Fewer topics – other than lockdown parties at Number 10 – have been more hotly debated in 2022 so far than the changes to the Highway Code in force from today (Saturday 29 January).
A total of 50 rules have been added or updated in nine separate sections, with the most high-profile alterations being around protection to cyclists and pedestrians.
The Government is to fund a new £500,000 Think! campaign across radio and social media to raise awareness for the changes to the rules, though it won’t start until mid-February – almost a month after they are introduced.
This has raised safety concerns among motoring bodies like the AA, which found in a recent poll of 13,700 drivers that a third didn’t know the Highway Code was due to be revamped this month.
Such a significant overhaul of the guidance might, for some drivers, be a little overwhelming, so we’ve listed the major changes that affect motorists and put them into their simplest terms.
A total of 50 rules have today (29 January) been added or updated in nine separate sections of the Highway Code. We list 10 than drivers need to know
Highway Code wording explained
Must/Must not – Legal requirements, and you’re committing a criminal offence if you disobey these rules.
Should/Should not, Do/Do not – Advisory wording, and may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability.
1. There’s a new ‘hierarchy of road users’
One of the most controversial changes to the Highway Code is the introduction of a new ‘hierarchy of road users’ – a pyramid scheme of protection to keep those who are most vulnerable safe.
It means drivers of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm bear the most responsibility to take care of others around them.
Essentially, the bigger and heavier the vehicle you drive, the more responsibility you have to reduce risk.
The hierarchy of road users is a pyramid scheme of protection to keep those who are most vulnerable safe
It means HGV, truck and bus drivers have the most responsibility, followed by drivers of vans and minibuses, then cars and taxis, and next motorbike riders. Cyclists and horse riders also have more responsibility than pedestrians.
The rule doesn’t mean pedestrians can roam around the road believing they are cloaked by this invisible protection without a care in the world.
The Highway Code update includes the line: ‘The hierarchy does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly.’
This Graphic shows how the Highway Code will change in relation to drivers and cyclists taking effect from today, including new right of way for pedestrians at junctions
2. Pedestrians have more right of way at junctions
While pedestrians have always had the right of way if they’re already in the road, this Highway Code update gives them even more rights at junctions.
If a person is crossing or even waiting to cross at a junction, other traffic should give way. And if traffic is turning into the road that a pedestrian is crossing, they should wait and allow them to get to the other side.
Rule makers have also provided a clarification about rights of way on zebra or parallel crossings (the latter being the same as a zebra crossing but with a cycle route that also crosses the road). It now states that all road users – including motorcyclists and cyclists – must give way to anyone walking or pedalling across these crossing types.
Cyclists are encouraged to ride in the middle of the road in some circumstances and, even if there is a cycle lane, they will not be obliged to use it
3. Cyclists can be in the middle of a lane in the road (even if there is a cycle lane)
Updated guidance now provides cyclists with more rights to position themselves more prominently in the road.
The Highway Code says cyclists can ride in the centre of their lane on quieter roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowings.
When travelling along more congested roads with faster moving vehicles, cyclists should keep at least half a metre (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge – and can ride even closer to the middle of a lane where it is ‘safer to do so’.
All these above rules also apply when there is a cycle lane available, with cyclists not obliged to use it if they prefer not to.
Away from the Highway Code, drivers in a town or city should also bear in mind that there is often a very good reason why cyclists aren’t right up against the kerb. Road surfaces there tend to be riddled with potholes, drain covers and other imperfections that can make cycling close to the kerb dangerous, with no margin for error if cars are squeezing them in from the other side.
Cyclists are within their right to cycle two-abreast in a single lane, and this is encouraged for large groups such as the one pictured
4. Groups of cyclists encouraged to ride two-abreast
Additional advice is now given to cyclists riding in groups, with requests to be ‘considerate of the needs of other road users’ but also makes clear they can ride two abreast in a lane.
In fact, the new wording encourages this in particular scenarios, such as in larger groups, or when accompanying children or less experienced riders.
That said, when a vehicle is approaching from behind, groups of cyclists are told they have a duty to allow a driver to overtake, for example by reverting to single file or stopping.
How much space do you need to give? Driver will need to leave 2 metres (or 6.5 feet) between their vehicle and people riding horses at speeds under 10mph
5. Drivers should keep these distances from cyclists, horse riders and ramblers when passing
Motorists need to have their mental tape measures at the ready, as today’s Highway Code update has a number of scenarios where they need to keep a certain distance from other road users.
Firstly, when overtaking a cyclist or horse rider travelling at 10mph or less, a motorist can cross a double-white line in the centre of the road to overtake – provided there isn’t anything coming in the opposite direction.
When overtaking cyclists riding at speeds up to 30mph, a driver should leave at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) of space, and even more if the motorist is passing at higher speeds.
A driver will also need to add another half metre (taking it to 2 metres, or 6.5 feet) when passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10mph – the same needs to be done when passing people walking in the road, like when coming across ramblers on roads where there is no pavement.
The Highway Code states that a driver should wait behind these road users and not overtake until it is possible to achieve these specific clearances.
6. Cyclists can pass you on the left as well as the right when you’re in a jam
Motorists need to keep their wits about them on congested routes, as the Highway Code update now says a cyclist is allowed to pass them when in slow-moving or stationary traffic both on the right and the left.
