UK cycling groups say rule on riding side-by-side is ‘causing confusion’

This article is more than 3 months old

Cycling two abreast can be safer, say campaigners calling for update to Highway Code

Two cyclists riding side-by-side on road
While the Highway Code notes the right to cycle side-by-side when it is safe, the organisations say it is ambiguous, and contributes to widespread confusion. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images
While the Highway Code notes the right to cycle side-by-side when it is safe, the organisations say it is ambiguous, and contributes to widespread confusion. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images
Political correspondent

Last modified on Tue 27 Oct 2020 00.37 EDT

A revised Highway Code should emphasise the legal right of cyclists to ride two abreast, cycling organisations have argued, saying the rule is often misunderstood by drivers, and that side-by-side cycling can be safer than single-file.

In submissions to a government review of the Highway Code, British Cycling and Cycling UK have both called for a change to rule 66, which states cyclists should “never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends”.

While the wording notes the right to cycle side-by-side when it is safe, the organisations say it is ambiguous, and contributes to widespread confusion about the rule, and the regular abuse faced by cyclists for doing this.

Cycling UK, the country’s leading cycle charity, has suggested the wording instead says riders should be considerate of other road users, while adding: “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.”

British Cycling, which campaigns for safer everyday riding as well as its role with sports cycling, has argued in its submission that particular attention in the new Highway Code should be given to parents riding alongside a child.

“There is no circumstance when the parent should feel compelled to pull in behind the child, leaving them exposed,” they say. “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.”

Cycling two abreast is deemed to be safer in certain road situations. For example, if a driver has to overtake club riders on a rural road, when they are bunched side-by-side, this halves the length of any group.

It can also oblige drivers to – as mandated in the current Highway Code – overtake cyclists as if they were cars, rather than trying to squeeze past a single rider in the same lane, or around blind corners.

The consultation on revisions to the Highway Code is aimed at improving rules connected to the safety of vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and horse riders, as well as cyclists.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, said: “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.”