Did you know that 92% of all cycling casualties occur on built up roads where the speed limit is 40 miles per hour or less?

Over a third of all cycle casualties occur in London and the South East – the great majority of accidents (84%) in urban areas. It may not surprise you that most occur during rush hours on weekdays and the majority at road junctions, often with the cyclist simply “going ahead”.

Most injuries are to the head and face and to the arms and particularly shoulders.

Unfortunately, as many as one in six are “hit and run” accidents, but limited compensation for these cases is still available through the Motor Insurers Bureau.

If any legal claim is brought for compensation the defendant, often a vehicle driver, will try to show that the cyclist has also broken the law and is, therefore, partially responsible for the accident, which can mean a reduction in the amount of compensation which can be claimed.

Underlying the current state of legislation is the popular view that cycling is a good thing – it improves health (reducing health care costs) and avoids pollution and traffic congestion. The consensus is that cycling should be encouraged.

Wearing of helmets

Research upon the efficiency of helmet wearing has been inconclusive and the subject matter is controversial.

Much research shows that the promotion of mandatory helmet wearing can actually reduce cycling levels because of the inconvenience, discomfort, the cyclist’s concern about his or her appearance and its affect upon the cyclist’s perception of the risk involved in cycling. Further it may be said that if cycling is promoted then more cyclists will mean that they are more noticeable and that a greater proportion of vehicle drivers will be cyclists.

Further still, some will argue that the perception of reduced risk by helmet wearing cyclists can lead to compensatory changes in risk taking behaviour. Some research even shows that drivers are more careful around helmetless cyclists because, perhaps they are perceived as more vulnerable.

The Transport Research Laboratory concluded that helmets would probably be effective if, for example, a cyclist tips over, and his head hits the road or kerb at a speed of just over 12 miles per hour. The helmets are not designed to protect wearers from impact with a moving motor vehicle, given that the current British and European Standards require protection only for a fall of 1.5 metres.

Whilst there is no legal duty to wear a helmet, Section 59 of the Highway Code recommends such use (as well as light coloured, fluorescent and reflective clothing and accessories).

In a ground-breaking Court decision in 2009 it was held that failure on the part of the cyclist to wear a helmet could justify a reduction in the compensation awarded in circumstances where the opponent driver can show that helmet use would have reduced (or avoided) the severity of the injury. This judicial decision has, however, been the subject of some criticism and as a general proposition can be doubted.

Lights, reflectors, drink and drugs

There is a legal duty to have front and rear lights, as well as pedal reflectors, on all recent model  bicycles, at least equivalent to EC Standards, under the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989. A flashing light is legal but there are requirements regarding its brightness and frequency.

Under the Pedal Cycles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1983 an independent braking mechanism for front and rear brakes is required.

It is an offence for a person to ride a cycle when unfit to do so through drink or drugs if incapable of having proper control of the cycle (Road Traffic Act 1988). By virtue of the same Act it is a criminal offence to ride a cycle dangerously on a road or in a public place. However, cycling would only be considered as “dangerous” if it fell far below what would be expected of a competent and careful cyclist.

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