Staying Safe While Cycling In The Winter


The Law Of... ensuring you have the right equipment for winter cycling

Last year, 3,390 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on UK roads. Fatal accidents are often avoidable and could have been prevented if both cyclists and other road users took more care and looked out for each other.

The Law Of... ensuring you have the right equipment for winter cycling

With an increased risk to cyclists during winter months, Maeve McCusker – Associate Solicitor and avid cyclist on Simpson Millar's Personal Injury team – addresses some of the main safety questions asked by cyclists and warns that the right equipment is crucial to staying safe during the winter months.

Why Is Winter More Dangerous For Cyclists?

The winter months pose a number of risks to cyclists, from a decreased amount of daylight to adverse weather conditions, cyclists have been shown to be at a greater risk of casualty during winter months.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) found that while more cycle accidents occur during spring and summer months, the casualty rate in terms of miles travelled is higher during the autumn and winter period.

This could be due to the higher numbers of cyclists during spring and summer, meaning that there was a high rate of accidents, meanwhile the increased danger of cycling during the winter means that injuries are more likely.

The same report from ROSPA highlighted that accidents in the dark are more likely to be fatal for cyclists, meaning that the darker rides to and from work during winter pose an increased risk for cyclists.

One of the key considerations to make when considering the increased risk to cyclists during the winter months is adverse weather.

A case study of delivering accident prevention, which focused on non-collision cycling injuries in Bristol, showed that 26% of all reported incidents happened as a result of slipping on ice, making it the leading cause of non-collision accidents.

This high number of incidents being caused by ice becomes even more telling when you consider the fact that non-collision cycling incidents are the leading cause of serious travel and transport related injury in England.

What Can I Do To Stay Safe While Cycling In The Winter?

There are a range of steps you can take to ensure that you are safe for winter riding, namely ensuring that you have the right equipment.

  1. As the days draw shorter, having bright and visible front and rear lights is crucial. Visibility for both cyclist and motorists can be significantly reduced during winter, so ensuring you have charged lights – ideally while carrying spare batteries – can help you see and be seen on the road during winter
  2. Cyclists should always ensure that their clothes are reflective, so that they can be seen in the headlights of other road users – this is especially true during the darker months, as motorists are more likely to have their headlights on in the morning and early evening
  3. Swapping out thinner road tyres, which are typically favoured during the spring and summer, for wider tyres can help cycle safely in adverse weather conditions. Wider tyres, especially spiked winter tyres, can reduce the chances of slipping and falling on icy surfaces

Of course, all of the standard safety measures followed for the rest of the year should be adhered to during the winter months, especially wearing a safe bike helmet and ensuring that you ride positively, decisively, and well clear of the kerb.

Who Is To Blame If A Cyclist Is Injured On The Road?

Blame for an accident depends entirely on the circumstances surrounding the particular incident. In some instances, all parties involved could be adhering to the Highway Code and the accident will still take place.

When establishing liability for an accident, it is important to remember that a bicycle is a vehicle on the road and is viewed as the same as a motorbike, car, or bus in the eyes of the law – meaning that cyclists do not gain sympathy or the benefit of doubt just because their vehicle is smaller than others on the road.

There are guidelines for both motorists and cyclists to ensure that cyclists remain safe on the road and it is important that collaborative action is taken to ensure the safety of all road users – especially as cyclists can often find themselves seriously injured as a result of a collision with another vehicle.

For motorists, THINK! advise that drivers:

  • Look out for cyclists, especially when turning at junctions;
  • Use their indicators, so cyclists know their next move;
  • Give cyclists plenty of space;
  • Check for cyclists before opening their car doors and;
  • Avoid encroaching on advanced stop lines, designed to allow cyclists to boost their visibility by getting ahead of traffic at lights

At the same time, cyclists should:

  • Avoid passing on the inside of vehicles indicating left, especially lorries when they might not have been seen by the driver;
  • Ride positively, decisively, and well clear of the kerb;
  • Look and signal early, so that drivers know what you are planning to do;
  • Always use lights when visibility is poor;
  • Wear light coloured and reflective clothes and;
  • Wear a correctly fitting helmet that conforms to current safety regulations

If both sets of road users follow these safety tips, the chances of cyclists being involved in a road traffic accident could be significantly reduced.

What Does The Highway Code Say For Cyclists?

The Highway Code sets out clear rules for both cyclists and other road users when it comes to driving around those requiring extra care.

For cyclists, rules 59 to 82 of the Highway Code provide an overview of how to stay safe on the road, with rules briefly stating that:

  • You should wear the correct clothing, including a bike helmet and reflective clothing
  • When it is dark outside, which is likely to be most of the day during winter, you must have white front and red rear lights clearly lit
  • Take particular care when moving by parked or stationary vehicles
  • Approach junctions with caution and be aware of vehicles around you
For other road users rules 204 through to 225 of the Highway Code manage how to interact with those that may need extra care, with drivers advised to:

  • Always look out for motorbikes and cyclists when emerging from a junction – it can be difficult to spot cyclists further down the road and almost two thirds of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the road were involved in a collision at, or near, a junction
  • Give cyclists plenty of room when passing; there should be a car width between cyclists and your vehicle as you pass
  • Cyclists may need to move suddenly to avoid uneven road surfaces, give them room to do this and be alert to the fact they may swerve suddenly – this is especially prevalent in the winter months, when cyclists may need to move around wet or icy patches

Winter Cycling Safety Infographic - Simpson Millar LLP

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