Understanding Cycling and the Law in Ireland

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.

Richard Bloomfield

Richard is the founder of Dublin Bike Blog. He commutes to work every day by bike, come rain or shine, on his Dutch city bike. You can read more from Richard on his blog richardbloomfield.ie.

35 thoughts on “Understanding Cycling and the Law in Ireland

  • 13 October, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Following my second incident where I have been knocked down by children cycling on the footpath instead of using the cycle lane as their parents told them only to cycle on the footpath as it is safer !
    What about the safely of pedestrians !
    One cannot hear bicycles coming from behind
    I have had two hip replacements and am now afraid to walk as instructed to by my surgeon for fear of being knocked down again
    If parents feel it is not safe to cycle on cycle lane let them walk as I had to do when I was younger as been the eldest of a large family we did not have the money for bicycles
    Also if children walked more they would not be so overweight .

    • 14 July, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      I dunno, everywhere else in the country except Dublin cycling on a footpath isn’t a big deal. I’ve never been hit by a bike on the footpath. I’m only considering cycling here in Dublin since i moved down but the fear of being run over by a double decker bus like a friend was would make me cycle on the footpath seven days a week. But i just walk everywhere because i don’t have faith in the safety of a bike and i’m 25.

    • 24 July, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      You can’t hear bicycles but that’s why they have bells, to warn you that they’re approaching from behind. I think cyclists & pedestrians can utilise a lot of the same spaces safely, as long as they are courteous to one another. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a pedestrian cause a cyclist to crash by stepping off the path without looking but I don’t think it’s fair to stop ALL pedestrians from crossing because a few are dangerous ediots.

  • 1 June, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Louise, sorry to hear of your injuries & you’re right, no cyclist of any age should be on the footpath. The fact these children’s parents tell them to cycle on the path shows the patents attitudes to cyclists – they clearly don’t think they should be on the road. This attitude is the problem for both cyclists who obey the law but are put in danger by cycling where they should cycle on the road, as well as pedestrians who are put in danger by walking where they should walk, on the footpath.

    Motorists who think & behave like they own the road & intimidate young cyclistst into using footpaths are the problem.

    Motorists attitudes need to change.

  • 2 June, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    if you get to a red light that gives way to pedestrians walk across the road with your bike instead of waiting also i face a lot of traffic lights that use sensor to chance them and bikes are not heavy enough to be detected which leaves no choice but to break the red light what happens in this situation if our caught

    • 2 December, 2015 at 7:16 pm

      When you are at a junction say like Bull Alley/Patrick Street, D8 where there is a contraflow Bike lane with a marked pedestrian crossing section adjacent leading to the footpath opposite, both crossings have designated controlled lights for each which both change to green at the same time. My question is, when I approach from Patrick Street going north and want to turn right to go onto Bull Alley, I have to go up onto the marked for cyclists section of the footpath and then situate my bike to get ready to cross via the cycle path next to the pedestrian path when the light changes. However there are always pedestrians waiting and blocking the cycle path, most of the time if I need to, I politely ask if the pedestrians could wait at their side of the junction, most will move over, smile and sometimes apologise. However on a number of occasions, there is a woman who completely goes ballistic if you ask her to move over, she claims that she has the right to obstruct the cycle path at any given time, thus forcing any cyclist who is trying to be courteous and stay within the laws to effectively have to break the law and either jump the light, wait and miss the light and or try to cycle thru her and her friends, which I am terrified to do. I have no idea what the best procedure is to handle her and wonder if she is technically correct. Theres no way I can pull in front of her as I would then be obstructing the flow of traffic moving up Patrick Street towards Christ Church. Any advice??

  • 2 June, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Louise, I agree with you no cyclist should be on the footpath. I hope you’ll be OK.

    Maria, I agree – motorists should be far more considerate. In my opinion (and |I would love if a campaign could be run by the RSA to this effect) drivers should drive as if they are in control of a killing machine – which is what cars are. Some drivers are so arrogant it scares me sometimes when they pass me within inches. I often consider obtaining a Garda jacket to see if they give me room then.

    David, nobody should break a red light under any circumstances. I always wait until the light turns green – even if it means waiting until a car pulls up over the black rectangle on the road to trigger the lights to change.

    As cyclists, I feel we should be better than drivers, observing rules and regulations but there are so many cyclists out there who ignore every single rule and law because they think they can with no repercussions.

  • 4 June, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I wonder what is the law regarding changing status between cyclist and pedestrian by mounting and dismounting the bicycle. If for example you approach a red light, is it legal to continue on foot, if it would be for other pedestrians.

    • 4 June, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      I believe that as long as you are off the bike and pushing it, then technically you are a pedestrian.

