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Government rejects calls for cyclists to be required to use a bell

The Department for Transport stressed, while using a bell is recommended, there are other ways for cyclists to make their presence known

The Conservative government has rejected calls for cyclists to be required by law to fit and use a bell when riding a bicycle.

The Department for Transport replied to questioning from Labour's shadow cabinet on the issue, saying although recommended, the government has no plans to make bell usage mandatory.

Labour MP for Putney, in west London, Fleur Anderson raised the issue with the Department for Transport, with the Shadow Minister asking: "What assessment he [Transport Minister Grant Shapps] has made of the potential merits of requiring all bicycles to include a bell?"

In reply, Trudy Harrison, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary rejected the idea on behalf of the government.

"Rule 66 of The Highway Code recommends that bells are fitted to cycles, and that people who cycle should always be considerate of other road users, including by calling out or ringing their bell if they have one," she replied.

"All cycles are required at point of sale to be fitted with a bell, but we do not intend to legislate to make the use of bells on cycles mandatory, as there are other ways for people who cycle to warn other road users of their presence."

As per the relevant Rule 66 of the Highway Code:

[Cyclists] should be be considerate of other road users, particularly blind and partially sighted pedestrians, and horse riders (see Rule H1). Let them know you are there when necessary, for example, by calling out or ringing your bell if you have one. It is recommended that a bell be fitted.

It is not the first time the issue of mandatory bells has been raised in Parliament. In 2018, Conservative MP for New Forest East, Julian Lewis, called for legislation, saying all cyclists should be obliged to have a bell fitted to their bike.

Lewis accused riders of putting pedestrians at risk "because they can't be bothered to fit a bell".

"Speeding cyclists on rural roads in the New Forest are putting residents and other pedestrians at risk, simply because they cannot be bothered to fit a bell on their bikes so that they can warn pedestrians of their approach," Lewis told the House.

> New Forest MP calls for mandatory bike bells

At the time, then Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, offered a similar answer to this week's response, suggesting while bells are recommended, "we have no plans to make bells compulsory as this would be difficult to enforce."

Lewis described the reply as "insipid" and asked for a statement from the government so that his constituents could "go about their business without fear of being mown down by silent road cyclists?"

After a subsequent 2018 debate in the House of Lords was hijacked by a query about how pedestrians can feel safe when cyclists refuse to "equip their machine with a bell", solicitor Mark Hambleton penned an opinion piece for road.cc in which he questioned if they really are the right solution.

What do you reckon? Are bells really necessary? Do you have one on your bike or is a simple shout good enough for alerting others?

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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43 comments

Avatar
froze | 1 year ago
2 likes

I've been riding bikes for over 45 years and I have NEVER had a situation where a bell or an airhorn would have done any good, all an airhorn would be good for is to get even with some car honking it's horn at you, but by the time you need an airhorn or a bell it's too late anyways.  Not only that, but a bell, or an airhorn, in an emergency requires freeing up a hand to operate it, no thanks, I need that hand to operate a brake so I can stop faster.  As far as using a bell as a warning to peds, I've been using my own voice to much success.

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topsound54 | 1 year ago
1 like

Shouting a warning gives so much more information than ringing a bell. I haven't had any problems cycling the lanes of Kent with walkers, horse riders and other cyclists when calling a warning about my situation. So many of those who give opinions don't neccessarily cycle themselves! When I had a bell it always seemed to startle the other road users whereas with a call out they knew what was happening.

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joe9090 | 1 year ago
0 likes

A bell on your bike is mandatory in the Netherlands. Why is that so?

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chrisonabike replied to joe9090 | 1 year ago
1 like
joe9090 wrote:

A bell on your bike is mandatory in the Netherlands. Why is that so?

For warning and resiliance. Warning - you can ring your bell to alert everyone that the Nazis are coming for your bicycles again. Resilience - if the Nazis steal all the bells from bell-towers you can still flash-mob a carillion.

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mdavidford replied to joe9090 | 1 year ago
3 likes
joe9090 wrote:

A bell on your bike is mandatory in the Netherlands. Why is that so?

Aesthetics

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grOg replied to joe9090 | 1 year ago
1 like

A bell is also mandatory to be fitted in Australia; it's archaic really, as it harks back to an era when no-one had their hearing blocked by earphones..

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qwerty360 | 1 year ago
3 likes

Human hearing is excellent at picking out voices

If you mandated a bell (read audible warning device) I will get an airhorn not a bell given it covers different cases than my voice...)

I seriously doubt that is what the mp actually wants...

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IanMSpencer replied to qwerty360 | 1 year ago
6 likes

When I had an air horn it REALLY annoyed drivers. Well worth it.

