Understanding Cycling and the Law in Ireland

Understanding Cycling and the Law in Ireland

Understanding Cycling and the Law in Ireland

By | 25 July, 2013

With the recent proposals for on-the-spot fines, it’s probably worth brushing up on what is and isn’t legal for cyclists in Ireland.

The new proposals aim to give gardai the power to impose fines of up to €50 for three offences:

  • Breaking a red light
  • Cycling on a footpath
  • Failure to yield right of way at a Yield sign

So what does the law say about these three offences, and how might a cyclist fall foul to them? And what other legal requirements should you know about before taking your bike out?

Breaking a red light

It’s currently an offence for any road user – cyclist or motorist – to break any red light. The definition of breaking a red light also includes crossing over the solid white line when the light is red. Cyclists are allowed to cross the advanced stop line (ASL) to get into a bike box, but are not allowed to advance beyond that, even if motorists are illegally occupying the bike box. So bear in mind, it’s not just people that go fully across a junction that can be accused of breaking a red light.

Many cyclists argue that they need to stop beyond the white line for their own personal safety, so that traffic can see them properly, but it may be difficult to argue/prove that point.

Cycling on a footpath

It’s illegal for any road user to drive/cycle on the pavement, except in order to access a driveway, and there is nothing in law to provide an exemption for vulnerable cyclists such as small children. Cyclists are allowed on the footpath when there is a marked cycle path or mixed-use pedestrian/cycle path, but should always do so with courtesy to pedestrians. It’s also illegal for cars to park on the footpath, but there seems to be a lot of this in Dublin.

If you are off the bike and pushing it along the pavement then technically you are pedestrian.

Failure to yield right of way

A yield sign is usually used to indicate the junction onto a more major road, and along with all other road users, cyclists are required to stop and wait for a gap in traffic before joining the road. Therefore, turning left onto a busy major road without stopping will fall foul of the law.

Helmets and high vis clothing

Despite the misconceptions of some people, cyclists are not required by law to wear helmets or high visibility clothing. The rules of the road suggest you should use them, but there is no legal requirement. Indeed there is also no medical evidence available to show that helmets actually help reduce head injuries. For more information see my other articles on helmets and high vis.

Road worthiness

You are required by law to keep your bike in roadworthy condition. Although bikes aren’t subject to the NCT or other inspection, you must keep your brakes, tyres, chain and lights in good condition. All bikes are legally required to have a reflector on the back and a working bell – two things that are often overlooked.


At night, all bikes must have working lights at the front and back. The front light must be a white or yellow colour, and the back light must be red. The law allows the lights to either flashing or constantly-on.

Mobile Phones

It’s technically not illegal to cycle and talk on a mobile phone at the same time. The law regarding mobile phones is currently restricted to people operating motor vehicles. And while it may not be advisable to wear headphones when cycling, there is no law against it.

Cycling two abreast

Cycling two abreast is perfectly legal on Ireland’s roads, and bikes can be temporarily more than two abreast when one cyclist is in the process of overtaking another (as long as this overtaking doesn’t endanger other traffic). The only requirement for bikes to be in single file is when they are overtaking other traffic.

Road positioning

Cyclists are not obliged to cycle at the far-left side of the road. Indeed, cycling in the gutter is often a dangerous position to be in, because of all rubbish that accumulates at the side of the road, and because the cyclist is not as visible to traffic. Modern best-practice encourages cyclists to take the lane and ride in the middle of the lane in what’s called the “primary position” to ensure their own safety.

Cycle lanes

Cycle lanes (whether a line painted at the side of the road, or a segregated path away from the road) are, in essence, optional for cyclists. Although it’s illegal for motorists (including motorcycles) to drive or park in mandatory cycle lanes, a recent change in the law allows cyclists to ignore a cycle lane if they wish.

One way streets

It’s illegal to cycle the wrong way along a one-way street, unless there is a marked cycle contra-flow lane.

Drink and drugs

It’s illegal to ride or attempt to ride a bike while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


Disclaimer: I should point out that I am not a solicitor, and this article does not constitute legal advice. Although it has been fact checked to ensure it is accurate, it should not be taken to be a definitive statement of cycling law in Ireland.

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