A host of new Highway Code rules are likely to be introduced later in the year. As well as rules aimed at improving safety on motorways and other high speed roads, it is expected that changes will be made to improve road safety for vulnerable road users.
What is meant by the term, ‘vulnerable road users’?
They are defined by rule 204 of the code as ‘road users requiring extra care’ such as::
- Pensioners and Disabled pedestrians
- Other drivers e.g., inexperienced, or older drivers
What are the main proposed changes in the rules of the Highway Code in relation to these vulnerable road users?
- To introduce a hierarchy of road users. The aim of this is to ensure that the road users who can do the most harm to other road users, will bear the greatest responsibility to reduce the threat they pose to others.
- The existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements will be clarified. In effect, drivers and riders will have to give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road.
- Provide guidance on safe passing distances and speeds. This will apply in particular to circumstances where motorists and motorcyclists overtake pedestrians and cyclists.
Hierarchy of road users (H1)
At the top of the hierarchy of road users will come the most vulnerable group, namely, pedestrians.
They will be followed by cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles.
The group of road users with the most responsibility for ensuring they do not endanger the more vulnerable members of the hierarchy includes HGV and passenger vehicles followed by vans, minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles.
Giving Way to Pedestrians (H2)
Drivers, motorcyclists, horse riders and cyclists:
- At a road junction you should give way to pedestrians who are crossing or waiting to cross a road you are turning into or from which you are turning.
- You MUST give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing
- You MUST give way to cyclists and pedestrians on a parallel crossing
- You should give way to the above if they are waiting to cross on their respective crossings.
- Cyclists should give way to pedestrians on shared cycle/pedestrian tracks
- Only pedestrians and wheelchairs/mobility scooters) should use the pavement.
Giving Way to Cyclists (H3)
This rule is addressed to drivers and cyclists in how they should interact with cyclists at junctions.
- You should not cut across cyclists who are going ahead, whilst you are turning into or out of a junction or when changing lane:
- This applies whether cyclists are using a cycle lane,
- cycle track,
- riding ahead on the road
and you should give way to them.
- You must not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist who is going straight ahead, to swerve or stop.
- You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if you have to. This includes the situation where cyclists are:
- Approaching, passing, or moving off from a junction
- Moving past or waiting alongside stationary or slow-moving traffic flows
- Travelling at a roundabout
Those are the three main changes, although there are a host of other specific rules based around the theme of improving the safety of each type of vulnerable road user. Of these, the introduction of safe passing distances is one of the more significant and welcome changes to be introduced as an amendment to rule 163 of the Highway Code.
Safe passing distances
Drivers should give motorcyclists, horse riders, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians ‘at least as much room as they would when overtaking a car’. The following are suggested guidelines:
- Leave a minimum distance of 1.5 metres at speeds under 30mph
- Leave a minimum distance of 2.0 metres at speeds over 30 mph
- Large vehicles to leave a minimum distance of 2.0 metres at all times
- Overtake horse riders and horse drawn vehicles at speeds under 15mph and allow a distance of at least 2.0 metres.
- Allows at least 2.0 metres space where a pedestrian is walking in the road (where there is no pavement).
- Extra care should be taken in bad weather.
Cyclists can ride two or more abreast
A further proposals is that Rule 66 of the Code be amended to add the words:
“Cyclists should ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake, and it is safe to let them do so. When riding in larger groups on narrow lanes, it is sometimes safer to ride two abreast.”
This merely confirms what is already permitted. It is reinforced by specific inclusion in the code, to counter those motorists who believe that cyclists are in the wrong if they do cycle two abreast.
Cyclists are not in the wrong in adopting this policy and they are doing so to increase their own safety.
What are the effects of the new rules likely to be?
- Any new initiatives that will decrease the number of road traffic accidents and in particular pedestrian accidents, cycling accidents, motorcycle accidents and horse-riding accidents, have to be considered a step in the right direction.
- Those who are lower down in the new proposed hierarchy of road users may feel that they are being harshly targeted. After all, shouldn’t every road user be responsible for their own and other road users safety? The summary of the consultation proposals on a review of the Highway Code does say:
“None of this detracts from the responsibility of all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety.”
Whether the last statement alone is likely to pacify drivers of lorries, vans, and cars, is highly doubtful.
- How effective the alterations to the Highway Code will be in changing driving habits is also a moot point. According to a poll carried out by Halfords a few years ago, one in five of those interviewed said they had not looked at the Highway Code in at least ten years. It begs the question as to how many people will even be aware of the changes as and when they are introduced.
- A question we get asked quite often is whether the rules of the Highway Code are legal rules for which they will be prosecuted if they breach them. The simplest way of answering the question is to say that those rules that read “ you must” do, or not do, something are legal requirements. If you fall foul of those types of rules, then you can be prosecuted and if found guilty of an offence get fined, and/or be awarded points on your licence.
Most of the rules only say “you should” do, or not do, something. Those types of rules are only advisory. Still, if you do not follow the guidance of a particular rule and an accident is caused as a result, your ‘breach’ of the rule can be used in evidence in a criminal court, as well as in a civil court of law should you be sued for personal injury compensation in a road traffic accident claim. By way of confirmation, the Road Traffic Act 1988 provides:
“A failure on the part of a person to observe a provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal and including proceedings for an offence under the Traffic Acts, the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 or sections 18 to 23 of the Transport Act 1985) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or negate any liability which is in question in those proceedings.”
- As important as any legal consideration, if adopted as part of the Highway Code, are the new rules likely to cause more antagonism, not less, between motorists and other road users; cyclists, and pedestrians, in particular?
The brief answer is that if the new proposals are adopted, as is expected, and people find out about them only in the form of news reports or via social media, then the result may be a sense of injustice on the part of drivers of cars, lorries or other larger vehicles.
Neil Greig of IAM Roadsmart seemed to hit the nail on the head when he was quoted as saying:
“Regardless of what changes are introduced, it is clear there will be a need for a huge education campaign to ensure any amendments to the Highway Code are understood and fully adopted by the millions of existing UK drivers, motorcyclists, and road users.
The simple truth is that most of us don’t read the Highway Code unless we drive or ride professionally or are about to take a test.
The Department for Transport needs to be realistic about the impact simply changing a seldom read document will have on the behaviour and safety of road users.”
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