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grOg replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
2 likes

yeah.. I want to really annoy someone driving a vehicle that could easily be used as a weapon to run me off the road..

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mdavidford replied to qwerty360 | 1 year ago
2 likes
qwerty360 wrote:

Human hearing is excellent at picking out voices If you mandated a bell (read audible warning device) I will get an airhorn not a bell

I'm not sure that's how the law works. If it mandates a bell, it has to be a bell - you can't just decide it means something else.

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brooksby replied to mdavidford | 1 year ago
2 likes
mdavidford wrote:
qwerty360 wrote:

Human hearing is excellent at picking out voices If you mandated a bell (read audible warning device) I will get an airhorn not a bell

I'm not sure that's how the law works. If it mandates a bell, it has to be a bell - you can't just decide it means something else.

It means you have to have a bell fitted, but I would imagine that you could additionally fit something and use that instead.  Buy the prettiest, most useless bell you could find to look good, and then actually use a mega-decibel electric horn (or just shout).

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mdavidford replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
1 like

Yes - that would work. It was only the 'airhorn not a bell' suggestion that would be problematic. Unless the airhorn could somehow be made a bell under the terms of the legislation - maybe you could fit a dinger to the reservoir?

On the other hand, if you wanted an airhorn, why not just get an airhorn, instead of waiting for mandatory bell legislation to be brought in?

sad

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chrisonabike replied to mdavidford | 1 year ago
0 likes

I think you'll find getting one thing squeezed in under the definition of something else is exactly how the law works (or at least how lawyers work).  Classic case here - admittedly under church law.  Is it a mammal?  Is it a rodent?  No, it's a fish!

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numbersnerdmatthew | 1 year ago
3 likes

I always find saying/shouting "on your left" or " on your right" to be most effective as it gives a clear indication where I will be passing. Ringing a bell requires the pedestrian to look around and make a decision on what to do - which can sometimes be unpredictable!

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brooksby replied to numbersnerdmatthew | 1 year ago
4 likes

I had to start saying "I'm coming past on your left (or right, as appropriate" after I tried "On your right" and found people moving to their right (or vice versa) 

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wycombewheeler | 1 year ago
3 likes

"Speeding cyclists on rural roads in the New Forest are putting residents and other pedestrians at risk, simply because they cannot be bothered to fit a bell on their bikes so that they can warn pedestrians of their approach,"

what? I find the simple rule of don't close pass pedestrians at speed is sufficient to prevent risk

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JoanneH | 1 year ago
11 likes

All my bikes have drop handlebars because I find them the most comfortable, and for a while I had a bell on my commuter but I couldn't manage to find a place for it where it was simultaneously possible to ring the bell and brake at the same time. Then the bell broke. Since then I've just resorted to "excuse me", repeated if necessary at increasing volumes, usually while braking.

Fleur Anderson is my MP and she's doing a decent job, but bells on bikes should not be her primary cycling concern. Getting decent cycling infrastructure in Putney and across Wandsworth should be.

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bikeworcs | 1 year ago
2 likes

Bells should definitely made compulsory. The difference I get from pedestrians when using my bell to using my voice is quite different. The bell gets a much faster and instant response and seems to be more appreciated.  In addition other cyclists respond better. It's a small cost and easy to fit.  Everyone should have one. If they can make front brakes compulsory on a fixie you can make bells compulsory. People always take the example of Holland as the example of good bike use.  There bells are compulsory (audible at 25m) as well as lights on public roads past dusk and several other sensible enforced rules. 

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Rendel Harris replied to bikeworcs | 1 year ago
8 likes
bikeworcs wrote:

The difference I get from pedestrians when using my bell to using my voice is quite different. The bell gets a much faster and instant response and seems to be more appreciated.  

I can only say that I have found exactly the opposite, a polite, "Can I just come through on your right please?" nearly always elicits a quick ungrudging response, whereas people seem to find a bell (I don't have one on my bikes but have used them on hire bikes) more difficult to pinpoint directionally and more aggressive, I've frequently got, "Why can't you say please?" or "How am I supposed to know what you want, why can't you ask?" As discussed on the Ashley Neal thread, horns and bells are open to interpretation, one person's polite ding is another's aggressive demand; clear and polite explanation of what you want or what you are doing is far more effective in my experience.

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GMBasix replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
6 likes
Rendel Harris wrote:
bikeworcs wrote:

The difference I get from pedestrians when using my bell to using my voice is quite different. The bell gets a much faster and instant response and seems to be more appreciated.  

