Highway Code

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 17.

There’s going to be a new edition of the Highway Code. Why should we care?

Although the Code is primarily intended for drivers, there is a section containing advice for cyclists, and a section of general rules which apply to all road users. The code isn’t law, but in legal proceedings a failure to comply with the rules may be used to establish liability, so it’s important that the rules should make sense from the point of view of a cyclist. Unfortunately, not all of the rules make sense, and some of them, if followed by cyclists, are downright dangerous.

The Driving Standards Agency, who produce the Code for Parliament, made a draft available to interested organisations for comment. We requested a copy of the draft, and a few of us met to discuss it. We would have done this at a full meeting of the Cycling Campaign, but by the time we heard about the request for comment there were only a few days left before the deadline, so we had to act quickly.

It’s worrying to see that the general attitude of the Code towards non-motorists has hardened over the years. In past editions of the Code, pedestrians were advised to walk on the right. Later they were advised to keep close to the side of the road, and in the latest draft they are told to walk in single file! This won’t do anything to encourage people to walk.

The draft Code advises cyclists always to use cycle tracks. Cyclists in Cambridge will know that this completely ignores the problems which cyclists have to face on such tracks: potholes, poor lighting, detours, and conflicts with pedestrians. It’s difficult to believe that this advice could have been written by an urban cyclist.

In his book Cyclecraft (reviewed in Newsletter 15), John Franklin continually stresses the need for adult cyclists to ride confidently and assertively. Unfortunately the draft Code contains advice quite contrary to this. In particular, the section on roundabouts includes the advice that timid cyclists should consider riding all the way round in the leftmost lane, even if they are turning right. This terrible advice dates from many years ago, but it has been perpetuated from edition to edition. Cyclecraft explains why this is so dangerous. Drivers waiting to enter or leave a roundabout will normally be looking in the direction from which they expect other cars to come; they won’t be looking towards the edge of the road.

The section which is supposed to be followed by all road users is rather baffling, as it’s impossible to determine which of the rules are expected to apply to cyclists. Clearly advice about the use of anti-lock brakes (ABS) is not of much use for cycling, but in many cases it’s not so clear.

The greatest failing of the Code is its overwhelming bias towards car drivers at the expense of all other classes of road user. I suppose that to some extent this should be expected: after all most vehicles on the roads are cars and the Code is produced by the Driving Standards Agency. However, its approach to cycling safety seems to be to keep cyclists out of the way of cars, rather than to give useful advice to cyclists and drivers as to how they can share the highway effectively. Hopefully it will be possible one day for a new edition to do this, but on the evidence of this draft there’s a very long way to go.

Our response to the Agency is on the Campaign’s Web site, at http://www.ccdc.cam.ac.uk/camcycle/hwaycode.html. We’ve also sent a copy to Anne Campbell, who is a keen cyclist in addition to being Cambridge’s MP. We hope it will be possible for her to raise some of these issues. In any case, we’ll let you know of any replies we receive.

Andrew Haley