Is it illegal to undertake other cyclists?
Coming off the silicon roundabout in the outside lane, right next to the pavement, another cyclist rode up between me and the pavement.
There wasn’t nearly enough room. His jacket caught my handlebars, and we rode along in unison for what felt like far too much time, him coolly silent, me shouting a theme-park-ride “whooooaaah”. Eventually I swerved out towards the middle of the road to get free, and he zoomed quietly off.
Recently people have been undertaking me more and more. Normally I ride quite far out in the middle of the lane – it increases my visibility, and often physically stops cars from pulling hair’s-breadth overtaking manoeuvres. When I’m there I’m not too worried if other cyclists choose to run the car-door gauntlet on the inside.
But on this occasion I decided I’d had enough – I would take a stand and shout something imposing and aggressive to make the point that undertaking is bad.
Now I normally think of this as a good thing, but aggression is not one of my strong points. So I steeled myself, strapped on the fellas and gathered up my best “what the f— was that?!”
What actually came out was the plaintive tone of a saddened hippy – I may as well have said “not on my rug, man”. Evidently not intimidated in any way, the other guy shouted a merry “sorry!” and rode on.
I thought I’d check whether he’d actually done anything wrong.
Undertaking and the law
There’s no law expressly preventing you from undertaking another cyclist.
Looking at the Highway Code, though, there is some relevant stuff – it says:
- You should only overtake on the left (i.e. undertake) if the vehicle in front of you is turning right, and there’s room for you to do so (rule 163)
- But you can pass on the left if you’re in slow-moving traffic in a queue, and you’re moving faster than traffic on your right (also rule 163)
- Cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast (but no more), except when on narrow or busy roads and when riding around bends (rule 66)
So it looks like the other guy broke the Highway Code – he overtook on the left, I wasn’t turning right, and we weren’t in a queue or slow-moving traffic. It wasn’t even a situation where we could ride two abreast, because we were going around a bend.
If I’d fallen off and sued, I could rely on his failure to follow the Highway Code as helping establish that he was negligent. This would make it easier for me to recover damages for any personal injury or damage to my bike. (RTA s. 38(7))
Although it wouldn’t necessarily be enough on its own to make him liable. He might also point out that I maybe didn’t comply fully with the rules of red lights in going across the roundabout, and may have taken my preferred “racing line” approach to lane changes – so it was perhaps partly my fault too.
I suppose there’s also a chance he could have been prosecuted for careless cycling. In this context, the prosecutor could rely on his breach of the Highway Code as tending to show that he fell below the necessary degree of care. But it might not be enough on its own to secure a conviction – I might need to point to other factors suggesting his cycling was careless, for example the fact that the road was very busy, so there was a risk of forcing me out into other traffic (see my earlier post). (RTA s. 38(7); Jarvis v Fuller  RTR 160, 163)
Like I’ve said before, as a general rule a prosecution would probably only happen if someone was hurt – but there’s got to be a reasonable chance of knocking somebody off if you undertake close by (and I did nearly fall off as a result).
So is it just me, or have you been ‘undertaken’ too? Would you undertake another cyclist?
Photo by johnmcga from here http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnmcga/4110680282/