Are you aware of the changes to the Highway Code?
Many people remain unaware of the new Highway Code rules which came into force in January 2022, aimed at protecting vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.
It is important that all road users are aware of The Highway Code, are considerate to other road users and understand their responsibility for the safety of others.
Why is the Highway Code important?
The Highway Code, which aims to promote safety on the road, has been updated to include three new rules which provide for a ‘hierarchy of road users’, and places those road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy – pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists, with children, older adults and disabled people being more at risk.
The new rules provide that when pedestrians are crossing or waiting to cross at a junction, other road users should give way. If people have started crossing and traffic wants to turn into the road, the pedestrian has priority. People driving, riding a motorcycle or cycling must give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing and people walking and cycling on a parallel crossing.
There is new guidance in the code about shared traffic routes and spaces. People cycling, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle should respect the safety of people walking in these spaces, but people walking should also take care not to obstruct or endanger them.
Cyclists are asked to slow down when passing others and let people know they are there (for example, by ringing their bell) and not pass a horse on the horse’s left.
There is new guidance for cyclists about road positioning, suggesting they ride in the centre of their lane on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or where the road narrows. Cyclists should keep at least 0.5 metres (about 1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge, and further where it is safer, when riding on busy roads with vehicles moving faster than them.
The updated code explains that people cycling in groups should be considerate of the needs of other road users, but can ride two abreast, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders, while being aware of people driving behind them and allow them to overtake (for example, by moving into single file or stopping) when it’s safe to do so.
The new code explains that cyclists should take care when passing parked vehicles, leaving enough room (a door’s width or 1 metre) to avoid being hit if a car door is opened. To avoid such accidents, the code recommends a new technique when leaving vehicles: the ‘Dutch Reach’. This requires drivers or passengers (when they can) to open the door using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening, which will make them turn their head to look over their shoulder behind them. They are then less likely to cause injury to cyclists or motorcyclists passing on the road (or people on the pavement).
Drivers and motorcyclists should now give priority to cyclists on roundabouts by:
- not attempting to overtake cyclists within their lane, and
- allowing cyclists to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout.
Cyclists may stay in the left-hand lane of a roundabout when they intend to continue across or around the roundabout. Further guidance has been added to the code explains that drivers should take extra care when entering a roundabout to make sure they do not cut across cyclists who are continuing around the roundabout in the left-hand lane.
There is updated guidance on safe passing distances and speeds drivers and motorcyclists when overtaking vulnerable road users, including:
- leaving at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph, and giving them more space when overtaking at higher speeds
- passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allowing at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space, and
- allowing at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space and keeping to a low speed when passing people walking in the road (for example, where there’s no pavement)
If it’s unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances, the driver or motorcycle rider should wait behind them.
It is not entirely clear how the new rules apply to e-scooter users. Despite the increase in the use of e-scooters, largely a result of the Department for Transport’s introduction of rental e-scooters in regions across England, is not clear where e-scooters fit within the new hierarchy or road users. Further regulation on the use of e-scooters is likely.
Most of the updates to the Highway Code are common sense and reflect courtesy to other road users. However, sadly, common sense and courtesy isn’t as common as it should be, and we represent many people who have needlessly suffered life-changing injuries as a result of road users not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm to others.
Lee Hart, head of the Serious Injury team at Clarke Willmott, says: “It is important to raise awareness of the changes brought in to improve the safety of all road users, but particularly those most vulnerable and at risk of injury, including pedestrians, cyclists, children and the elderly. It is worrying how many road users remain unaware of the changes.
The Highway Code should be essential reading for everyone, not just learner drivers. It’s updated regularly, so it’s important that everyone is aware of the rules in the code – they are legal requirements and failure to comply with the rules could result in a criminal conviction or be used in civil claims for compensation to establish liability.”