Cycling law in the news

Published: 23rd August 2022

You may have noticed that cycling and cycling law is once again in the news. So much so that some stories have even dominated the front pages of national newspapers. This increased interest in cycling laws is because of the proposed Transport Bill due to be put before Parliament in the autumn. As a result, some age-old questions around cyclists are now being put into the public forum as a ‘should’ rather than a ‘could’. Here at Serious Law though, we aim to cut through the debates, instead focusing on the actual details and facts surrounding the new legal proposals.

Death by dangerous cycling law

The Transport Minister Grant Shapps has been very vocal in recent weeks about cycling in the build-up to the proposed autumn bill. One of these proposals he has suggested is to introduce a “death by dangerous cycling” law that would close a legal loophole that means cyclists who kill pedestrians can only be jailed for two years. These new plans would mean that cyclists would be treated in the same way as motorists, however the debate has got a little conflated over the weeks with people focusing on this element rather than the closing of the loophole.

Under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the maximum penalty is two years but cyclists who cause bodily harm leading to death can also be charged with manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of life. So, the loophole will most likely be closed but that doesn’t mean cyclists have been getting away with dangerous riding carte blanche all this time.

In the past five years there has been one prosecution per year of a cyclist under the current act, but the new rules are to “crack down on this disregard for road safety,” Shapps explains. This would imply that the hope is to replicate dangerous driving laws to extend to cyclists.

Surrey to trial 20mph limits

Elsewhere, the council in charge of one of the UK’s biggest cycling hotspots is getting ready to trial 20mph speed limits, cutting some roads down from 60mph. Surrey County Council is following in the wheel tracks of Welsh councils and will pilot new 20mph and 30mph restrictions across roughly 80 square miles between Guildford and Dorking. This area is one of the most popular among cyclists having hosted the London 2012 Olympic road races, and subsequent editions of the RideLondon-Surrey Classic race and sportive.

The council is yet to comment on the restrictions affecting cyclists but instead hope that the move will make the roads a more welcoming place for the large population of cyclists, pedestrians and ramblers. This is a welcome change as many of these tight, narrow roads are dangerous to cycle on due to the 60mph limits. There is a high fatality rate on rural roads as a result, with these equating to 57% of all road deaths with 10,000 deaths and serious injuries a year including all road users.

The pilot will be an interesting one to monitor as the county isn’t just a hotbed for cyclists but also equestrians, motorists and motorcycles. Although the restrictions have been celebrated by riders, it may not be so well received by the other road users.

The number plate debate

Lastly, a cyclical proposal that seems to rear its head every summer as more and more people enjoy the accessibility and freedom of two wheels, is the identification debate, this time triggered by Transport Secretary Shapps’ comments to the Daily Mail. But we aim to cut through the social media discourse and fury to see what he actually said, and wonder what this means for the everyday cyclist.

As non-motorised road users, the Highway Code and Road Traffic Act states that cyclists cannot currently be prosecuted for riding over the speed limit. They can however be fined and prosecuted if this “speeding” constitutes dangerous cycling. Local authorities can impose speed limits, but it is very rare.

Mr Shapps was speaking to the paper about extending speed limit restrictions to cyclists and brought up the question of identification. “That obviously does then lead you into the question of: Well, how are you going to recognise the cyclist?” The minister said. “Do you need registration plates and insurance?” This comment has immediately created a public discourse and goes one step further than the simple closing of a legal loophole detailed in the first law this article looked at.

The practicalities of number plates for cyclists have never quite been addressed. Hypothetically, how large would these plates be? What would you do if your ride takes in both on-road and off-road routes and from what age would you need a plate? These questions need to be answered before any credible, practical proposal to institute number plates for cyclists can gain traction.

What these new proposals show is the ever-increasing desire to bring new cycling reforms into law. The latest statistics from the Department for Transport show that compared to 2021, cycling levels in England rose by 47% on weekdays and 27% on weekends in the five months to the end of July. This significant rise in the cycling population perhaps should be triggering reforms, debates and adaptations to the road infrastructure to cater to the bike population rather than to bring in law that could stifle it.

As always, we wish everyone safe travels; however, if you or any of your family or friends are involved in an accident on the roads and require legal assistance from a Top Tier Legal 500 rated law firm, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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