Since the Olympics in 2012 and a certain ‘lycra clad kid from Kilburn’ winning the Tour de France, more and more people have taken to the roads on their bicycles to pursue their new found hobby. Now the new generation of ‘Wiggo wannabes’ are exhausting their bank accounts on the latest in lightweight and aerodynamic technology in an attempt to emulate their cycling heroes.
I unashamedly fall into this category and enjoy the thrill from seeing my GPS bicycle computer exceeding 30 and sometimes 40mph. But I have often wondered, am I breaking the law if I exceed the speed limit? My instinct tells me yes. Thinking literally, in a 30mph zone if I am travelling at over 30mph, I would be exceeding the speed limit. But can I be prosecuted for Speeding?
So, what does the Law say?
The offence of speeding is created under S89(1) Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984
A person who drives a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a limit imposed by or under any enactment to which this section applies shall be guilty of an offence
My attention is immediately drawn to use of the term ‘motor vehicle’. Is a bicycle a motor vehicle? ‘Motor vehicle’ is defined in 185(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and section 136(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as "a mechanically propelled vehicle, intended or adapted for use on roads."
Given that a bicycle does not have a motor and is not mechanically propelled, a bicycle is not a motor vehicle. Therefore the offence does not apply and a cyclist can not be prosecuted for ‘speeding.’
That said, I think it is important to consider why speed limits exist.
Speed limits are set by the Highways Agency upon the advice of Local Authorities. Taking into consideration accident statistics, traffic flow, types of vehicle which use the road and the profile of the road itself, they dictate the most appropriate speed for that road. Their responsibility is to ensure the safety of road users and pedestrians. If there are more accidents on a piece of road, the speed limit is more likely to be lowered to increase driver control, thinking time and to decrease braking distance.
With this, would it not make sense to make cyclists subject to speed limits like motor vehicles?
According to the Royal Society of Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) in their 2014 Annual Report, the total number of fatalities in road accidents in 2013 was 1713. This was in fact a 2 percent decrease from 2012 and the lowest figure since national records began in 1926. The number of casualties recorded was 183,670, this is down 6 percent on the 2012 total.
Whereas from 2009 to 2013, the number of pedestrians killed by cyclists was 14. The number of people seriously injured from 2009 to 2013 was 334.
It is interesting to note that this report does not take into account how the accidents occurred, for example, whether this was from loss of control, excessive speed or even excess alcohol. It also does not mention what proportion of accidents took place in an urban or rural environment or the circumstances of each accident, but the statistics from this report are self explanatory.
Despite cyclists being unable to be prosecuted for speeding, there are still prosecutable offences in the Road Traffic Act 1988 which apply directly to cyclists to ensure the safety of themselves, other road users and pedestrians. S28(1) creates the offence of Dangerous Cycling. s30(1) Cycling under the influence of drink or drugs (We won’t mention the Texan!) and s72 Highways Act 1835 Riding or driving on the footpath to name but a few.
Interestingly there is legislation which applies to motor vehicles but can include cyclists. For instance, there exists the offence of causing Grievous Bodily Harm by Wanton and Furious Driving. Due to the wording of the offence, in s35 Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, the use of the word ‘carriages’ can include bicycles. Looking back further, an offence is created under s28 Town Police Clauses Act 1847 for ‘every person who rides or drives furiously any horse or carriage, or drives furiously any cattle’. This almost ancient piece of legislation pre-dates even the first speed limit introduced on British roads. This was from the Locomotive Act 1865 which included speed limits of all locomotives to travel at 4mph in the country and 2mph in cities, which must be escorted by a man waving a red flag in front of it. Imagine that nowadays!
All road users share a responsibility for the safety of themselves, other road users and pedestrians in choosing the appropriate speed to travel on a particular road, irrespective of their mode of transport. It is quite rare, not to mention difficult, for a cyclist to be able to exceed the speed limit. And on the even rarer occasions I can exceed 30 or 40mph in my local area, they are on roads where the national speed limit applies (and a very steep negative gradient).