Saturday 29 January 2022 sees significant changes being made to the Highway Code with the aim of improving the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. The changes arise from a public consultation which ran from July to October 2020 and which received more than 20,000 responses.
The key changes or clarifications in the updated code are as follows:
- The introduction of a ‘hierarchy of road users’ with those most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy (although this does not remove the need for all road users to behave responsibly!). The idea of this is for drivers of larger vehicles to look after more vulnerable road users. It does not give priority to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders in every situation but aims to encourage more mutual respect.
- Changes at junctions whereby traffic should give way when pedestrians are crossing or waiting to cross at a junction.
- New guidance about spaces which are shared by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Cyclists and horse riders should respect the safety of walkers and runners, but those walking and running should also take care not to obstruct or endanger cyclists or horse riders.
- Cyclists should ride in the centre of their lane on quiet roads, in slower moving traffic and when approaching junctions. They should keep at least 0.5m from the kerb when riding on busy roads. Cyclists should be considerate of the needs of others when riding in groups but can ride 2 abreast. Cyclists should also take care when passing parked vehicles and leave enough room to avoid being hit if a car door is opened.
- Updated guidance on safe passing distances to include:
- Leaving at least 1.5m when overtaking people cycling when driving up to 30mph and more if faster
- Passing horse riders or horse drawn vehicles at speeds under 10mph and allowing at least 2m of space
- Allowing at least 2m of space and keeping to a low speed when passing people walking in the road.
- People cycling may pass slower moving or stationary traffic on their right or left.
- When turning into or out of a side road people cycling should give way to people walking who are crossing or waiting to cross. 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.
- People driving should give priority to people cycling on roundabouts, to include not attempting to overtake people cycling in that person’s lane and allow people cycling to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout.
- When leaving vehicles drivers should open the door using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening which will mean they turn their head to look over their shoulder behind them to see cyclists passing on the road, or people on the pavement.
It is important to remember that many of the rules in The Highway Code are legal requirements and if they are not followed then a criminal offence could be being committed. This could result in being fined, given penalty points on your license or disqualified from driving.
The roads can be a dangerous place for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders. On 30 September 2021 the Department for Transported published road casualty figures for pedal cyclists and confirmed that:
- Between 2004 and 2020 fatalities increased by 5% and serious injuries by 26%. During this period pedal cycle traffic grew by 96%
- Between 2015 and 2020 an average of 2 pedal cyclists died and 83 were seriously injured per week in reported road casualties
- The most common contributory factor allocated to pedal cyclists in fatal or serious accidents with another vehicle was “Driver or rider failed to look properly”.
The road safety charity Brake has welcomed the changes to the Highway Code. Jason Wakeford, head of campaigns at Brake said:
“Brake welcomes the changes to the Highway Code which come into effect this Saturday (29 January 2022). The introduction of a road user hierarchy is so important for road safety. It means it is clear that road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the risk they pose to more vulnerable users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.”
As a keen cyclist I am pleased to see these changes come into force which will give me the confidence to hold a more prominent, and therefore safer, road position when out on my bike. The key is likely to be ensuring that all road users are fully up to date with the developments and understand the changes and how they affect the way that they use the road system.
As an Associate Solicitor in Hugh James’s Court of Protection team I have sadly seen first-hand the tragic lifelong consequences for road users who have been involved in accidents as pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Our catastrophic injury litigation and Court of Protection teams can look to recover and manage significant compensation awards for people involved in road traffic incidents to try and enhance their quality of life as far as possible, however, the long-term effects of such incidents, which could have been avoided, often sadly last a lifetime.