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Riding two abreast: Sarah Storey calls for Highway Code to be clearer

Cycling campaigners say proposed new wording for Rule 66 only increases ambiguity

Dame Sarah Storey has asked people to respond to the Government’s Highway Code consultation to request greater clarity on riding two abreast. She is critical of proposed new wording which would tell cyclists they should, “ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so.”

The Government launched a consultation on changes to the Highway Code in July, with the proposed alteration to Rule 66 among the most striking from a cyclist’s perspective.

The current wording of Rule 66 of the Highway Code says 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 would say 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.”

Storey, who is British Cycling’s Policy Advocate, said: “The intention of the proposal is to make it clear that riding two abreast is not just legal but it’s also safer and more convenient for all road users – and that includes drivers as well. However, our concern is that the proposed wording doesn’t achieve that goal and the existing ambiguity around this issue remains.”

Expanding on some of the reasons why cyclists ride two abreast, she continued: “If you think about a situation where you might be riding with your child, as I do on a regular basis, you want to make sure that you have your child on the left of you so that if somebody is passing too quickly or closely you are offering them some protection. In this situation we don’t believe that a parent should ever feel compelled to ‘single out’.

“Similarly, if you’re out on the road in a group, if you’re in single file there’s a much longer line of cyclists for a driver to pass. On the road it might not be possible to do this safely while maintaining a safe distance from the group, particularly if there’s a bend ahead or a traffic island. If you’re riding two abreast, it makes it much easier for the driver to overtake safely and they’ll also have better visibility of what is coming towards them.”

British Cycling, Cycling UK and other organisations have put forward alternative wording for Rule 66 which they believe provides greater clarity on how drivers should interact with groups riding two abreast.

“You should be considerate of the needs of other road users when riding in small or large groups. You can ride two abreast and it is often safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders. Be aware of drivers behind you, allowing them to overtake (e.g. by moving into single file) when you feel it is safe to let them do so.”

Storey concluded: “We know that this issue is a longstanding subject of debate between motorists and people on bikes, with unnecessary hostility often directed to those out cycling, usually in the form of dangerous overtaking.

“Through the consultation we have the opportunity to clear up the confusion once and for all, and it’s absolutely vital that the Government hears the experiences of thousands of people who would benefit from this change.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the road.cc team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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28 comments

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jrscott | 3 years ago
0 likes

Riding 2 abreast is only really safe if everyone stays tight to the left of the road.  This allows vehicles who want to overtake the group to see more clearly and safely negotiate the pass.  To suggest a group should take the lane is completely counter intuitive to this.  Furthermore, if there was a problem with the a vehicle trying to negotiate the pass and an accident occurs, the riders closest to the middle of the road are left most vulnerable to being hit, if not the whole group.  Also, taking the lane only infuriates the drivers and when since they hold the weight advantage it is not to the cyclist's benefit to do so.  

When going as only 2 riders, I will ride 2 abreast on quieter roads until someone comes up behind me and is trying to pass and I usually move over.  Again, to facilite a car's easy means to pass will only make it safer and happier for everyone.

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TheBillder replied to jrscott | 3 years ago
3 likes

Sorry, I cannot agree. When two abreast is appropriate, overtaking vehicles should be in the other lane, giving the same space as they would to a car.

What is the "problem with the a vehicle trying to negotiate the pass" going to be? Mechanical failure? Sudden driver incapacitation? Or driver recklessness meaning that there will be a collision (not "accident") and the driver has to choose what to hit?

I will always single out on narrow roads (single track or narrow lanes) if I think safety will be enhanced, but at a time of my choice. But until then, I normally fill the lane. This allows me to move left if there is a close pass.

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Mungecrundle | 3 years ago
8 likes

Clarity could be achieved by simply removing rule 66 and replacing it with the information that drivers should expect groups of cyclists to ride as a group and to take up the width of the lane.

The only advice to cyclists, on this specific issue, should be that on narrow country roads, riding single file and spacing out may be safer with respect to oncoming traffic at unsighted bends.

Anything else creates edge cases and expectations almost to the point of requiring direct mind links to your fellow road users.

There should be more emphasis generally about courtesy to others and whilst that goes all ways, drivers should be left in no doubt that they are expected to tolerate and make allowances for more vulnerable road users.

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bikeman01 | 3 years ago
5 likes

How about 'overtake cyclists only when it's safe to do so and leave as much room as you would a horse and rider'.

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Brightspark | 3 years ago
6 likes

Why not just get rid of it. That is what I put down on my response.

"When overtaking a cyclist..(etc) give as much room as possible. You should move into the next lane to do so when it is clear".

Of course if the MInistry of Cars and Lorries does not want to do that, then at least they should be honest.

Rule 66. If you have to cycle in the road, you MUST ride in single file as close to the gutter as possible. You MUST not ride side by side or overtake another cyclist or ride in groups of more than 3. You MUST stop and pull over in plenty of time to allow cars to pass you without impending their speed which may be higher than the posted speed limit.