  • 14 June, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    The enthusiasm for cycling is terrific but spiralling into chaos. I cycled for many years until my eyeglasses became a hazard in wet and dark weather. But it is not just children that are cycling on paths and pedestrian zones. Hefty adults who should have more manners and sense are storming through pedestrians without any heed for children, the elderly, or those with visual or hearing impairments. I would not dare to wear headphones while walking lest I did not hear a bike coming. Yet so many cyclists in pedestrian zones are fully headphoned or using smartphones or both simultaneously that they do not hear a warning.
    The usual attitudes are “it’s only me, I know how to cycle” or a tirade of obnoxious abuse.
    Don’t believe me? Observe a few minutes between 4 pm and 6 pm at any of the following locations:
    The Millenium Bridge and pavements in front of Panem and Jervis Street.
    Pavements contra flow in front of Rotunda, Ambassador Cinema and Gate Theatre.
    Junction of Henry Street, Liffey Street and Mary Street.
    Grafton Street.
    The Grand Canal, yes, even parallel to the segregated Cycle Paths.
    It is mostly a question of ignorance and bad manners.
    A “get down and walk” campaign starts here. I would be tolerant of children and a careful cyclists in sparsely peopled zones. That is not what is happening. FOOTpaths are becoming cycle fast lanes and slipways.
    Stop blaming Motorists for forcing you to disrespect pedestrians.

    • 23 October, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      sorry but this it utter nonsense..I never see cyclists using footpaths as ‘fast lanes’. only a few clueless people on Dublin Bikes. In fact, if you go to henry street (either end) you will notice people walking and completely ignoring cyclists. It seems they’re only concerned if they get knocked down by a car or bus.

  • 11 April, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Question: me and 2 of my friends are eagerly wanting to bike from the most northern point of Ireland to Mizen Head-the most southerly. Is it legal to just “B-line” it to mizen head or would we have to stay on roads at all times?

    • 22 September, 2016 at 11:29 am

      You could use roads or off road trails & tracks. You could follow the wild atlantic way as an option but that is 2100km long.

      You won’t be allowed on motorways but that won’t affect you until you reach Gort in Co. Galway

  • 22 April, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Red light breaking is probably the number 1 offence I observe (although cars do it too). Next would be footpath cycling. I have also seen a fair share of inadequate bike lights, never mind a complete lack of. I personally support on the spot fines for these offences, as its about the only thing that will make people listen!

  • 22 June, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Two points tat I believe your incorrect on.

    “Cyclists are not obliged to cycle at the far-left side of the road” – Multiple acts state you must drive as far to the left as possible to allow other vehicles to pass. The definition of a vehicle includes bikes and under the Road Traffic Act 1961 the definition of ‘drive’ specifies peddle cyclists as well. . The offence itself is stated in Section 17, Road traffic Act 1964 and repeated in slightly different wording in Section 9, Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations, 1997. It could also be argued that by staying in the middle instead of moving over your in breach of Section 154, Road Traffic Act 1933 which is obstructing the flow of traffic.

    “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.” – People keep saying that Section 7, Road traffic (Parking regulations) 1997 were abolished and I know Leo suggested he was going to do it in 2012 but the law never did it. In Section 14 (4) of the Road traffic Act 2012 the obligation to use cycle lanes remains. Theres some exceptions but 90% of cycle lanes are still compulsory.

    • 8 July, 2015 at 11:17 am

      Hi Karl – the cycle lanes issue is covered under Statutory Instrument No 332/2012. In section 3, 16 (e) 14 (4) it says that a cyclist is only required to use a cycle lane when on a pedestrianised street or when using a contra-flow along a one-way road. This replaces Statutory Instrument No 182/1997 section 14 – (3).

      • 8 September, 2015 at 9:33 am

        RE CYCLE LANES, the above statutory instrument that you quoted clearly states you Must use cycle lanes

        (4) A pedal cycle shall be driven on a cycle track where—
        (a) a cycle track is provided on a road, a portion of a road, or an

        so where does it say your illegal and dangerous quote “cyclist is only required to use a cycle lane when on a pedestrianised street or when using a contra-flow along a one-way road. ”

        it clearly states you must use cycle lanes if proved on a road even if only a portion of the road is only marked out and the wording you choose to leave out and or misrepresent is “OR AN ” it does not state “IF AN “

        • 12 September, 2015 at 9:54 pm

          The law was changed recently. It’s no longer required that cyclists use cycle lanes.

          The obligation on cyclists to use cycle infrastructure where provided (SI 182/1997, S.14[3]) was removed in October 2012 (SI 332/2012).

          The only exceptions to this relate to:

          1. cycle tracks marked in pedestrian areas;
          2. contra-flow cycle tracks in one-way streets; and
          3. cycle tracks adjacent to certain bus lanes in which cycling is not permitted (variant of RUS058 showing bus symbol only must be used, with appropriate signage for the cycle track- see Traffic Signs Manual for more information on RUS058 and variants).

          Aside from these three obligations, cyclists are permitted to use the main carriageway of all public roads (except motorways, from which cycling is precluded), even where dedicated cycle facilities have been provided.

          Cycling in Bus Lanes

          Current Regulations permit cyclists to use all bus lanes (including contra-flow bus lanes) and bus only streets, with the exception of certain bus lanes with adjacent cycle facilities as noted above. The preclusion of cyclists from bus only streets and contra-flow bus lanes was removed by SI 332/2012.

  • 3 July, 2015 at 5:16 pm


  • 4 July, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    I have in the last 3 yrs being in 5 inicident where cyclist have hit me on the foothpath.My dog is scared of bike after his paw was broken.I live in naas.the amount of people cycling on the foothpath is seriously out of control..They get abusive and event tell me im in the wrong.Ill not tollerate this shit.wish gardai would fine people .

