One in five drivers hasn't read Highway Code in a decade

Cyclists and horse riders among those applauding the Highway Code changes for 2022 — here's what you need to know

New rules go into effect in January

AN UPDATED version of the Highway Code is set to go into effect from January 29, establishing a new hierarchy of road users to provide better protection to vulnerable road users such as cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians, and a new set of rules around priority at junctions.

What are the key new Highway Code rules?

While a large number of amendments are being introduced, the three main changes to the Highway Code for 2022 are as follows:

Rule H1: Hierarchy of road users

According to the government, Rule H1, which creates a new hierarchy of road users, “ensures that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to other road users.”

The objective of the hierarchy is not to give priority to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders in every situation, it insists, but rather “to ensure a more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use that benefits all users.”

“None of this detracts from the responsibility of ALL road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety”

As the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians are therefore the least responsible for looking out for other road users. At the other end of the scale, HGV drivers bear the greatest responsibility, as they are in charge of the largest and arguably most dangerous vehicles on the road.

Of course, the majority of truck drivers are considerate to vulernable road users, as captured in this charming video.

“None of this detracts from the responsibility of ALL road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety,” according to the rule change.

Rule H2: Priority for pedestrians

Under this rule, road users at a junction should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which they are turning.

You should give way, the government says, “to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing, and pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing. The law previously said that pedestrians and cyclists only had right of way when they were on the crossing.

However, as anyone who has passed their driving test in at least the last couple of decade knows, an examiner would take an extremely dim view of any driver who didn’t stop for a pedestrian who was approaching or preparing to use a crossing, so this is a tightening of the wording rather than a major overhaul.

Rule H3: Priority for cyclists and horse riders when cars are turning

Left turn accidents and near-misses with cyclists are all too common when over-eager drivers try to nip ahead before the junction.

For that reason, Rule H3 explicitly states that drivers “should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles going ahead when turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle.”

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This applies regardless of whether cyclists are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or simply riding straight ahead on a road; in any case, drivers should give way to them.

As the rule says “should” rather than “must”, this isn’t enshrined in law — it’s advisory — but drivers are likely to be stopped by police for breaking the rule and could deem the offence careless or even dangerous driving, for which the maximum punishment is 3-11 penalty points, two years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine and obligatory disqualification from driving.

Should you cause death by dangerous driving, the punishment may be as high as 14 years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine and obligatory disqualification for a minimum of two years.

Guidance on passing distances

The wording of rules regarding passing distances has been amended and now includes guidelines for overtaking pedestrians, cyclists and horses. It now advises motorists to:

  • Leave a minimum distance of 1.5m at speeds under 30mph;
  • Leave a minimum distance of two metres at speeds over 30mph;
  • Always leave a distance of at least two metres if driving a large vehicle;
  • Pass horses and horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 15mph and at a minimum distance of two metres;
  • Allow two metres of distance when passing a pedestrian who is walking in the road;
  • Wait behind the motorcyclist, cyclist, horse rider, horse drawn vehicle or pedestrian and not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances.

Leaving plenty of space when overtaking should be fairly obvious but the rule changes add much-needed clarity.

How are the Highway Code changes being received?

The rule changes have been greeted warmly by the cycling lobby, which had considerable input during the consultation process.

According to Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns:

“This simple change clarifies the rules at junctions, and is a major step towards embedding a custom that could make a huge difference to cyclist and pedestrian safety.

“It would also give highway designers the confidence to design better cycling and walking infrastructure such as cycle lanes and cycle paths that go across the mouths of side-roads, making them simpler, safer and more efficient for everyone.”

Horse riders are also pleased with the new proposals. The British Horse Society’s director of safety, Alan Hiscox told Horse & Hound:

“I was dancing a little jig when I read them!  People ask whether the DfT [Department for Transport] really listens to equestrians or considers us in the same way as cyclists, and I think this absolutely proves they do. I really think this will be a major step for the safety of horses on the roads.”

“Vulnerable road users deserve the highest protection from motorised vehicles but simply changing a book no one reads is unlikely to deliver the impact hoped for”

Not all, however, have greeted the proposals with as much enthusiasm. Neil Greig, the policy director at IAM Roadsmart (formerly known as the Institute of Advanced Motorists) expressed concern that “the new Highway Code will increase conflict on the road rather than reduce it.”

He added: “Informing every road user in the UK about the new rules will be a huge task, particularly when most drivers think they are competent and don’t need to refresh their skills.”

He did, however, stress the need for greater investment in quality cycling infrastructure, saying:

“Vulnerable road users deserve the highest protection from motorised vehicles but simply changing a book no one reads is unlikely to deliver the impact hoped for.

“In our view investment in segregated facilities remains the best way to encourage people to consider active travel as a real alternative.”

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