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29 January 2024 | Comment | Article by Louise Gardner

Highway Code changes: where are we two years later?


It’s been two years since significant changes were made to The Highway Code. Here, Louise Gardner, Senior Associate in our Serious Injury department, reflects on those changes and the impact they’ve had.

On 29 January 2022, The Highway Code was updated to improve the safety of all road users, with a particular emphasis on vulnerable road users; pedestrians and cyclists.

Eight changes were made:

1. Hierarchy of road users

The hierarchy places those road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy.

2. People crossing the road at junctions

The updated code clarifies that when people are waiting to cross a junction, other traffic should give way.

If people have started crossing and traffic wants to turn into the road, the people crossing have priority.

3. Walking, cycling riding in shared spaces

Those riding a horse or horse drawn vehicles are asked to respect the safety of people walking but people walking should also take care not to obstruct or endanger them.

4. Positioning in the road when cycling

Cyclists should position themselves in the centre of the lane on quiet roads, slower moving traffic and at approaches to junctions or road narrows. They should keep at least 0.5 m away from the curb edge, and further when it’s safer, when riding on busy roads with vehicles moving faster than them.

People cycling in groups should be considerate of the needs of other road users but can ride two abreast.

People cycling past parked vehicles should leave enough room to avoid being hit if a car door is opened and should watch out for people walking into their path.

5. Overtaking when driving or cycling

Drivers may cross a double white line provided the road is clear to overtake. Safe passing distances when overtaking vulnerable road users were updated; leaving at least 1.5 m when overtaking cyclists at speeds up to 30 miles an hour, and giving more space when overtaking at higher speeds.

Vehicles should wait behind those vulnerable road users and not overtake if it’s unsafe to do so.

6. People cycling at junctions

The Code recommends that people cycling should proceed as if they were driving a vehicle where there is no separate cycling facilities including positioning themselves in the centre of their chosen lane, where they feel able to do this safely.

7. People cycling, riding a horse and driving horse-drawn vehicles on roundabouts

The updated Code clarifies that people driving or riding a motorcycle should give priority to people cycling on roundabouts.

8. Parking, charging and leaving vehicles

The code recommends a new technique when leaving a vehicle; sometimes called the “Dutch reach”. This involves opening the door using their hand on the opposite side of the door resulting in turning their head to look over their shoulder. The intention being that this technique will make it less likely to cause injury to people cycling, riding a motorcycle on the road or on the pavement.

Where are we now?

Two years on since the introduction of these new rules concern expressed from road safety charities revolves around the lack of public awareness of these changes.

Research undertaken by Tier, the world’s largest shared micro mobility operator, suggests in their survey that 25% of drivers do not know the correct rules on pedestrian and cyclist priority.

Its survey found that one in four drivers were unable to answer questions relating to pedestrian and cyclist priority; some of those believing that those driving vehicles have priority over cyclists and pedestrians when turning onto the side roads.

Its survey also identified that less than half of drivers correctly identified pedestrians as having priority.

Research from the University of the West of England has identified that enhanced side road designs could help road users increase awareness of priority Code changes.

On testing, its proposed design enhancements to road markings identified that pedestrians crossing did not have to yield to drivers in approximately 90% of interactions, compared with 43% at conventional junction design.

Putting theory into practice

The courts also have to consider legal issues arising from road traffic collisions involving vulnerable road users.

The recent matter of Parry v Johnson [2022] EWHC 889 (QB) illustrates the importance of these Code changes being put in to practice by more road users.

The claimant and his wife were walking along a country lane at dusk when a tractor approached, driving towards them. The tractor was towing an unlit seeding machine which overhung the grass verge. The couple were hit by the seeding machine, causing the claimant to suffer serious injuries and his wife to sustain more minor injuries.

The Judge considered the evidence of the tractor driver, the claimant’s wife, video of the scene and expert evidence.

The Judge found that the tractor driver should have been driving at a much lower speed given he was towing a piece of equipment that was wider than his vehicle. He should have been driving at a speed that gave him reasonable opportunity to react to the presence of any pedestrians on the grassy verges. He was also not using full beam headlights which the judge found he should have done in the circumstances. The court found that even without the use of main beam headlights, the pedestrians were visible, conspicuous and discernible to any reasonably prudent driver. He had failed to keep a proper lookout and had failed to see them.

The defendant’s legal team suggested that the claimant and his wife had been negligent in failing to stay in the road until they were sure the driver had seen them. This was rejected by the Judge.

The Judge reiterated the high burden placed upon drivers as given in Lunt v Khelifa [2002] EWCA Civ 801, which is now also reflected with the 2022 Code changes.

What research and above case law suggests is that notwithstanding the changes that have been made to the Code, public awareness of these changes needs to be improved, and consideration should be given to effective road designs that support the changes.

With improving awareness, it is hoped that these changes will continue to seek to protect the most vulnerable road users from harm.

How can we help?

The Serious Injury team at Hugh James specialise in supporting injured people and their families after catastrophic road traffic collisions where, sadly, ignorance of these rules can cause life changing injury.

Families of loved ones who have sustained serious injury can access the Hugh James Emergency Fund to apply for financial support to help fund costs of travel and accommodation whilst their family member is in hospital.

learn more about our emergency fund

Author bio

Louise Gardner is a senior associate in our serious injuries team representing claimants with traumatic brain injuries. Louise joined Hugh James in 2023. Louise’ cases are often complex, can involve disputed liability and involve significant damages. She has a proven track record of securing rehabilitation, therapies, interim payments and support for her clients as well as significant compensation for her clients.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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