Sharing the roads with cyclists: Tips for motorists

By Dave Escandell
Published: 05:47PM BST 15 Aug 2012

There are a lot of concerns about safety when cars and bikes share the roads, and we've all heard about tragedies that happen when these two modes of transport collide.

So, how much of the road are cyclists entitled to?

The answer is as much as is needed to cycle safely. A bicycle is a legitimate road vehicle with the same rights and responsibilities as a car, van or lorry. When motorised vehicles and bikes follow the same rules, the roads become safer and more predictable for everyone.

We've produced tips to cyclists on how to cycle safely in traffic and urban areas, and here are five tips for motorists to note when sharing the road with a bicycle.

How far from the kerb

Cycle lanes tend to be at least 1.5 metres wide, and cyclists tend to remain in the designated lane. However, there is no legal requirement to do so and cycle lanes at junctions can often cause cyclists to problems. Cyclists can and do use any part of the road in their direction of travel.

Where there's no cycle lane, cyclists should attempt to stay as close to the left of a lane as possible, but this doesn't mean they'll 'hug' the kerb. This area of the road carries a significant risk for cyclists in the form of potholes, road bumps, loose gravel, broken glass, drainage outlets and debris. All of them can cause falls, injuries and bike damage. This means cyclists will on average ride around 1m from the kerb.

So, as a motorist, you should allow a further 1.5m when overtaking. Therefore, any overtaking may often take the motorist over onto the opposite carriageway. The cyclist is there to be seen, so treat them as you would any other vehicle on the road.

Taking the lane

Cyclists are entitled to as much of the road as they need to cycle safely. If the road is obstructed by vehicles, construction, parked cars, or is particularly narrow, it's legal to take up the whole lane. As motorists you have a responsibility to share the road, and drivers must allow enough room for cyclists to manoeuvre safely on the road.

Even small cars take up most of a lane, and drivers should never attempt to hold their lane and squeeze past a cyclist. If the driver of a vehicle wants to pass a cyclist, they should do it in the same way they would pass a car: take up the necessary space in the oncoming traffic lane when it's safe to do so, and allow a safe distance at least 1m between their car and the bike they're passing.

Parked cars and opening doors

When riding on roads lined with parked vehicles, cyclists tend to pass them conscious that a vehicle door may be opened, and will therefore be approximately 1m from parked vehicles.

If you're in a vehicle at the side of the road, always check over your shoulder before opening your car door. If you hit a cyclist while getting out of your vehicle it's likely it'll cause the cyclist an injury and be seen as a negligent act, leaving yourself open to legal action.

Beware when turning

It would be helpful if all drivers signalled before turning but they don't.

So the first rule should be to always signal your intention, whatever it may be, and allow other road users to see and react to what you are doing.

Statistics show that cyclists are particularly prone to accidents when the vehicle they're travelling alongside, or which is in front of them, turns left. A left hand turn at this point means a cyclist will be squeezed to the left of their lane. If they've allowed a 1m buffer between themselves and the kerb, they may have time to react.

However, many town and city junctions have railings along the road, so if a cyclist is caught between the turning vehicle and the railing, it can result is serious injury and sometimes death.

Large vehicles in particular should pay attention when turning left and do as much as possible to check and double check any blind spots. If you've passed a cyclist in the few hundred yards before a left hand turn, never presume that your path is clear and the cyclist is no longer around you.

Experienced cyclists will know that large vehicles have many blind spots and will respect those vehicles' space. Inexperienced cyclists may not be so aware. Both motorist and cyclist have a duty to act safely.

When turning right, and across traffic, always double check that the path is clear for you to complete the manoeuvre.

Like motorcycles, bicycles are often not seen because the turning motorist is expecting to see a larger vehicle. If you do see a cyclist approaching, never presume they're travelling very slowly. The average speed of a competent and experienced cyclist could be over 20mph. Waiting that extra few seconds is a small price to pay to ensure safety.

The pavement

Cyclists should stay off of pavements. They're for pedestrians, not cyclists. Many accidents between cars and bicycles happen when cyclists ride off of pavements onto the road and into traffic.

While the fault here rests with the cyclist, it's always recommended that when passing or noting a cyclist on the pavement, proceed with an element of caution. Pay particular attention to children on bikes, as they're most likely to ride off the pavement into the road without first checking it's safe to do so.

To find out how we can help with road traffic accident compensation, please visit our page.

Tell us what you think

All documents should be read and used in accordance with the terms and conditions. This document is for your general information only and is not a detailed statement of the law. It is provided to you free of charge and should not be used as a substitute for specific legal advice. If you require specific legal advice please contact our helpline on 03700 86 86 86.

Can we help?