  • 6 October, 2015 at 10:09 am

    If the light is red simply dismount and walk legally to the start of your next carriageway.

    • 23 October, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      or you could just wait until it’s green?

  • 2 February, 2016 at 10:16 am

    I was knocked off my bike this morning at Pearce St/Westland Row intersection by a pedestrian. I had the green light & was in the bike lane with lights/high vis but once the traffic stops moving a mass of people move across the intersection without bothering to look, stepping out between vehicles, many of them looking only at their phone screens.

    I’ve had many near misses in the city centre, nearly all caused by pedestrians, not cars. I actually find cars at their most dangerous when the traffic isn’t so heavy and they can get some speed going.

    • 7 October, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      When I used to walk to work I was almost hit by cyclists who ran red lights at top speed . There was often no way for me to see them coming because of road works or other pedestrians, so when the light is green for me, the way looks clear, and i step out, and someone flies 2 mm from my face at 20mph… It is terrifying. I often said it was only a matter of time before a cyclist hit me, this happened almost every day.

      Pedestrians and cyclists need to stop for a red light, and be super careful with an orange one. (I am sure you respect the lights, I am saying this for those people who nearly killed me, and those pedestrians I have nearly hit because they crossed before the light was green for them).

      • 23 October, 2017 at 5:18 pm

        so actually what you’re saying is you were never hit by a cyclist

  • 15 April, 2016 at 8:53 am

    I like this blog but it’s not too easy to square it with the rules if the road, downloaded today, which state “cyclists must use any cycle track provided” and “On occasion, it may be safe to cycle two abreast, but you must not cycle in a
    manner likely to create an obstruction for other road users”


    • 22 September, 2016 at 11:31 am

      It depends on when the rules of the road were updated if at all in the downloaded version.

  • 2 July, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    I got screamed at by two ingnortant low lifes at Two diffrent times one said that i shouldnt be cycling in the middle of the f*ng lane and i told him that leagly i can cycle in the middle of the lane and studys have shown that its safer.The other car driver screamed at me wheres your high vis you a** hole take into account its the middle of the bloody day the suns spliting the skys and he wants to tell me I shpuld be wearing a high vise.Im sick of these type of drivers what should I do :(

    • 1 August, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      Wear a high visibility at all times, just a good habit to have. Don’t assume you’ll be seen because it’s the middle of the day

  • 7 October, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Please remove that sentence claiming that there is no medical evidence for wearing a helmet, it is completely untrue, and might be responsible for someone’s death. If you prefer not to wear one, that is your choice of course.

    There is years and years of research which shows over and over again that helmets prevent catastrophic head injury (technical term). The fact that they don’t also prevent concussion or lower body injuries in no way negates their value. It is also fair to say that if you are hit by a car travelling at a high speed, helmets have little effect. But most accidents in Dublin city are not at high speed. So yes, there are situations in which your helmet will not help you at all, but there are also situation where it will stop your skill fracturing or your nose breaking.

    On the other hand, I agree with you that under no circumstances should helmets be obligatory.




    http://cyclingtips.com/2014/04/cycling-and-concussion-is-it-time-to-stop-ignoring-the-dangers/ ( About concussion, this sort of article is probably the source of your confusion )

    My helmet stopped my head from being split open very recently when a van overtook me and crossed in front of me, causing me to to fall off my bike and hit my head off the railings on the street corner “secondary impact”. I had a headache for a week afterwards, which was probably a sign of concussion, but it could have been so much worse. What if I had read this blog and decided not to bother with the hassle?
    I had to buy a new helmet. It was visibly damaged, and they are “single use” anyway, as they react to impact in order to absorb some of the blow.

  • 30 October, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Why not give traffic wardens the authority to enforce the law regarding the illegal use of footpaths by cyclists,if the gardai are unable or unwilling to do so.The danger speeding cyclists cause for those exiting doorways on a busy or narrow footpath in our towns is very real especially for older people who cannot quickly take avoiding action.
    I the event of injury to a person,who is responsible for compensating him/her? The fast disappearing cyclist?

  • 7 November, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    When cycling on cycle lanes painted onto a road should the cyclist cycle in the same direction as the traffic or against ?? If against who has the right when the car is coming from an estate to a main road and the cyclist is turning into the estate heading get straight for you ??

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  • 4 November, 2017 at 1:43 am

    I walk a lot and routinely stop cyclists for a chat, particularly adult males, who I encounter cycling on the same footpath as me. I explain to them that this a footpath, for pedestrians, and that they as cyclists should be using the road. I ask them if they are insured, and who will pay my hospital bill if they knock me down. I get varied responses, from polite conversation to verbal abuse and on one occasion I was pushed around. I call into the Garda station to complain, but their attitude seems to be if I was obstructed, to get the name and address of the offender and give it to them. There is going to be a lot more people knocked down and injured before anybody takes notice and improves the law and enforcement of the law. It is amazing that grown men are afraid to cycle on the road. What kind of people are we turning into?


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