However, it does urge particular caution to cyclists when passing (particularly on the left where drivers might not be expecting them to be) on the approach to junctions and especially when passing lorries and large vehicles that may not have seen them and are a major injury risk.
In slow-moving traffic, cyclists are permitted to pass vehicles on the left or the right, whichever they choose. This means motorists need to be more aware of their positioning
7. Cyclists have priority going straight ahead at junctions
Drivers need to be extra vigilant of cyclists as well as pedestrians at junctions with a selection of new rules designed to protect them and also provide priority.
The code recommends that people cycling should act like any other vehicle when dealing with junctions where there are no specific cyclist facilities in place.
This includes positioning themselves in the centre of their chosen lane where they feel able to do this safely. This should make them more visible to drivers and prevent traffic overtaking them when they’re trying to turn.
The code clarifies that when people cycling are going straight ahead at a junction, they have priority over traffic waiting to turn into or out of a side road, unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise.
People cycling are asked to watch out for motorists intending to turn across their path, as people driving ahead may not be able to see them.
8. An update to roundabout rules
The Highway Code now clarifies that anyone driving or riding a motorcycle should give priority to people cycling on roundabouts, meaning they should not attempt to overtake them in the lane they’re travelling in and should allow cyclists to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout.
And while cyclists and horse riders were already allowed to use the left-hand lane of a roundabout no matter which exit they were taking, additional guidance now says that drivers have to take ‘extra care’ when entering a roundabout to make sure they do not cut across these road users.
The introduction of the Dutch Reach technique should help prevent scenarios like this one where a vehicle occupant opens the door on a passing cyclist
9. Going Dutch
The code now recommends motorists exit their vehicles using a technique called the ‘Dutch Reach’.
Where drivers or passengers in a vehicle are able to do so, they should open the door using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening. For example, using their left hand to open a door on their right-hand side.
This will physically force them to turn their head to look over their shoulder behind them, which means they are more likely to spot people about to cycle past their door.
The code also says that cyclists should leave a door’s width – or one metre – when passing a parked car to avoid being hit if a passenger or driver swings it open.
If drivers are concerned a charging cable could be a trip hazard for pedestrians, they should put out a warning sign
10. Electric car owners should take provisions to not trip pedestrians with their charging cables
Finally, the Highway Code now has new instructions for electric vehicle users. And one of these is primarily focused on what to do when using a charging point.
Drivers should park as close to the device as possible so the charging cable doesn’t become a trip hazard for people walking.
And if they are concerned someone might fall over the cable, they should put out a warning sign near their vehicle.
The guidance also states that they should neatly return the charging cables in the device so they don’t cause a hazard for pedestrians when not in use.
Road traffic incidents involving drivers and cyclists in Greater London between 2019 and 2021
Ministers are hoping the update to the Highway Code today will reduce the number of accidents involving motorists and other road users, especially cutting the number of incidents with cyclists.
A new report found that there were more than 12,000 road traffic incidents involving both drivers and cyclists in Greater London over the past three years.
The Metropolitan Police Service was asked by electric bike retailer Avaris e-Bikes about how many said incidents were reported to them in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Figures show a total of 12,252 collisions – with 4,169 occurring in 2021 (up to the end of October), 4,143 in 2020 and 3,940 in 2019.
The figures for 2021 run up until the end of October as the submission was made in November – but despite this, they top the two previous years.
Of the 4,169 incidents between 1 January and 31 October last year, 688 of those were damage related, while 3,481 were injury related.
Other data from the FOI showed Lambeth is the area under the force’s jurisdiction with the highest number of these incidents – with 314 in 2021, and 286 in 2020. In 2019, Southwark was the worst-affected area, with 296 incidents.
Avaris eBikes also asked the Met Police which roads had the most reported number of road traffic incidents involving both drivers and cyclists.
In 2021 it was Upper Tooting Road with four cases, in 2020 it was Balham High Road with five reported cases. Both are in the Wandsworth area of South West London.
In 2019 it was Uxbridge Road, which lies between Acton and Ealing in West London, with six cases.
Injury collisions showed to be consistently far greater than damage related incidents. In 2020, of the 4,143 road traffic incidents, 624 were damage related, while 3,519 were injury related.
The year 2019 saw much of the same, with 667 damage incidents and 3,273 injury incidents.
While it’s not known which road user suffered the injuries in each case, the force detailed in its response that across the same three-year period, 2,569 cyclists were ‘seriously injured’ in collisions, which also involved at least one driver, across the area.
It said of those reported collisions a total of 930 cyclists were seriously injured in 2021, compared with 870 in 2020 and 769 in 2019.
Again, even though last year’s figure only covers ten months of the year, it’s still higher when compared with the whole of 2020 and 2019.
The Met Police serves the Greater London area only, and it’s 8.6million residents, across 32 boroughs. The City of London Police was sent the same FOI request, however the force issued a refusal, due to the time and cost constraints of undertaking the task exceeding the appropriate limits.
Richard Heys, the founder of Avaris eBikes, said he welcomed today’s Highway Code updates and hopes the new rules will help cyclists and drivers ‘to work better together for optimum safety on the roads’.
He added: ‘All road users need to be aware of the Highway Code and should shoulder their responsibility to take care of others.
‘This is extremely important because there is an ever-growing number of cyclists on the roads for a number of reasons.
‘A huge amount of people, even those living outside cities, are now saving time and money by using electric and traditional bikes to commute to and from work, which is very convenient to do on an eBike thanks to the pedal-assisted power.’
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