Rule 163. Overtaking. Cyclists shouldn't be on the road, so always pass as close as you can as fast as you can and use your horn. Be aware that cycles can scratch your paint and that the riders can cause dents and may even your windscreen or knock your wing door mirror. 

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wtjs | 3 years ago
7 likes

I am all in favour of people riding according to the Highway Code, but I am always being close-passed and I am always single-file. Until The Enemy, the police, can be forced to accept that drivers should drive acording to the Highway Code and enforce it it's all just verbiage. Lancashire police have never prosecuted anyone for close-passing alone. 

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andystow | 3 years ago
0 likes

How about:

You should … ride in single file on roads without lane markings when drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so.

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jh2727 replied to andystow | 3 years ago
8 likes
andystow wrote:

How about:

You should … ride in single file on roads without lane markings when drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so.

How do you know the wishes of a driver who is behind you? How do they communicate their wish to overtake - honking their horn? driving dangerously closely?

Roads without lane markings are typically only wide enough for one car - after you let them pass and they meet an oncoming vehicle, are you expected to stop and wait whilst they sort themselves out?

 

How about:

Should you choose to drive on a road that isn't really very suitable for motor cars, you should be happy to travel at the speed of whoever is in front.

 

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Titanus replied to jh2727 | 3 years ago
0 likes

you should be happy to travel at the speed of whoever is in front.

This is a problem with all roads. You get 1 dawdling dickhead and EVERBODY has to dawdle with him. Think about lane hoggers on motorways or just a general lack of safe overtaking opportunities and you are dammed to be stuck, often for a long time. This drives people nuts.

The simple solution is to just pull over and let faster people keep going fast and the slower driver or cyclist can continue doing their own thing without impacting others. Some drivers actually do this, but the majority will simply not give a fudge about anyone else.

I agree about with the comment stating that police should be forced to act on incidents of bad driving. I made the suggestion myself elsewhere and until that happens, there's little point in changing a few words explaining what road users need to do.

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Awavey replied to Titanus | 3 years ago
0 likes

but that is specifically about roads only wide enough for a car, most of those roads are still NSL, and plenty of idiots like to treat them like they are on a rally stage as there are never going to be any police around on them to keep speeding or dangerous driving in check,

the only way to let people pass on these types of road on a bike is often to fall into a hedge as the driver rarely has the patience to wait for the next passing place for you to stop.

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Zermattjohn | 3 years ago
10 likes

It will make very little difference seeing while there's no obligation to keep up to speed with changes to the HC once you've passed your driving test. There are literally thousands of people hooning around in 1-tonne lumps of metal who haven't looked at it in years.

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Titanus replied to Zermattjohn | 3 years ago
0 likes

Another good point. One I am guilty of myself altho fortunately I no longer actually have to drive so I don't.

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John Pitcock replied to Zermattjohn | 3 years ago
2 likes
Zermattjohn wrote:

It will make very little difference seeing while there's no obligation to keep up to speed with changes to the HC once you've passed your driving test. There are literally thousands of people hooning around in 1-tonne lumps of metal who haven't looked at it in years.

Yes. Millions of them.
I am a volunteer for iAM RoadSmart (The Institute of Advanced Motorists). 
I am surprised how people who come to me for training are so ignorant about the Highway Code - considerig they are keen enough to voluntarily pay for the training.

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Hirsute | 3 years ago
10 likes

I think it should say 'move into the other lane to overtake' 

and 'allow drivers to overtake in narrow roads by pulling into a suitable passing place' none of this single file stuff.

After all, drivers have engines which requires approximately zero effort to use (zero effort in some cases).

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Sriracha replied to Hirsute | 3 years ago
8 likes

This. As soon as you mention bikes and single file in the same paragraph motorists will construe it to mean cyclists must be in single file any time the motorists thinks so, which is every time the motorist is in their vicinity.

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quiff | 3 years ago
2 likes

I wrote to Cycling UK earlier this year to question the new rule 66, because it doesn't seem to address its stated aim, but their otherwise helpful ready-made consultation response appeared to endorse it. Glad to see they and other bodies are now suggesting clearer alternatives. To my mind though, "cyclists can ride two abreast" needs reinforcing in the section for drivers, not just to appear in the section for cyclists - can't remember if the proposals do that. Of course whether anyone reads any of the HC is another matter.    

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EK Spinner | 3 years ago
5 likes

"allowing them to overtake (e.g. by moving into single file) when you feel it is safe to let them do so"

How can British cycling seriously propose this wording, singling out doe NOT make it easier to execute a safe overtake. When the road is wide nough for a white line down the middle it is the exact opposite, it does however facilitate a dangerous overtake or extend the distance required for a safe pass (and hence reduce the number of opportunities) and the practice should be actively discouraged.

