Road sharing rules for motorists and cyclists
The statistics on bicycles and road accidents are alarming. Around 5% of people who die on the roads are cycling at the time, but cyclists only account for less than 1% of road use. A cyclist has 12 times the risk of dying in a road accident compared to a car driver, and a quarter of all cyclists who die, or are severely injured, are under 20. Lives could easily be saved by vehicle drivers thinking ahead, and by cyclists making sure they follow the rules of the road.
Motorists: be aware and be considerate
Many of the same rules apply for pedal cyclists as for motorbikes but with some key differences:
- Watch out for cyclists when pulling out of a junction, or when turning across traffic: never be tempted to risk pulling out because you think the bike will be able to stop, or because you think it will be travelling very slowly. A fit adult cyclist on a good bike can be travelling at 20 miles per hour.
- Overtake cyclists with care: give them even more room than motorbikes, because pedal cycles are much more unstable. The drag of your car can cause them to wobble or even fall off.
- Always signal to the vehicle behind that you are overtaking: the car, van or lorry behind may not be aware that the cyclist is there. Your signal will alert them to your manoeuvre.
However, you need to be even more careful because cyclists are usually far less protected, they are less experienced road users (especially children) and you have to expect the unexpected and think ahead:
- Slow down near cyclists: they are prone to veer off their course for reasons that may not be obvious to you. A sharp gust of wind or bumps in the road can affect their ability to cycle in a straight line.
- Don’t overtake a cyclist and then turn left immediately: if you don’t leave enough room, the cyclist may not be able to keep control and may go under your car. Better to wait and then turn safely.
- Never open a car door when you are parked without checking if a cyclist is coming down the road: cyclists can be seriously injured by slamming into an open car door.
- Stay back when a cyclist in front of you moves forward to turn right: never attempt to overtake a cyclist who is giving a hand signal, or to squeeze past them on the inside if there is not much room.
- When driving at night, dip your lights for an oncoming cyclist: cyclists can be just as dazzled as motorists and may end up cycling into trouble.
- Don’t always expect cyclists to be glued to the kerb: grates, drains and other obstacles may mean they need to move out slightly. Always overtake a cyclist by giving them at least half the width of a car clearance.
Cyclists: be prepared and take care
Cyclists need to take some basic precautions to make sure they are visible, and that they follow the rules of the road to stay safe:
- Always wear a cycle helmet: whether a child on the way to school or an octogenarian going out for a gentle ride, a helmet will save you from a serious head injury if you fall off.
- Wear something bright: cycling in dark conditions in black clothing makes you virtually invisible. Wear a fluorescent jacket and strips and put reflectors on your bike wheels.
- Have lights that work: at dusk and at night, or even in a rainstorm, bike lights can be life savers.
- Ride in single file so that other vehicles can overtake you safely. Riding along chatting will distract you from dangers, as well as blocking the flow of traffic.
- Learn the highway code and use it: don’t ride on pavements unless there is shared access with pedestrians, don’t ride up one-way streets the wrong way, and don’t go through red lights at a junction. If you cross at a pedestrian crossing, get off and walk your bike.
- Give clear signals to other road users: if you are too unstable to do hand signals, you should not be riding your bike on the road.
- Adult cyclists – watch your speed in traffic: crashing into the back of a car because you are going too fast is always your fault and you could end up with a re-spray bill.
If you are a parent of a young cyclist, make sure they have passed their cycling proficiency test, that they are streetwise enough to ride on public roads, and that they have the correct equipment, including a helmet, reflectors and bright clothes.
Motorists who know what it’s like to ride a bike on the roads are much more considerate when they are driving. Plus, with petrol and diesel prices still skyrocketing, and all of us needing to be more active and fitter, the more we all cycle, the better. Who knows, a cycling boom could encourage the development of better cycle lanes and routes, making using a bike safer for future generations.