For a long time, it’s been a grey area whether the rules of the road apply to segregated cycle routes and whether the hierarchy of road users, as set out in the Highway Code, also applies to these off-road routes.

The Courts have finally made a decision on this point after hearing the case of Nigel Dick v Joseph Merrick 2024. The case was heard earlier this year and an opinion was issued by Lord Sandison on 3rd April. The case involved a collision between two cyclists on 26th August 2019 on National Cycle Route (NCR) 7 & and NCR 75 between Linwood and Johnstone.

The two cyclists collided with one another close to where the two routes merge. There was discrepancy over the exact location of the collision and the speeds involved but the main issue in dispute was, who was at fault for the collision? If there was to be a split in fault, how ought that to be apportioned?

Mr Dick had been cycling on the NCR 75 and pulled onto the NCR7 when there was a collision with Mr Merrick. Mr Dick said he was established on the NCR7 when he was involved in a head on collision with Mr Merrick. Mr Merrick, on the other hand, said the collision between the two cyclists occurred as Mr Dick exited the NCR7 and collided directly with him.

Where the two paths join, there are no ‘road’ markings indicating if one route has priority over the other. In his written decision, Lord Sandison made it clear that the rules of the road do not apply to National Cycle Routes.

He stated:

“It is fundamental to the proper resolution of this case to appreciate that the NCR7 and the NCR75 are not roads, and that any attempt to treat them as if they are, is entirely misconceived. Indeed, it is not even strictly correct to describe them as cycle paths.”

These are designed for all, including cyclists, pedestrians, children, dog walkers, etc. As long as you are not using a motorised vehicle, you can utilise shared use paths.

The Judge went on to comment further with regards to hierarchy stating;

“Indeed, every user of the path is perfectly entitled to use any part of it, just as it pleases him or her. There are no priorities, either as between categories of user or within one category. Pedestrians occupy no lesser place in the hierarchy of users than cyclists. Every user must respect the interests of every other user.”

Lord Sandison concluded in this case that both cyclists were equally at fault for the collision. Speed was certainly a factor and 20mph was deemed excessive in the circumstances.

Of course, it is not a one size fits all when it comes to cycle/shared use paths. There are some where ‘road’ markings and give way signs are used but the big take away must come down to a common-sense approach to sharing the space. Travel at a speed that is safe for your surroundings and always be aware of what is going on around you.

We often hear about conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians on these paths, but it is clear from this decision that pedestrians, even those with headphones on, oblivious to what is going on around them, have every right to be there and care should always be taken when overtaking others to make sure the manoeuvre is carried out at a safe speed and from a safe distance.

The saying “always expect the unexpected” could not be more accurate when it comes to using shared use paths. Be prepared for people to step or cycle out in front of you. That awareness will stand you in good stead and hopefully avoid you or others being injured.

While on a slightly different topic of insurance, I have long since been of the view that segregated cycle paths are most definitely for all and we must all look out for one another. I had this very conversation with Simon from Always Another Adventure as we explored some of Edinburgh’s cycle paths – You can view it here.

The full opinion can be found here.

Jodi Gordon – Partner

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