Own the lane?

[Updated, 12 May 2012]

The legal aspects of a cyclist’s road position recently improved with the publication of new advice for cyclists by the Road Safety Council, following consideration of the issue by Transport Department.

In ‘Riding in Traffic‘, cyclists are now told:
Be visible: When riding in [a] narrow carriageway or making turns, it is safer to position yourself in the middle of the lane.

While this is welcome, and allows cyclists to adopt a safe, visible road position in many potentially risky situations, it may be some time before this advice is consistent in offical materials and practice.  Moreover the general advice to cyclists remains to ‘keep to the left’ (implicitly in lanes that are wide enough to safely contain a moving motor vehicle and bicycle side by side). The current version of the Road Users’ Code (published in 2000) states that cyclists should “Ride along near the kerb or side of the road — about 1/2 metre away”. Although the Code is not legally binding, it is much relied on by police in bringing prosecutions, and hence in court convictions.  We consider that, on almost any road, riding 50 cm from the kerb is likely to be dangerous.  At least a metre is requred to be able to avoid potholes or move away from another vehicle passing too close.

Elsewhere, official advice is that cyclists may move out into the lane to avoid gutter debris etc.

The Road Users’ Code is currently under review, and when the new version is published, probably later in 2012, we expect it (and other official materials) to adopt the guidance to ride in the centre of a narrow lane or when making turns.  Although ‘keep to the left’ will remain, we do hope that the ’50 cm’ rule is dropped. Watch this space.

Deviating briefly from strictly legal aspects: 

Firstly, for many cyclists, it feels counterintuitive to move out into the lane, especially when vehicles are passing too close. Surely the safest thing to do is get out of the way of those menaces?  Cycle training in place such as the UK (the Bikeability programme) addresses this, teaching cyclists to always ride within their limits (a cyclist who feels unsafe probably is) but to learn to ‘manage’ the traffic around them, by making drivers behind aware of their position and intentions.

Secondly, also based on experience in the UK, if cyclists are advised to ride in the centre of the lane but no one tells the motorists, then there can be some unwanted aggression from the minority of drivers who hold that they have special rights over cyclists.  Therefore we call on the Government to make sure that all road users are given the same message. Fortunately, by being visible, much of the actual danger is eliminated.

Read more about these practical considerations on the Bicycle road position page.

**IMPORTANT: The above information is provided for reference only and should not be considered legal advice. The government BLIS legal database at www.legislation.gov.hk contains the full text of all Hong Kong laws. **

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