Sadly, another cyclist has been killed on our roads. In the recent case of Jessica Hedley and David Christie (February 2016 accident), the motorist Jessica Hedley admitted she was at fault. She is a nurse and tried to save the cyclist at the scene of the collision. News reports state that the cyclist had been drinking on and off throughout the day. The motorist escaped a prison sentence and received a community penalty of 200 hours unpaid work in the community and a two year driving ban.
Cycling can be a precarious activity at the best of times, but to be cycling at night and having drunk alcohol led me to consider where the law stands in relation to cyclists. What are the laws governing cyclists and how do they differ from those involving motorists? When I've been cycling, I've been frightened by poor driving but also sometimes I've been frightened by poor cycling.
The fact is that motorists are the greatest danger on our roads. However, cyclists can also pose a danger, to other cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. With the increasing number of cyclists on our roads and the glaring lack of adequate cycle lanes and highways, we all need to be aware of the law surrounding the use of our roads.
Most of us would be aware of the fact that it is illegal to cycle on public roads after dark unless you have a front white light and a rear red light. Rear and pedal reflectors are also required. But it's not a requirement to wear high visibility clothing nor is it a requirement to have cycle lights fitted or switched on in adverse weather conditions during the day, such as fog. Clearly motorists are required to use their lights when visibility is poor or in the dark and indeed cars have extra lights for fog or when full beams are needed.
You might also know that cyclists are permitted to use a mobile phone and cycle on our roads unless the bicycle is electrically assisted. Cyclists don't have to wear cycle helmets, although in personal injury cases cyclists' damages have been known to be reduced for not wearing a helmet where the helmet could have prevented some or all of the injuries.
The main driving offences such as dangerous driving, careless and inconsiderate driving, and drink driving also apply to cyclists, though in relation to drinking and cycling, there is no legal limit like there is for motorists, instead the test for cyclists is whether they are fit to ride.
Generally, cyclists are permitted to filter through slow moving or stationary traffic. Traffic is indeed a good reason why more people should cycle. However, it is sometimes the case in many busy cities such as London that cyclists are travelling faster than the motor vehicles and indeed faster than the speed limit - which tends to be 20 or 30 mph in many built up areas. However, did you know that cyclists cannot be prosecuted for speeding on public roads because the speed limits don't apply to them? Although some local bye-law speed limits such as those in parks may apply to cycles.
It is argued that if a cyclist has been drinking and cycling or speeding they could instead be prosecuted for careless and inconsiderate driving or for dangerous driving - though technically it is called cycling furiously or riding furiously. I am not sure how often that happens, and in relation to cycling furiously there has to be a collision and someone has to be seriously hurt or killed for it to be used. Clearly, the Highway Code sets out that cyclists must abide by all traffic signs and signals, so they can't jump red lights, and indeed the number of cyclists being fined for jumping red lights has increased.
Insurance and roadworthiness can also be compared. Motorists have to have insurance to drive on public roads and they must also have a valid MOT on motor vehicles over a certain age. Cyclists do not have to have insurance to use the roads which causes a problem where the cyclist is at fault. If a cyclist collides with another cyclist, it is very difficult to recover damages because cyclists are not normally insured against such incidents. A personal damages claim would have to be brought and this would only be worthwhile if the cyclist at fault had the funds to justify it. Likewise if you're a pedestrian and you are injured by a cyclist, the cyclist is unlikely to be insured to cover your injuries and losses. So cyclists can't be prosecuted for speeding and when they collide with you, you can't claim compensation unless they happen to be insured, or unless you can get anywhere with the Motor Insurers Bureau or you have lots of money to fund your claim privately.
Cyclists do not have to have MOTs, instead there is guidance in the Highway Code which asks motorists to self-assess the roadworthiness of their bikes. Guidance such as tyres being in good condition and inflated to the pressure shown on the tyre; gears working correctly; the chain being properly adjusted and oiled. But where's the incentive to comply if you can't be prosecuted? The law does however require that cyclists ensure their brakes are efficient and as said above, that the correct lights are fitted and used in the dark.
There is also no requirement for cyclists to be registered anywhere in the same way that motorists have to register with the DVLA, so there is no way of really knowing if after a collision with a cyclist they really are who they say they are, unlike a motorist whose registration number would provide a lot of details even if they didn't.
The above rules may have sparked your interest, whether you are a cyclist or not. I think if our roads should be safe for all of us, then some rules need to change. The difficulty lies in enforcement. How can we trace cyclists and how can we prove they are speeding for example? The police have radar guns which do work on bicycles which they often use in parks. Building more superhighways and bike lanes should also help, but won't protect cyclists from other cyclists.