Changes to the Highway Code

Andrew Ellis
Andrew Ellis

Published: March 4th, 2022

7 min read

From 29th January 2022 the rules for all types of road users have been updated in the Highway Code to improve the safety of people walking, cycling and riding horses. The aim of the new rules is to significantly reduce road casualties and the Highway Code states that "cutting the number of deaths and injuries that occur on (the) roads every day is a responsibility we all share". This being the case, the Highway Code has introduced new rules about the hierarchy of road users. This places road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy. There is therefore a greater level of responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. The Highway Code states that this principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles. It adds that cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse drawn vehicles likewise have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians.

It should be noted that the concept of causative potency - the potential for road users to cause damage to each other - is not a new one. The courts, for some time, have applied this principle when assessing the extent of liability, on the basis that, for example, a car is likely to cause more damage to a cyclist than vice versa. Therefore, those road users most at risk of harm are placed at the top of the hierarchy, and the road users who can do the greatest harm have the concomitant responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to other road users.

Specific changes to the Highway Code to note are:

  1. Drivers no longer have priority at junctions. Previously, drivers had priority at junctions unless the other road user was halfway across the junction. Now, a vehicle turning at a junction, should give way to the more vulnerable road user, such as a cyclist or pedestrian who is preparing to cross.
  2. All traffic should stop for pedestrians waiting at zebra crossings and for pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing.
  3. Cyclists can ride wherever they feel most visible. This means that cyclists can ride in the centre of their lane on quiet roads, in slower moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowings. Cyclists are to ride at least 0.5m from the kerb edge and further where it is safer when riding on busy roads. Cyclists in groups should be considerate to the needs of other road users and can ride two abreast, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders. Cyclists should take care when passing parked vehicles, leaving enough room to avoid being hit if a car door is opened and should watch for people walking into their path.
  4. You may cross a double white line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to overtake someone cycling or riding a horse if travelling at less than 10mph. You should leave at least 1.5m when overtaking people cycling at speeds of up to 30mph and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds. When passing horse riders or horse drawn vehicles travelling at speeds of under 10mph, you should allow at least 2m of space. In relation to pedestrians walking in the road (for example, where there are no pavements) you should keep to a low speed and allow at least 2m of space.
  5. Cyclists can pass slower moving or stationary traffic on their right or left, however, they should proceed with caution as drivers may not be able to see them.
  6. People cycling have priority when going straight ahead at junctions and have priority over traffic waiting to turn left into or out of a side road, unless road markings indicate otherwise. Cyclists are asked to watch for drivers intending to turn across their path as the driver ahead may not be able to see them.

At a roundabout, people driving or riding a motorcycle should give priority to cyclists, and should not attempt to overtake people cycling in their lane and allow cyclists to move across their path as they travel round the roundabout. The Highway Code already states that people cycling, riding a horse and driving a horse-drawn vehicle may stay in the left hand lane of a roundabout when they intend to continue across or around the roundabout. Guidance has been added that drivers should take extra care when entering a roundabout to make sure they do not cut across people cycling, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle who are continuing around the roundabout in the left hand lane.

The Highway Code recommends a new technique when leaving vehicles, known as the "Dutch reach". This is a process of opening the car door using their hand that is furthest from the door, for example using their left hand to open the off-side car door. This makes them turn their head to look over their shoulder and so should make cyclists and motorcyclists more apparent when opening the car door into traffic and make pedestrians more visible when opening the car door by the pavement.

The new Highway Code details what would be safe and considerate use of the roads. What the new Code does do, is specifically confirm the importance of the hierarchy of the road user, which will be of relevance to a court when considering accident circumstances and apportioning liability. The facts of each case will still be the most relevant concern, but with the encouragement of more environmentally friendly modes of transport, such as cycling and walking, dashcam and helmet mounted camera footage will be of great relevance in understanding the cause of any accidents and in considering the causative potency and the hierarchy of the respective road users.

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