Additionally the implications of this statement is that riding 2 abreast is forming some kind of blocking manoeuvre to prevent an overtake which it very much isn't

*subtly different on single tracks where singling out is required

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jh2727 replied to EK Spinner | 3 years ago
3 likes

Exactly this. If it is safe to overtake, that generally means the whole other lane is free - why would you single out at that point when when it has already been established that riding two abreast allows a motorist to overtake more easily as the length of the overtake is shortened?

The bit about single file for bends needs to give a reason (that historically the problem with the highway code, it has always been a bit light on the 'why'). The main reason I can see for going single file is that it each cyclist to move to a position where they can see furthest round a bend and be seen from the furthest distance (i.e. on the outside of a left hand bend or the inside of a right hand bend), as they individually negotiate the bend. In much the same way as you might 'flatten' the bend when driving on country roads (i.e. deliberately move to the 'wrong' side of the road on the approach to the bend to see further around the bend, earlier (and you might do the same when cycling)).

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tom_w | 3 years ago
6 likes

I'm not sure either wording really makes sense?  The close pass iniative effectively says that when passing a bike the car should be a minimum of 2.25m from the left edge of the carriageway.  The average UK carriageway is probably 3m to 4m in width, so in the majority of cases a car would have to cross to the next lane to overtake, which they shouldn't do in the face of oncoming traffic.

So in that case, the simplest wording would be to say something along the lines of "when passing cyclists on a two lane highway you must change lane".  It's then completely unambiguous and makes space for riders riding single or two abreast.  It also means that if you're the sort of driver who overtakes cyclists on corners by straddling the white line and then have a head on shunt it will be very clear who was at fault.

The only scenario that doesn't work for is single lane country roads where singling out may sometimes be an acceptable approach (although pulling over to let queuing traffic past is probably safer in those circumstances, in the same way one would if, say, driving a tractor), so some wording would be needed for that too.

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jh2727 replied to tom_w | 3 years ago
1 like
tom_w wrote:

I'm not sure either wording really makes sense?  The close pass iniative effectively says that when passing a bike the car should be a minimum of 2.25m from the left edge of the carriageway.  The average UK carriageway is probably 3m to 4m in width, so in the majority of cases a car would have to cross to the next lane to overtake, which they shouldn't do in the face of oncoming traffic.

A lane might only be 3-4 metres wide but a carriage way won't be, unless it is a single track road or a dual carriageway.  If a typical two lane (i.e. one in each direction) single carriageway were 3-4 metres wide that would allow only 1.5-2 metres for each lane.

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Fursty Ferret replied to tom_w | 3 years ago
3 likes
tom_w wrote:

So in that case, the simplest wording would be to say something along the lines of "when passing cyclists on a two lane highway you must change lane".  It's then completely unambiguous and makes space for riders riding single or two abreast.  It also means that if you're the sort of driver who overtakes cyclists on corners by straddling the white line and then have a head on shunt it will be very clear who was at fault.

I completely agree - that's clear and unambiguous.

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bikercub | 3 years ago
6 likes

The problem with the wording "Be aware of drivers behind you, allowing them to overtake (e.g. by moving into single file) when you feel it is safe to let them do so.” is that drivers will only see it as the responsibility of the cyclist to have eyes in the back of their head and get out of the driver's way. They will never read as far as the "when you feel it is safe to let them do so." part of the sentence.

It also implies that the cyclist will give somehow permission for the driver to overtake. We all know that it's highly unlikely that many drivers would wait for that to happen.

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brooksby | 3 years ago
10 likes

I think if cyclists were obliged to ride single-file, then motorists should also be obliged to drive single-file.  After all, the majority of motorists on the road at any one time are driving around in a double-width vehicle but with only one person in it.

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Andrew Burrows replied to brooksby | 3 years ago
5 likes

Did you mean to say "motorists should also be obliged to drive double-file (i.e. with 2 people in the car)" it makes more sense given the sentance that follows.

Nearly every vehicle I see on my commute has single occupant. It is quite frustrating when they, sometimes less than skillfully, pass you only to come to complete holt just a bit further down the road in a traffic jam caused by the volume of traffic. If all those cars were even just 40% full traffic would halve and everything would flow a lot more smoothly.

I guess not everyone has the option to car share, cycle or use public transport, one can only assume these people are driving alone as a last resort.

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brooksby replied to Andrew Burrows | 3 years ago
1 like

Maybe so, maybe so (it's been a long day!).

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HarrogateSpa | 3 years ago
11 likes

I agree with Sarah Storey/British Cycling except for one thing.

I'd remove the word "abreast", because it is the trigger that makes impatient drivers lose their minds. Just describe it as people riding next to each other.

I believe that language matters, and this is really important. The fact that no one will agree with me shows either (a) that I'm ahead of my time and have great insight or (b) that I'm wrong.

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Luca Patrono replied to HarrogateSpa | 3 years ago
2 likes

I think everyone here understands the power of language and especially of spin, and nobody would dispute your statement.

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lesterama | 3 years ago
7 likes

100%. The new proposed wording will cause grief to people on bikes.

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