Proposals to change Highway Code rules on cyclists riding side by side on the road

New rules are being proposed about cyclists who ride side by side. Some drivers are left frustrated at the sight of cyclists riding beside one another - especially when queues of traffic build up behind them. However, cyclists argue it can be much safer for both them and motorists.

Now, under plans being drawn up at the moment, more and not fewer bikes could end up riding two abreast on our roads. Measures reported in the Times would put more emphasis on cyclists only moving into single file if they thought it was safe for drivers behind to overtake. The current wording is seen by some as giving motorists licence to overtake cyclists when they should not.

Today's wording in rule 66 of the Highway Code states: "You should never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends." But that wording could be on the way out.

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Campaigners for safer cycling say that the rule as it stands puts cyclists in more danger because riding single file can encourage drivers to overtake in dangerous places and without leaving enough space. In addition, when groups of cyclists ride together, going side by side means such groups are less strung out along the road.

Now the Guardian reports that Cycling UK and British Cycling have called for changes to rule 66 as part of a consultation on a planned update to the code this year. The Times says Cycling UK has proposed a new wording for the rule after consultation with clubs. It reads: "You can ride two abreast and it is often safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders.

Switch to single file if you consider it safer to allow drivers to overtake." Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns for Cycling UK, said the current rule is too often misunderstood. He told the Guardian: "Riding two abreast is often safer for cyclists, and it's also easier for drivers to safely overtake a group of cyclists riding two abreast than a longer line of cyclists in single-file - but this has never really been communicated in the Highway Code.

"The current rule 66 causes confusion and conflict on the road, making our roads more dangerous: it leads some people to think it's fine to overtake cyclists on a bend, and others that cyclists shouldn't ride two abreast." Cycling UK has taken issue with a proposed wording from the Department for Transport which states: "[Cyclists should] ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so." Mr Dollimore said the proposed wording Cycling UK has suggested makes it clear that cyclists should move into single file only when they think it is safe to do so.

"The Department for Transport was keen to clarify the issue of riding two abreast," he said. "I am hopeful they will accept our new proposal but I have no particular intelligence to say they are happy with it." British Cycling says in its submission on the plans that special attention should be given to parents riding alongside a child. "The situation that we feel most deserves this unambiguous wording is a parent cycling two abreast on the outside of a child," the body says.

"There is no circumstance when the parent should feel compelled to pull in behind the child leaving them exposed. "Too many families do not have the luxury of living right next to a traffic-free cycling route and are forced to use busy roads if they are to cycle at all. "This country urgently needs more families to consider cycling, especially for the school run.

"We must have a Highway Code that supports more people to make that choice."

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A Government review of the Highway Code was announced in July in a bid to improve road safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.

RoadsafetyGB says planned changes include:

  • clarifying rules over priorities for pedestrians at pavements when crossing or waiting to cross the road
  • providing guidance on priority for cyclists over drivers at junctions when travelling straight ahead

The plan aims to build on a rise in the number of people cycling during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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