Turning a corner: small Highway Code changes will make a big difference

This article was published in 2022, in Magazine 154.

Robin Heydon
Robin Heydon

The last of my series of columns on the Highway Code is on a rule that matters a lot. Actually, four rules.

Rule H2 is probably the one we should start with. I’ve been walking along the side of a road, on the pavement, and come across a junction with a side street and not known what to do. Yes, the old Highway Code said that I could cross and cars would give way to me, but they never did. Now, it is very clear. The pedestrian now has the right of way. ‘At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning.’ Note that if a pedestrian even looks as though they want to cross the road, you should give priority to them. This rule brings the UK into alignment with peer countries where road users making turns must give way to other road users who are travelling straight ahead. And yes, pedestrians count as road users.

Rule H3 follows this up with: ‘Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist, horse rider or horse-drawn vehicle going straight ahead to stop or swerve. You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary.’ In other words, you can’t just swing into a junction without looking, you have to give way to people cycling to the left of you, and even stop and wait for a gap in that traffic before turning.

Image from the Department for Transport’s THINK! awareness campaign on the Highway Code changes.

Rule 140 follows this up, pointing out that some cycle tracks are bi-directional and you should be checking for people cycling in both directions.

Are you getting the idea? If you are turning into or out of a junction, those more vulnerable should be given priority even if they are not already crossing
the junction.

The final rule that I’m going to cover is about something that really annoys me. When crossing from Gonville Place to Parker’s Piece I will almost always use the cycle crossing. But sometimes cars will just block the crossing as if it didn’t exist, even though there are great big traffic lights and white stop lines that make it look like a junction. Of course, if as a cyclist I happen only to be able to cross half way and block the traffic from the other direction, then car drivers would get angry at me, but I can’t get angry at car drivers for doing the same. I guess my bell isn’t as loud or as aggressive as a car horn is, and certainly, the risk of a car driver getting angry and using their car as a weapon against me also has to be considered.

Well, Rule 199 now clearly states: ‘Do not enter the crossing if you are unable to completely clear it, to avoid obstructing pedestrians, cyclists or horse riders.’ Basically, if you can’t see how you would exit the crossing because too many other people are driving, you should stop before entering it. These crossings are only a few metres wide, and just leaving that space allows the people who have chosen not to travel by car – frankly those same people you should be thanking for not making the traffic jam you are in any worse than it already is – to move around quickly and efficiently.

All the changes to the Highway Code are hugely important in helping to create a much safer and more respectful environment on the road. Even the simple changes, like saying that riding two abreast can be safer, or providing the clearances for overtaking, or even just defining those in larger, heavier vehicles as more responsible for the safety of the vulnerable, are transformative.

Robin Heydon is Chair of Camcycle. This article was first published on 7 February 2022 in the Cambridge News, where you can read his column each week.