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The UK highway code: Does the highway code apply to cyclists?

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Does the highway code apply to cyclists? In short, yes - cyclists are affixed by the UK Highway Code, along with everyone else who uses the road.

However, the UK highway code does include several modifications that can be beneficial to cyclists.

The UK Highway Code 2022 is a set of guides and mandatory rules applied to all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and drivers. Its purpose is to promote road safety and regulate vehicle signs. It is prepared by the Department of Transport and published by the Stationery Office.

The Highway Code originated in an announcement made in 1920. It adopted a set of road rules that had evolved in London and applied them to the rest of the country. First published as a booklet titled Traffic Signals to Be Used by the Police and Drivers of Vehicles in 1923, its formal introduction was made in the Road Traffic Act 1930. The Highway Code’s first edition was published and sold in 1931 for a penny. The code initially ran to 21 pages.

A hierarchy of road users is included in the introductory section of the code. It places road users at the highest risk of road accidents at the top of the hierarchy and includes three new rules that must be followed:

All road users must be aware of the Highway Code

The safety of oneself and others is the responsibility of all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders. Cyclists, horse riders and drivers have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians. Those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others.

Rules for drivers, motorists, horse-drawn vehicles, horse riders and cyclists

Pedestrians take the highest priority when on a zebra crossing, parallel crossing or light-controlled crossing. Cyclists take the second highest priority on the crossings mentioned above. They should give way to pedestrians on shared cycle tracks and horse riders on bridleways. Only pedestrians, who also include those using wheelchairs and mobility scooters, may use the pavement.

Cyclists are required to ride no less than half a metre from the verge or kerb. Cyclists are expected to pull to the left on quieter roads, in slower-moving traffic and at busy junctions, and to maximise safe overtaking opportunities.

Drivers and motorists should give way to cyclists

Drivers and motorists should not cut across cyclists when turning at a junction. They should wait for a gap in cyclists approaching their vehicle before doing so. They should not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist, horse rider or horse-drawn vehicle going straight to stop or swerve.

This applies whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track or riding ahead on the road; they should give way. Cyclists are now treated just like another motor vehicle in terms of junctions and parallel crossing and should be given right-of-way priority.

Does the highway code apply to cyclists?

To fully answer the question "does the highway code apply to cyclists?" there are several important changes for cyclists in the Highway Code that you need to be aware of.

Shared spaces now give pedestrians precedence, and you should not approach anyone at high speeds from behind. You must make them aware of your approach before attempting to overtake them. Do not pass by or undertake a horse on the horse’s left.

People driving a car or motorbike should give cyclists priority when in a roundabout. They should not attempt to overtake cyclists within their own lane and should allow cyclists to move across their pass in the roundabout. Drivers should not cut across or undertake cyclists and horse riders who are continuing the roundabout in the left-hand lane.

People riding in groups may ride two abreast and must be considerate of the needs of other road users, allowing other road users to overtake them by moving into single file or stopping.

When attempting to overtake other cyclists, leave at least 1.5 meters of space when overtaking them at speeds of up to 30 mph and leave more space at higher speeds. When overtaking pedestrians or horse riders, allow at least 2 meters of space and travel at a low speed.

To read the UK Highway Code in detail, you may view the full code here.

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