The Welsh Government has updated its guidance on exercise during the lockdown – and says that “as a rule of thumb” people should only ride their bikes within walking distance of where they live, and that “cycling significant distances from home is not considered to be a reasonable excuse for leaving it.” However, questions remain over what that distance may actually be, with no specific mention of it in the legislation or the guidance, leaving scope for confusion.
While acknowledging that “cycling is a valid form of exercise and is also a suitable way of going to work,” the Welsh Government says the guidance aims to relieve pressure on emergency services due to a rider having an accident or mechanical issue, which may also require someone else to make a journey to provide assistance.
Cyclists are also “expected to only cycle alone or with members of their household, on routes they know well, and that are well within their ability level.”
Under Regulation 8 (1) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, “During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living or remain away from that place without reasonable excuse.”
The Regulations go on to define a “reasonable excuse” as including, at paragraph (b), “to take exercise, no more than once a day (or more frequently if this is needed because of a particular health condition or disability), either (i) alone; (ii) with other members of the person’s household; or (iii) with the person’s carer.”
As with similar regulations in force elsewhere in the UK, the legislation, aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus, places restrictions on the reasons people may leave their homes while the emergency continues.
> Cycling dos and don'ts in a time of pandemic – how to be a responsible cyclist
But while the legislation in England, for example, makes no reference to only being able to leave the home once per day, the Regulations in Wales do.
In common with the laws in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, much of the regulations have been left vague, which has led to confusion among members of the public about what they are and are not allowed to do.
In particular, lack of clarity about how long one should exercise for, or how far from home – note that reference in the Regulations to “rule of thumb,” whatever that is, that we mentioned at the start of this article – leaves room for people to be found to have broken the law when they did not intend to.
And already, one of the country’s major media outlets, Wales Online, has said that it “understands” that under the new guidance, cycling within 10 miles of home would be seen as a “reasonable distance” while being 20 miles away would not – although there is nothing in the guidance itself that backs that up.
(From a cyclist’s point of view, of course, a “reasonable distance” to enable them to get back home by foot in the event of a mechanical may be determined by whether they happen to be wearing cleated shoes, or trainers more suited to a lengthy walk).
In England and Wales, the decision to prosecute criminal cases investigated by the police and other agencies rests with the Crown Prosecution Service and the application of the law resides with the courts.
However, government guidance to legislation, while not forming part of it, can be a strong influence in determining what it is seeking to achieve and, ultimately, how it should be interpreted and enforced.
Here are the paragraphs in full relating to cycling contained in the Welsh Government’s latest guidance.
Cycling is a valid form of exercise and is also a suitable way of going to work. Cycling is generally a low-risk activity but with emergency services under pressure, it is important to take steps to manage risk wherever possible. An accident or a breakdown far from home would place additional strain on health services or require a further journey to be made by someone else to provide assistance.
People are expected to only cycle alone or with members of their household, on routes they know well, and that are well within their ability level. Cyclists on shared paths should be considerate of walkers, runners and other people cycling: they should stay two metres from others, slow their pace and stop to let people pass as appropriate.
Cycling should be local, as a rule of thumb limited to travelling no further than a reasonable walking distance from home. Exercising by cycling significant distances from home is not considered to be a reasonable excuse for leaving home.20. Cycling to work, or for work, is a reasonable excuse to be outside (so long as going to work, or doing the work, is itself justifiable).
As of yesterday, 8,358 people in Wales had tested positive for COVID-19, of whom 641 died.
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