New Highway Code

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 23.

A new edition of The Highway Code has just been published. Nigel Deakin reports on what caught his attention.

The last edition of the Highway Code came out in 1993. The new edition continues a trend established in earlier editions, which is to emphasise the need for motorists to drive slowly and carefully and to take account of the needs of vulnerable road users.

This is most clearly demonstrated by the back cover. The table of car stopping distances that used to grace this page has been moved inside. Instead, this ‘prime site’ is used to give a shocking list of statistics:


  • you have a 1 in 200 chance of being killed in a road accident
  • every day, on average, 10 people are killed and around 120 are seriously injured in road accidents
  • about half of all accidental deaths of children are due to road accidents
  • pedestrians and cyclists account for 1 in 3 of those killed in road accidents
  • 1 in 5 drivers involved in an accident in which someone is injured is aged under 25

I hope that everybody who buys a copy of the Highway Code reads this and thinks about it.

Rules for Drivers

The section on ‘rules for drivers’ includes several new rules, all encouraging motorists to drive more slowly:

Adapt your driving to the appropriate type and condition of road… in particular do not treat speed limits as a target. It is often not appropriate or safe to drive at the maximum limit. (Rule 124)

The speed limit is the absolute maximum and does not mean it is safe to drive at that speed irrespective of conditions. Driving at speeds too fast for the road and traffic conditions can be dangerous. You should always reduce your speed when… sharing the road with pedestrians and cyclists, particularly children, and motorcyclists. (Rule 104)

Narrow residential streets. You should drive slowly and carefully on streets where there are likely to be pedestrians, cyclists and parked cars… (Rule 130)

Every road on Cambridge is used by cyclists and pedestrians. Most roads in Cambridge contain parked cars. Many residential streets in Cambridge are narrow. The Highway Code is therefore clearly telling motorists that 30 mph is too fast for any road in Cambridge. This is remarkable, and represents something of a landmark in the rules of the road.

Rules for Cyclists

You should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations… light-coloured or fluorescent clothing… in daylight and poor light, [and] reflective clothing and/or accessories… in the dark. (Rule 45).

The wording on helmets isn’t new, though the 1993 edition did not use the words ‘you should’.

However the wording on reflective and fluorescent clothing is certainly stronger than in 1993. That edition simply stated that such clothing helped other road users see you. It did not instruct cyclists to wear it.

Does this matter? The Highway Code is not in itself the law, but as it says on the back cover, failure to obey it may be taken into account by the courts when determining liability after an accident.

At night your cycle… MUST… be fitted with… amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85. (Rule 46)

This reflects changes to the law since 1993.

Flashing lights… may help you to be seen but MUST NOT be used alone. (Rule 46)

Flashing LED lights have become hugely popular in the past few years. This new rule confirms that the law does not consider them to be adequate. However it also suggests that not only are flashing lights legal to use but that they may be a good thing.

When cycling use cycle routes when practicable. They can make your journey safer. (Rule 47)

This rule represents a major victory for the consultation process and for the cycling lobby. The draft version, which was published just over a year ago, declared that cyclists should ‘always use cycle tracks’. Many cycling organisations, including the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, objected to this because it denied cyclists the right to choose to stay on the road. It appears that our objections were accepted.