New Highway Code changes will improve safety for all road users

Camcycle welcomes the Department for Transport’s changes to the Highway Code together with other national active travel organisations and charities. This update will improve safety for all road users, especially for people walking, cycling and riding horses on our roads. Families with children, older adults and disabled people will all benefit. The new code reminds all road users that they have a duty to take extra care around other people, and the heavier your vehicle the more responsibility you bear.

The ‘hierarchy of road users’

New rules about the hierarchy of road users will be added to the introduction section of the Highway Code and many of the other proposed changes reflect this principle of road user hierarchy.

The hierarchy of road users was one of the changes called for by national charity Cycling UK (image: Dave Walker).

Rule H1: All road users must be aware of The Highway Code, be considerate to other road users and understand their responsibility for the safety of others.
Those in charge of vehicles that could, in the event of a collision, cause the greatest harm bear the greatest responsibility. Working from the top down that means drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles have the greatest responsibility.  Next in line are drivers of vans, SUVs and minibuses, then cars and taxis.  Those riding motorcycles, bicycles and horses, although themselves vulnerable to harm from vehicles, have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians.

The Highway Code changes are mostly clarifications to ambiguous or frequently misunderstood rules. In the past, many drivers failed to understand why people cycle side-by-side or take positions in the centre of the lane; the new Highway Code explains why and when it is safer to cycle this way.

Rule 66: Riding together
People cycling can ride two abreast and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders.

Rule 72: Road positioning for cyclists
Replacing previous advice to ride ‘in the gutter’, cyclists are now advised to make themselves as clearly visible as possible by riding in the centre of the lane on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to road junctions or narrowings, where it would be unsafe for drivers to overtake.

The old wording of Rule 163 was vague about how much room drivers should give when overtaking cyclists; the new code specifically states that you should leave at least 1.5m of space at lower speeds and even more space when driving faster. It’s also clear now that cycle tracks may be used by cyclists and pedestrians as well as mobility scooter or wheelchair users. Rule 239 also introduces the ‘Dutch Reach’, a safer way for drivers to open their door near other road users.

Rule 163: Safe passing distances
Drivers should leave at least 1.5m when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph. The distance should be greater at higher speeds. They should allow at least 2m when passing horse-riders and people walking in the road.

The Dutch Reach (image: Cycling UK)

Rule 239: The Dutch Reach
Vehicle drivers and passengers should open their door using the hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening. For example, using the left hand to open a door on the right-hand side. By doing this, you naturally turn your body, which makes it easier to look over your shoulder to see other road users passing by your door. This reduces the chance that you will cause a crash by opening your door at a bad moment. Remember: people who open a car door and cause a crash have always been liable for damages they may cause. So this advice may save vehicle users a lot of money and someone else a lot of pain.

Another welcome clarification: when turning or changing lanes drivers should not unsafely cut across cyclists and cause them to swerve, even if those cyclists are using a cycle lane or cycle track. Furthermore, both drivers and cyclists should give way to pedestrians who are waiting to cross side roads or zebra crossings; it is no longer necessary for pedestrians to first step into the road to be rightfully given priority.

In summary: ‘people who are changing direction should give way to people who are going straight’. Most drivers intuitively understand that concept when interacting with other drivers, and now they will be expected to give the same consideration to cyclists and pedestrians. This brings the UK into line with road rules in peer countries.

Pedestrians always have priority at junctions (image: Department for Transport)

Rule H2 (for drivers, motorcyclists, horse drawn vehicles, horse riders and cyclists): Give way to pedestrians at junctions.  This rule lays out the places where pedestrians have priority and where all other road users must give way to them. Pavements should be the sole preserve of pedestrians (along with wheelchair and mobility scooter users). Pedestrians have priority when on a zebra crossing, on a parallel crossing or at light-controlled crossings when they have a green signal.

The significant new part of this rule is that pedestrians also have priority when they are about to cross at a junction. Vehicles which are about to turn into or out of a road must give way to pedestrians crossing it.

Rule H3 (for drivers and motorcyclists): Give way to cyclists
Drivers should not cut across cyclists when turning into or out of a junction or cut across their path whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road. They should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary.

Rules 73, 75 and 76: Junctions for people cycling
These rules clarify the way to use junctions where cyclists have independent traffic lights (as we’ve the benefit of enjoying at a number of places in Cambridge). Two-stage junctions use these traffic lights to direct cyclists across more complex junctions in stages.  Rule 76 reiterates that cyclists should be treated as any other motor vehicle, and have priority when going straight ahead at junctions.

There are several changes within the rules for cyclists which make it clearer that you don’t need to wear specific clothes for cycling and are not obliged to use cycle lanes or facilities such as advanced stop lines and toucan crossings. Your decision may be influenced by your level of experience and skills, the situation at the time and your judgement on the quality and/or safety of the provision. The new Rule 63 provides extra guidance around the use of shared space in line with the hierarchy of road users.

Image from the ‘Be Nice, Say Hi’ campaign (British Horse Society, Cycling UK)

Rule 63: Cyclists should ride responsibly near pedestrians and horse riders
When riding in places where sharing with pedestrians, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles is permitted, take care when passing pedestrians and horse riders, especially children, older adults or disabled people. Slow down when necessary and let them know you are there; for example, by ringing your bell (it is recommended that a bell is fitted to your bike), or by calling out

Relative to pedestrians, bicycles can move at a much greater speed and cause harm in a collision. In particular, people who are distracted, hard of hearing or with limited sight can be startled. Riders are reminded to give pedestrians space and give an audible warning when necessary.

With a clear focus on the needs of active travel users, Camcycle expect that all road designs and cycling infrastructure will be guided by this improved Highway Code and the government’s cycling design manual, Local Transport Note 1/20. We also look forward to seeing many existing roads and simple priority junctions be updated with changes to paintwork that clearly indicate that pedestrians and cyclists moving along the main road have the same priority over side-road traffic as drivers do, in accordance with the updated Highway Code.

Changes to the Highway Code will pass into effect on Saturday 29 January. The full document of changes to the Highway Code can be found on the government’s website, along with a table showing the changes in relation to the existing Code. The Department of Transport has produced an easy-to-read guide to 8 key changes road users should know.