What is the legal position of cyclists in Ireland?

In both Irish and International law (1967 UN Convention of Road Traffic, Vienna), the pedal cycle is a vehicle and therefore the rider is a driver of a vehicle fully entitled to be on public roads (except for motorways where there is a legal exclusion). It also follows that the rider is not a pedestrian on wheels. By extension this means you are not entitled to ride on a footway unless it is expressly declared as a shared facility (path) by appropriate signage and markings. Your legal and natural riding place is on-road.

Some drivers have difficulty in accepting that cyclists are entitled legally to be on our roads. They will state that we pay no ‘road tax’ (no such tax exists - what they mean is ‘motor tax’), no fuel duties, no VRT on bike purchase. But that ignores the issues that (1) roads are funded out of general taxation to which we all, as citizens, contribute towards (2) many cyclists are also owners of a car so are paying for that ownership and use (3) motorised vehicles damage lives and property in traffic collisions (4) motorised vehicles damage the environment and (5) motorsied vehicles damage road surfaces (axle-weight function). So for all of these reasons motorised vehicle use has to be subject to some control for the greater benefit of society.

What legislative changes would we like to see?

The Rules of the Road is the main guidance for most drivers on our roads. However the Rules of the Road publication does not purport to be a precise legal instrument. For the actual primary law you need to read the various Road Traffic Acts 1961-2011 and the associated Regulations that are promulgated as Statutory Instruments (SIs). These are freely available at http://www.attorneygeneral.ie/.

We want to see the Rules of the Road updated to reflect the internationally recognised Hierarchy of Road Users that places the needs of the most vulnerable road users - pedestrians and cyclists - at the top, followed by public transport users with private and goods vehicle users below.

Roads’ Authorities are charged in the Road Act, 1993 (section #13) with a general duty to “consider the needs of all road users” when designing, operating and maintaining any public road in their area. That means cyclists too.

In November 2012 the cycling campaign, as part of Cyclist.ie, made a submission to the Road Safety Authority on reform of the Rules of the Road. The submission included a call for training of drivers to have them understand that they don’t own our roads and must share them with the growing numbers of cyclists. In other words our roads are a shared public space. The submission also demanded the following:

  • Drivers should allow at least 1.5 metre gap when overtaking and where there is insufficient room they should not overtake.

  • The Rules of the Road also need to remind drivers that cyclists will leave a gap of 1 metre when passing parked cars (for fear of being hit by door opening - ‘dooring’ accidents are frequent), and that cyclists are not obliged legally to wear hi-vis vests or helmets.

  • We want to see a change to allow cyclists to make a left turn when the traffic lights are red, but giving way to pedestrians who are using a ‘green-man’ phase on the left junction-arm. This is the case in many European countries, including those with the highest modal-split in favour of cycling.

  • Contraflow cycling should be allowed in one-way streets with low volumes of traffic.

Cyclist.ie also made a submission to a review conducted for the Road Safety Authority in 2012 on the driver training and testing regime. In this submission we called for drivers to be instructed to give a 1.5 metre clearance when overtaking cyclists.

If you want to know more about reform of road traffic law and cycling then go to Section #3.2 of Cyclist.ie submission to Department of Transport in 2008.

For a detailed study of Irish road traffic law then this is about the best place to start: Robert Pierce, ‘Road Traffic Law: The 1961-2011 Road Traffic Acts: Annotated Legislation’ published in 2011 by Bloomsbury Professional, Ltd. [ISBN: 978 1 84766 734 2] You will find that there is not much case law in Ireland relating to cycling. We can’t resist quoting from the Preface to Pierse’s book: “This book is produced as a response to my view that the Road Traffic Acts, 1961-2011 are an almost incomprehensible jungle of law”. So good luck with your venture into Irish road traffic law!

Because there are so many well-funded interests ( e.g. AA Ireland, Irish Road Hauliers Association, HGV Ireland, SIMI, etc) trying to amend laws and regulation to favour motorised driving, cyclists need to be able to counter-lobby. This is why your membership of the cycling campaign is vital to help in this work. We are always looking for volunteers who have a legal background to help in this work and to try and provide answers to the queries we receive each year about road traffic collisions, parking in cycle facilities, dangerous overtaking, etc.

If you would like to get involved in lobbying for legislative changes to benefit cycling promotion call in to one of our public meetings or drop us an email at info@dublincycling.ie

Help us do more for cycling in Dublin, please consider getting involved.