On your bike – Cycling and the Law in Ireland

Cycling and the Law in Ireland by Amorys Solicitors

New legislation has been enacted to protect cyclists from dangerous overtaking by drivers on the road. The Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 came into force on the 12th of November 2019 and introduces a fixed €120 charge and three penalty points for any driver successfully prosecuted under the legislation. Between 2011 and 2016 a total of 69 cyclists were killed on Irish roads and 4,404 cyclist casualties were reported. Cyclists are extremely vulnerable road users and with the growing popularity of cycling, there are calls to greatly improve the protection of the cyclist on our roads.

Minimum Overtaking Distance:

Safe cycling advocates had been campaigning for the introduction of a minimum passing distance for drivers overtaking a cyclist of 1m for roads with a 50km speed limit and 1.5m for roads with a speed limit higher than 50km. There are a number of countries that have already introduced mandatory passing distances for drivers. Belgium has a mandatory passing distance of 1m. France has a mandatory passing distance of 1m on roads with speed limits of less than 50kmph and 1.5m where the speed limit is more than 50kmph. There are also multiple States in the US that have varying mandatory passing distances e.g. the 3ft law in Baltimore. A number of other countries have an advisory passing distance such as Austria, Chile and New Zealand. Interestingly the Netherlands, where there is a particularly high number of cyclists, has neither an advisory nor a mandatory passing distance as their roads infrastructure deliberately separates cyclists from motorised traffic where possible. They also use ‘cycle streets’ and ‘cycle areas’ where cyclists’ rights are prioritised over those of motorised traffic.

However, the proposal for the introduction of a mandatory passing distance in Ireland was rejected by the Attorney General reportedly due to concerns regarding the enforceability of the legislation and difficulty in measuring the distance for the purpose of prosecuting drivers. A number of recommendations were made by the RSA in their report Examining the International Research Evidence in relation to Minimum Passing Distances for Cyclists (2018), such as increased education and awareness of the advisory passing distances, increased Garda enforcement of existing legislation on unsafe overtaking and infrastructural solutions to segregate cyclists from motorised traffic. The RSA study found ‘limited empirical evidence’ to support the implementation of mandatory passing distances in Ireland.

How Do Cyclists Get Hurt:

The RSA report examined the profile of cyclist injuries and collisions between 2011 and 2015 and found that:

  • 77% of vehicles involved in collisions with cyclists were private cars, 6.2% were taxis and 11% were goods vehicles of which 8.3% were vans.
  • 51% of collisions with cyclists happened at a T junction, 23% at a crossroads and 20% at a roundabout.
  • 85% of collisions occurred in an urban area with 15% in a rural area.
  • More collisions happened in the brighter months between April to November (8.3% – 11%) than in the months between December and March (6.8% – 5.2%).
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays had the highest percentage of collisions (17%) compared to lower levels at the weekend (Saturday 9.5%, Sunday 10.8%).

Between 2014 and 2015:

  • 41% of vehicles were driving forward when a collision occurred with a cyclist, 17% were turning right, 13% were turning left and 2.1% were overtaking.
  • 86% of cyclists were moving forward when a collision occurred and 4.5% were turning right.

Of course, the statistics are only based on the collisions that were reported to the authorities.  Many collisions between cyclists and motorists go unreported unless there is a significant injury to the cyclist involved. However, the increased use of cycling helmet cameras and dash cams has been effective in the prosecution of driving that endangers cyclists as video evidence can be produced in court.

Cycling and the Law:

As a cyclist you are entitled to share the road with other road users.  The payment of motor tax does not confer ‘ownership’ of the road to motorists.  Cyclists, like all other road users, must obey the Rules of the Road.  Cyclists are obliged by law to:

  • keep brakes, lights, tyres etc. in good working order
  • there must be front and rear brakes and an audible bell on the bike
  • at night a white/yellow light must be shown at the front of the bike, a red light at the back of the bike (see the Road Traffic (Lighting of Vehicles) Regulations 1963 as amended)
  • stop at traffic lights, stop signs, yield right of way at yield signs and obey the rules in relation to pedestrian crossings, zebra crossings and pelican crossings

There is no legal obligation to wear a helmet or reflective clothing while cycling however it is obviously common sense to do so. A cycling helmet should always be replaced if it damaged. Cyclists can cycle two abreast when it is safe to do so however you must not cycle in a manner that is likely to create an obstruction for other road users.

Cyclists are not legally obliged to use cycle lanes unless the cycle lane is a contra-flow cycle lane that allows cyclists to go in the opposite direction to the traffic on a one-way street (Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations 1997 (as amended by the 2018 Regulations).

The Gardaí have the power since 2015 to stop and fine cyclists for certain fixed charge cycling offences such as failing to stop at red traffic lights, cycling in a pedestrianised street, having no front or rear lights during ‘light-up’ hours or cycling a bike without reasonable consideration. The fine is €40.

It remains to be seen if the new regulations regarding the dangerous overtaking of cyclists will be effective and much will depend on the willingness of the Gardaí to enforce the regulations and prosecute those drivers who put cyclists’ lives at risk. Collisions as a result of dangerous overtaking manoeuvres are a ‘sub-set’ of motorist-cycling collisions in Ireland and internationally as highlighted in the RSA report. More collisions occurred when vehicles were driving forward (41%) as opposed to overtaking (2.1%) between 2014 and 2015.

Cycling reduces congestion on our roads and is an environmentally friendly, efficient and healthy way of commuting. Between 2011 and 2016 the national Census recorded a 34% increase in cycling as a means of getting to and from school, college and work. The success of the Dublin Bike Scheme is a testament to the popularity of the bicycle as an alternative transport solution in a city congested with traffic. The introduction of legislation that aims to specifically protect cyclists is absolutely necessary however as long as cyclists are sharing the road with motorised traffic they will remain vulnerable road users. The reality is that cyclist safety would be much improved if the infrastructure of Irish roads separated cyclists from motorised traffic as in the Netherlands.