I can only say that I have found exactly the opposite, a polite, "Can I just come through on your right please?" nearly always elicits a quick ungrudging response, whereas people seem to find a bell (I don't have one on my bikes but have used them on hire bikes) more difficult to pinpoint directionally and more aggressive, I've frequently got, "Why can't you say please?" or "How am I supposed to know what you want, why can't you ask?" As discussed on the Ashley Neal thread, horns and bells are open to interpretation, one person's polite ding is another's aggressive demand; clear and polite explanation of what you want or what you are doing is far more effective in my experience.

I find a bell on a quiet path, even a long way off, can be heard. the verbal alternative at that distance would be a bellow.  Emphasis on can, not will.  Sometimes it doesn't, I try again closer, then I resort to voice.

If we do our best, the rest is down to them.  I'll use either/both.

What riles me is the assumption by some pedestrians that their priority equates to no need to be aware of those around them.  For shared routes. Rule 13 includes:

Quote:

Cyclists [...] should respect your safety, but you should take care not to obstruct or endanger them. Always remain aware of your environment and avoid unnecessary distractions.

(italics added for emphasis)

It is the same for cyclists on the road.  We should remain aware of what's around us, even if we have priority; and we should be considerate within the confines of safety.

I have no problem announcing my presence and giving way to pedestrians. But it would incredibly helpful if they read that rule and were less surprised to find a cyclist behind their family group spread across the path. I find looking around me as I walk along a shared route is enormously effective in that regard.

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brooksby replied to GMBasix | 1 year ago
2 likes
GMBasix wrote:

What riles me is the assumption by some pedestrians that their priority equates to no need to be aware of those around them.  For shared routes. Rule 13 includes:

Is that also the explanation for "I'm going to walk through a crowded pedestrian area with headphones on while looking at my phone instead of where I'm going: it's up to other people to avoid me."

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GMBasix replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
5 likes

I think so.  Easily countered by holding one's line and saying,  "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't realise you weren't looking where you were going."

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brooksby replied to GMBasix | 1 year ago
0 likes
GMBasix wrote:

I think so.  Easily countered by holding one's line and saying,  "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't realise you weren't looking where you were going."

yes

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hawkinspeter replied to GMBasix | 1 year ago
2 likes
GMBasix wrote:

I find a bell on a quiet path, even a long way off, can be heard. the verbal alternative at that distance would be a bellow.

That's one benefit of using your voice instead of a bell - you're more likely to get closer and slow down to their speed.

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GMBasix replied to hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
1 like

Horses for courses.  Each has its value.  Sometimes you need to slow down; sometimes the speed you're at is OK. Sometimes you don't want them to move - you're just letting them know you're there so they don't move over into your path.

Incidentally, I am vehemently opposed to mandatory bells, helmets and pedal reflectors.

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grOg replied to Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
0 likes

In Australia, everyone associates a bell 'ding' as a cyclist approaching, just like all motorists associate a flashing red light in the distance as a cyclist.

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Hirsute replied to bikeworcs | 1 year ago
5 likes

All I will say is previous discussions fell into a 50/50 split on peds happy with being tingged / not happy with being tingged.

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mdavidford replied to bikeworcs | 1 year ago
2 likes

Can we have mandatory bells for runners as well? And impatient faster-walking people? And mobility scooters? And scooter scooters? And those trainer thingies with the wheels in them?

Or I suppose we could just accept that if we're in a space shared with pedestrians, we're there as guests and just have to slow down and negotiate a way past them without demanding clear passage.

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sean1 replied to bikeworcs | 1 year ago
5 likes

Not in my experience.  Voice is often better, just calling out "hello" is better than tinging away on a bell.

Main issues I find on shared use paths are pedestrians with headphones, pedestrians heavily engaged with Smartphone (voice call or Facebook or whatever they do), and dogs not under control.

Bells don't help with any of these.

p.s. all my bikes have bells and I use them when appropriate, otherwise slow down and use my voice.

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hawkinspeter replied to sean1 | 1 year ago
1 like
sean1 wrote:

Not in my experience.  Voice is often better, just calling out "hello" is better than tinging away on a bell.

Main issues I find on shared use paths are pedestrians with headphones, pedestrians heavily engaged with Smartphone (voice call or Facebook or whatever they do), and dogs not under control.

Bells don't help with any of these.

p.s. all my bikes have bells and I use them when appropriate, otherwise slow down and use my voice.

I've got bells, but they're very quiet and nowadays I don't even bother with them. Depending on the circumstances, I offer a friendly "Morning" or "can I get past please" after slowing down and that seems to work well. For getting peds quickly out of my way in the road (e.g. a line of peds walking in the road as pavements are covered with cars), I've resorted to saying "ding ding" or even "beep beep" (when I'm pretending to be a car). It seems to work much better than a bell.

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