A major overhaul of the Highway Code has come into force, handing pedestrians and cyclists greater powers on the road.
The changes, in effect from Saturday, follow a public consultation on a review of current measures, which received more than 20,000 responses from the public, businesses and other organisations.
It follows shocking figures released by the Department for Transport (DfT), which showed that 4,290 pedestrians and 4,700 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads from the start of 2020 to June 2021.
Most people who responded were in favor of all the changes, with cycling and road safety charities praising the updates.
But while the rules come into effect from 29 January, a £500,000 Government advertising campaign to promote awareness of the updates will not launch until 14 February.
The advertising campaign will be run by Think!, the road safety offshoot of the DfT, with the aim of ensuring that “road-users across the country understand their responsibilities”.
Here are all the updates coming into force:
Hierarchy of road users
The fresh rules will establish a “hierarchy of road users” based on the principle that those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to avoid it. Those who are most vulnerable are at the top of the hierarchy.
The full hierarchy of road users is:
- horse riders
- Larger vehicles such as HGVs and buses
Giving way to pedestrians
The new rules also mean that motorists waiting to turn must now give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road at junctions.
This also applies if vehicles are stuck in traffic or moving slowly — they must let pedestrians cross the road.
Cyclists and pedestrians in shared spaces
The updated Highway Code contains new guidance about routes and spaces which are shared by people walking, cycling and riding horses.
The updates are mainly directed towards cyclists, who are being asked not to pass people walking, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle closely or at high speed — particularly from behind.
Cyclists must also slow down when necessary and let people walking know they are there, for example, by ringing their bell.
Cyclists must not pass a horse on the horse’s left.
Positioning in the road when cycling
New measures to protect cyclists on the road have caused the most stir out of all the Highway Code updates.
One of the major changes is centered around where cyclists should ride on the road.
Cyclists are now advised to ride in the center of lanes in some situations, rather than to the side of the road. The new guidance applies to quieter roads, in slower-moving traffic and when cyclists are approaching junctions to make themselves as visible as possible.
Cyclists are also being reminded that they can ride two abreast — as has always been the case and which can be safer in large groups or with children. However, they must be aware of drivers behind them and allow them to overtake if it is safe to do so.
When drivers are wanting to overtake cyclists, they must leave at least 1.5 meters of space at speeds of up to 30mph. At higher speeds, drivers should be giving cyclists more space.
Drivers must not cut across cyclists, or horse riders, going straight ahead when planning to turn into or out of a junction.
Cycling at roundabouts
The rules also state that car and motorcycle drivers “should give priority to cyclists on the roundabout” because they usually travel more slowly than motorized traffic.
The Highway Code says: “Give them plenty of room and do not attempt to overtake them within their lane. Allow them to move across your path as they travel around the roundabout.”
The code already explained that people cycling, riding a horse and driving a horse-drawn vehicle may stay in the left-hand lane of a roundabout when they intend to continue across or around the roundabout.
Guidance has been added to explain that people driving should take extra care when entering a roundabout to make sure they do not cut across people cycling, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle who are continuing around the roundabout in the left-hand lane .
Parking, charging and leaving vehicles
The updated code recommends a new technique when leaving vehicles, known as the ‘Dutch Reach’.
Where people driving or passengers in a vehicle are able to do so, they should open the door using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening. For example, using their left hand to open a door on their right-hand side.
The code states that this will make them turn their head to look over their shoulder behind them and therefore avoid causing injury to people cycling or riding a motorcycle on the road, and to pedestrians on the pavement.
For the first time, the Highway Code includes guidance about using electric vehicle charging points.
When using one, people should park close to the charging point to avoid creating a trip hazard for people walking from trailing cables.
Electric vehicle drivers are also advised to display a warning sign where possible when charging their cars, and to return charging cables and connectors neatly to minimize the danger to other people.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.