Changes to the Highway Code have been designed to protect vulnerable road users and support active travel. They come into effect from 29 January 2022.
More than 50 changes have been made to the Highway Code, covering everything from mobile phone usage to pavement parking and how and where to charge electrical vehicles.
For cyclists, the most significant change is in recognising a hierarchy of vulnerable road users, so those with the most potential to cause injury have the greatest responsibility to protect those more vulnerable than them.
More protection for vulnerable road users
Changes to the Highway Code have been proposed to improve road safety for more vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, who are most likely to get injured in an accident. It is now the responsibility of a car driver to be aware of cyclists, pedestrians, or horse riders.
The new wording reads “Everyone suffers when road collisions occur, whether they are physically injured or not. But those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles.”
Having this recognition placed within the Highway Code and in law is good news for vulnerable road users and should make drivers more aware of the great responsibility they have every time they get behind the wheel.
When the new changes come into effect, cyclists travelling straight ahead at road junctions will be given priority over drivers who are turning in or out or changing lanes – a time when, as a cyclist, you can feel particularly exposed to the flow of traffic around you and the dreaded ‘left hook’ from a vehicle.
The updated Highway Code tells drivers they “should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle. This applies whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them. 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.”
If you cycle in a busy area, you will know that the flow of cyclists can lead to impatience from drivers wanting to cut in to turn or move off from a junction, in the new Highway Code the cyclist is clearly given priority: “You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary. This includes when cyclists are: approaching, passing or moving off from a junction; moving past or waiting alongside stationary or slow-moving traffic; travelling around a roundabout.”
Give cyclists room
Another important rule to be aware of is the recognition of passing space and passing speed. “Give cyclists, horse-riders and pedestrians as much room as a car – 1.5 metres for cyclists and two metres for horses. Drive under 10mph when going past horses and under 30mph when passing cyclists.”
Cyclists and cycle paths
There is a perception among certain drivers that if there is a cycle path a cyclist should be in it. The new rule 140 makes it clear that this is not the case: “Bear in mind that cyclists are not obliged to use cycle lanes or cycle tracks.” It also makes it very clear that car drivers should not park in a cycle lane.
A cyclist’s responsibilities in the hierarchy
In the hierarchy of vulnerable road users, cyclists also have a responsibility to those more vulnerable than them: “cyclists should give way to pedestrians on shared use cycle tracks and to horse riders on bridleways.”
A pro-active travel code
For the first time The Highway Code recognises that its role is not just for safety but other factors that make our roads fit for purpose in the 21st Century. New wording says that: “The Highway Code is to promote safety on the road, whilst also supporting a healthy, sustainable and efficient transport system.”
This is a positive step forward for the active travel movement as it is a line that can be used to stress-test decisions about planning and infrastructure. Our roads should not just be safe, they should also be healthy and sustainable.
Time for some revision
It is important to familiarise yourself with the full changes to the Highway Code whether you are a cyclist, pedestrian or driver. The full document can be found here on the government website.