists – Rule 62;
• The use of marked cycle lanes along the side of carriageways may make a cyclist’s journey safer but their use is not compulsory – Rule 63;
• Cyclists must not cycle on the pavement – Rule 64
• Guidance on how cyclists should ride their bike including that you should not ride more than two abreast – Rule 66;
• Cyclists must not carry a passenger unless your bicycle has been built or adapted to carry one – Rule 68;
• You must not ride when under the influence of drink or drugs, including medicine – Rule 68;
• Cyclists must obey all traffic signals and traffic light signals – Rule 69;
• Cyclists must not cross the stop line when traffic lights are red although some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable cyclists to wait and position themselves ahead of the traffic – Rule 71.
In addition further rules relevant to cyclists in certain road situations can be found in the following sections:-
• Road junctions – Rules 72 to 75 (https://www.gov.uk/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82/road-junctions-72-to-75)
• Roundabouts – Rules 76 to 78; (https://www.gov.uk/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82/roundabouts-76-to-78)
• Crossing the road – Rules 79 to 82; (https://www.gov.uk/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82/crossing-the-road-79-to-82)
• Looking after your bicycle – (https://www.gov.uk/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82/you-and-your-bicycle)
How does the Highway Code protect cyclists from other road users?
Within the introduction to the Highway Code cyclists are identified as being within a group of the most vulnerable road users.
In particular, Rules 211 to 213 relate to how drivers of vehicles interact with cyclists who are identified within the Code as a group of road users requiring extra care.
These Rules include the following:-
• It is often difficult to see cyclists and motorists should therefore always look out for them particularly before emerging from a junction, when turning right across a line of slow moving stationary traffic and when turning or changing direction or lane – Rule 211;
• When passing cyclists, motorists should allow plenty of room – Rule 212;
• Cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road. Motorists should therefore give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction which the cyclist may have to take – Rule 213.
The full text on these sections can be found here – https://www.gov.uk/road-users-requiring-extra-care-204-to-225/motorcyclists-and-cyclists-211-to-213.
The Highway Code therefore aims to ensure that all road users are protected and safeguarded. It realises that cyclists are at a higher risk than other road users and seeks to detail how these risks can be reduced both through the actions of the cyclist but also of other road users.