AQW 26063/11-15

Mr Peter Weir
Democratic Unionist Party
North Down

Tabled Date: 20/09/2013
Answered On Date: 07/10/2013
Priority Written: No

To ask the Minister of the Environment what is the legal enforceability of the Highway Code as it pertains to measures to protect cyclists.

My Department has a statutory responsibility under Article 51 of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 to promote road safety and specifically to make available the Highway Code. The Highway Code reflects current Northern Ireland legislation but has no power in itself to change or introduce any legislation. It does, however, provide rules, techniques and advice essential for all road users. A bicycle is legally a vehicle and a cyclist is a driver, so therefore a cyclist is required to obey all the standard rules of the road.
Many of the rules in the Highway Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence. You may be fined, given penalty points on your licence or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases you may be sent to prison. Such rules are identified by the use of the words ‘MUST/MUST NOT’. Each of these rules includes an abbreviated reference to the legislation which creates the offence – an explanation of the abbreviations can be found on page 123 of the Code.
Article 51(6) of the 1995 Order provides that while failure to comply with any provision of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, the Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under road traffic legislation (listed on page 123) to establish or to negative any liability. This includes rules that use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.
This wording is used throughout the Highway Code including the sections which pertain specifically to cyclists. The first of these sections contains ‘Rules for Cyclists’ and includes information on issues such as appropriate clothing and lighting as well as advice when cycling on cycle routes, cycle tracks, cycle lanes and bus lanes. The correct procedures to be followed at road junctions, roundabouts and crossing the road are also covered alongside other important safety requirements (Rules 59 to 82).
The Code also makes it very clear that the most vulnerable road users are pedestrians, particularly children, older or disabled people, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. Advice on how drivers should treat vulnerable road users, including cyclists, is covered in Rules 204 to 218 of the Code.
A further section entitled ‘You and your bicycle’ considers some of the factors that will help make sure that you feel confident of your ability to ride safely on the road. This advice can be found in Annex 1 of the Code (page 118).
The rules, techniques and advice contained in the Highway Code for Northern Ireland are there to help us all to use the roads both safely and legally. There is no doubt, if all road users know and follow this advice then many collisions would be avoided and the Road to Zero road deaths would be advanced.