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UK government sets out to kill off the cycling chain gang

Proposed revision to Highway Code tells cyclists they should “ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake”

The UK government appears set on killing off the chain gang – that’s one takeaway from yesterday’s launch of a consultation on proposed changes to the Highway Code.

There’s a lot to unpack from the consultation – just the summary of the planned amendments runs to a couple of dozen pages – which opened on the same day as Number 10 set out how it plans to revolutionise cycling in England.

And, sure, there were certainly some more headline-grabbing aspects of the consultation for the mainstream media to chew over, including setting out a hierarchy of road users to protect the most vulnerable.

It also for the first time sets out actual recommended passing distances because, let’s face it, we all know exactly what 2 metres looks like after the past four months [you forgot the eyeroll emoji – Ed].

But there, in black and white, are the words that should give rise to concern to anyone who likes going for a ride with cycling mates, or fellow club members, perhaps to a café and having a bit of a chat along the way.

The current wording of Rule 66 of the Highway Code says among other things that while cycling, “You should … never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends.”

The proposed new wording, however, says that “You should … ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so. When riding in larger groups on narrow lanes, it is sometimes safer to ride two abreast.”

Now, it’s important to note the use of the word “should” rather than “must” which appears in many other places in the Highway Code; the former is advisory, the latter is the law (and footnotes peppered throughout highlight the relevant legislation.

Nevertheless, whether it’s advice or an instruction backed by the force of the law, the government is effectively telling cyclists not to ride two abreast on busy roads.

And that spells bad news for those who enjoy riding in chain gangs – although we suppose you could just confine your rides to country lanes where you apparently have the government’s blessing on safety grounds.

Which raises a serious point – and a potentially deathly serious one at that, if you’ll forgive the expression.

> Monday moaning: Why do cyclists ride two abreast?

It is often safer for cyclists in a group to ride two abreast, irrespective of the kind of road, because it makes it easier and quicker for motorists to overtake them – something highlighted in a video from cycling journalist and author Carlton Reid in a 2015 film featuring Chris Boardman and senior driving driving instructor Blaine Walsh.

In fact, so impressed was the government with the video, called SPACE, that it planned to distribute an edited version to all driving instructors throughout the country – as well as turning a shorter version of it into a public information film.

> Government to ensure all driving instructors watch Chris Boardman SPACE for cycling film (+ video)

You can find the Department for Transport’s full consultation document on the proposed changes to the Highway Code here.

Launched yesterday, the consultation runs until midnight on 27 October 2020.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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