The law, common sense and The Highway Code all sensibly coalesce around treating vulnerable road users with care because they are not in a big steel box. So far, so simple. But what does it mean in practical legal terms. Because the law extends special care to these groups (even though my experience in Court is that judges are slow to extend a higher duty of care to motorcyclists) then other road users need to accommodate their vulnerabilities.
Horses and cyclists are perhaps the most contentious. It will not get you very far in law if you run the argument that horses should be able to cope with an Akrapovic pipe and you riding past them at 60mph in a 60mph zone. The Highway Code and the law of negligence say much the same thing. Go steadily and quietly by horses, whilst offering them a wide berth. The Highway Code says you should also pay attention to hand gestures given by equestrians to slow down.
Technically, under a non-repealed section of an early Victorian Act of Parliament a horse rider who blocks your path is committing an offence but the fine is, literally, in shillings. Squeezing past them on a bike is fraught with danger for everyone and if the horse rider is being a dick, it doesn’t mean you reciprocate. You will also be in a whole load more legal trouble. You have all kinds of statutes you will be breaking which our equestrian friends can ignore as they are almost entirely ungoverned. The law gives protection to those road users who use the roads by right (ie unlicensed and uninsured) as opposed to users by licence i.e. us.
Likewise the peloton of Sunday cyclists is owed a duty of care by you to pass them all safely. Be patient. The law is more on their side than yours.
The big one is kids: the law almost expects you to anticipate them dashing out in front of you. Because you are relatively invulnerable, and they are supremely vulnerable and also daft, you have to make reasonable attempts to accommodate kids being, well, kids. I summarise the law thus: if it is something that a kid might be expected to do, and kids are unguided missiles who do stupid things, then if you don’t anticipate it, you are at least partially liable.
Finally, a word on drunkards. The law is less sympathetic to drunks but they are still owed a duty of care. If you spot one staggering about, the law does expect you to expect the unexpected. If you are the rider who hits him, some small amount of blame may affix to you if you could reasonably have expected him to wander out into the road.
Bike Magazine – May 2018