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Highway Code forces bikes from roads?

More campaigning from the national cyclists’ organsition, CTC – this time it’s the good old Highway Code in the firing line. Or, to be more strictly accurate, it’s not the old Highway Code, it’s a new one. And it looks like it’s not all that good, either…

CTC’s concern is a small addition that looks, on the face of it, pretty innocuous. The draft of the new Code tells cyclists to “use cycle facilities… where provided”. As anyone who’s attempted to use the sort of cycle lanes that tend to get provided in the UK, sticking to the road is often a far better option – the road tends to have less cars parked in the middle of it, fewer pedestrians ambling out into it and, most importantly, roads tend to go fairly directly from point A to point B, unlike your typical cycle lane which usually manages to visit points F, Q, Z and often some bits of the Cyrillic alphabet too.

But CTC fears that the new wording could have serious implications for anyone who, for very good reasons, opts for the road instead of the cycleway. Insurance companies are likely to use the wording of the new Code as an excuse to reduce the amount of compensation that they pay if a motorist hits a cyclist that has chosen to use a road rather than a nearby cycle facility.

This isn’t just scaremongering – the insurance companies have a track record of pulling this kind of stunt. A similar rule in the existing Highway Code, which states that cycle helmets “should” be worn has caused serious problems for cyclists, including 9-year-old cyclist Darren Coombs who was left permanently disabled after being hit by a car. Darren’s parents then had to face the claim that they themselves were guilty of “contributory negligence” for allowing him to ride unaccompanied and without a helmet. There was no legal requirement for Darren to wear a helmet – the actions of the insurance company stemmed entirely from the Highway Code wording.

A press release from CTC says:

“CTC believes the new rule about using cycle facilities is even more insidious, as it will be almost impossible to argue against contributory negligence claims based on non-use of a cycle facility. However strongly the cyclist might argue that their decision not to use the facility was a rational one, the courts are almost bound to conclude that the collision would have been avoided if the cyclist had been in a different place at the time.”

CTC would like the Highway Code revisions to be rerevised to remove all words that may give rise to unwarranted “contributory negligence” claims against cyclists. It would also like to see stronger advice to drivers on interacting safely with cyclists (particularly the advice on leaving an adequate gap when overtaking a cyclist); all advice on cycling (particularly the advice on negotiating roundabouts) to be in line with the new National Standard for cycle training and a recommendation to anyone wishing to improve their confidence and safety to undertake cycle training to the National Standard.

You can see the draft of the new Highway Code at www.dsa.gov.uk/highwaycode. If you don’t like what you see, join the CTC campaign at www.ctc.org.uk/campaigns.

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