Cycling safety advice

Whether it's for work, school or pleasure, cycling has many benefits. It's convenient, environmentally friendly and can help you keep fit.

Cycling has become more popular in recent years, especially on the back of the success of Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics. With millions of people now choosing to cycle, safety is an increasingly important issue.

The Bikeability scheme is designed to help children and parents ride confidently and safely on today's busy roads. It is the current equivalent of a cycling proficiency scheme.

Tips on cycling safely

While the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks, the following tips will help you stay safe on the road.

Be visible to other road users

Make sure you're visible to other road users and pedestrians. Wear bright or fluorescent clothing in daylight or poor light and reflective clothing at night. Always use lights after dark, in the rain, or if the weather is overcast.

Don't cycle too close to the kerb

Give yourself space on the left, and don't feel you have to cycle close to the kerb if a car behind you gets impatient. By moving further into the road you'll avoid most drain covers and roadside debris. You'll also help drivers think more carefully about when it's safe to pass you. When overtaking parked cars, watch out for car doors opening suddenly and allow room to pass safely.

Protect yourself with a helmet

Always wear a helmet – this reduces the risk of head injury if you're in an accident. To be effective, the helmet must be level on the head, with the pads inside touching all the way around and the strap comfortably snug.

Make eye contact with drivers

Always be aware of who is around you. Make eye contact with drivers and let them know you've seen them. This will tell you if the driver has seen you or not, which is especially helpful before you make a manoeuvre.

Make your intentions clear to other road users

Show drivers what you plan to do in plenty of time and when it's safe to do so. Always look and signal before you start, stop or turn. Looking over your shoulder while indicating with one hand can be tricky, so practise this first when you're not on the road.

Avoid cycling with headphones

While cycling, avoid using devices that could potentially distract you and reduce your awareness of other road users, such as headphones and phones.

Cycling etiquette

  • Don't weave in and out of traffic or change direction suddenly without signalling.
  • Use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings (dual cycle and pedestrian crossings) unless it's unsafe to do so at the time. It's not compulsory to use these, and whether you do so will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.
  • Give pedestrians priority at all times. Some may be partially sighted or deaf and may not be aware of your presence.
  • Use your bell to inform other road users of your presence. Fit a bell or horn if your bicycle is not fitted with one.

Legal issues for cyclists

It's against the law for cyclists to:

  • Cycle through red lights, including lights at pedestrian crossings. 
  • Cycle on pavements, unless there's a sign showing that the pavement has been converted to a cycle path.
  • Cycle the wrong way up a one-way street, unless there's a sign showing that cyclists can do so.
  • Ride across pedestrian crossings, unless it's a toucan crossing with a sign saying that cyclists can do so.

New to cycling? Get practical advice on getting started.

Page last reviewed: 07/04/2015

Next review due: 07/04/2017


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

DakCB said on 28 April 2015

This page does not seem to be consistently evidence-based. For example, there is no evidence that wearing strange clothes makes you less likely to be involved in a collision - it's pretty daft to cycle among fields of yellow rapeseed while wearing the common modern "cycling" yellow jacket. There is also insufficient evidence that cycle helmets reduce injuries - head injuries are fairly rare and there are other types of injury, plus there's some evidence that motorists take less care near helmetted riders - and listening to music or using satnavs can be useful in some situations, so why should different rules apply to people on bikes than those driving cars? Just ride and have fun, no matter what hat and coat you wear or what music you listen to - it's better for you than not riding.

I agree with the advice on lights, eye contact and signalling, but the claim that it's illegal to ride through red lights at crossings (assuming you mean on a cycleway crossing the carriageway) is also wrong: red bike/man symbols are merely a "give way", indicating that the crossing operator does not claim it is safe to cross. If you stop at every red bike, you'll grow old before you get home. The red circle light that also applies to motor vehicles is mandatory, of course.

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Retired walker and cyclist said on 19 December 2014

It is all very well suggesting that people should take more exercise, and your advice about how cyclists should behave is correct, but...
I live in a rural area where motorists regularly use their vehicle as an offensive weapon to threaten people who are walking or cycling on country lanes.
All agencies need to act to make our roads safer for everyone, and not just in cities.
The behaviour of a significant minority of motorists is deterring many people from healthy exercise.

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