The Recent Changes to the Highway Code that could catch drivers out.
On Saturday 29th January, changes to the Highway Code came into affect which, if gone unchecked, could result in more traffic offences for drivers – or worse still, accidents which lead to injuries and fatalities.
That rather doomsday scenario is somewhat ironic given the changes brought in are designed to help improve safety for all road users. But the reality is, that without an awareness of the changes made, the risks are there.
So what are the changes brought about and how do they affect you, or your company’s drivers?
We take a look at the recent changes to the Highway Code that are most likely to have an affect.
Hierarchy of Road Users
At the beginning of the Highway Code, 3 new rules have been introduced which set-out the Hierarchy of Road Users.
Before looking at this, it’s worth explaining the context behind some of these changes.
The Hierarchy of Road Users is part of a raft of changes to the Highway Code to give greater consideration to pedestrians, cyclists and riders of horses.
The objective is to provide a greater clarity to provide greater safety for ALL road users.
So, with the introduction of these 3 new rules from the outset, the Hierarchy of Road Users sets out the priority of road users. They also highlight the need for ALL road users to be aware of and considerate to other road users.
The rules also focus on clarifying the priority of road users at crossings and at junctions – the latter of which may surprise some of you – but more on this in a second.
It certainly is worth reading these 3 new rules first as they definitely set the tone of what is to come.
People Crossing at Junctions
When should you let pedestrians cross at a junction? For many drivers, they will wave a pedestrian across more out of a gesture of kindness – many drivers will turn into / out of a junction blind to the fact someone is waiting to cross.
Under the Highway Code, drivers, horse riders and cyclists should now give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a road at a junction.
The updated code states;
- when people are crossing or waiting to cross at a junction, other traffic should give way
- if people have started crossing and traffic wants to turn into the road, the people crossing have priority and the traffic should give way
- people driving, riding a motorcycle or cycling must give way to people on a zebra crossing and people walking and cycling on a parallel crossing
Being honest, giving way to someone who has started to cross should be a bit of a given. However, the fact it is now highlighted in the Code would unfortunately suggest it perhaps isn’t as obvious as it may seem.
Positioning in the Road When Cycling
Some of you will be cyclists yourselves and know of the perils of being a road user as a cyclist. The fact is though that cyclists are the subject of much debate as road users.
What is clear is that any issues involving cyclists seems to stem from one thing, a fundamental lack of knowledge of how a cyclist should use the road – and this is either on the part of the driver or of the cyclist.
So where should a cyclist be – and can they ride 2 abreast?
The Highway Code explains;
For cyclists who are cycling by themselves
- riding in the centre of their lane on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowings
- keeping at least 0.5 metres (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge (and further where it is safer) when riding on busy roads with vehicles moving faster than them
And what of those cycling in groups?
- cyclists should be considerate of the needs of other road users when riding in groups
- cyclists can ride 2 abreast – and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders
“People cycling are asked to be aware of people driving behind them and allow them to overtake (for example, by moving into single file or stopping) when it’s safe to do so.”
What’s really important here though is that by drivers understanding how cyclists should be considering their position on the road, this can then help minimise the risk for all concerned – particularly when it comes to…
Overtaking Cyclists / Horse Riders
As car and van drivers, we’re in possession of some pretty lethal kit when it comes down to it.
By understanding the entitlement of other road users, drivers need to be thinking about protecting more vulnerable road users – not using our bigger, more powerful vehicles as a way of stamping any perceived authority down on them.
With that in mind, overtaking cyclists and horse riders needs to be done in a considerate, careful manner.
To help with this, the Highway Code now highlights;
“You may cross a double-white line if necessary (provided the road is clear) to overtake someone cycling or riding a horse if they are travelling at 10 mph or less (Rule 129).”
Guidance on safe passing distances and speeds for people driving or riding a motorcycle when overtaking vulnerable road users, includes:
- leaving at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) when overtaking people cycling at speeds of up to 30mph, and giving them more space when overtaking at higher speeds
- passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allowing at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space
- allowing at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space and keeping to a low speed when passing people walking in the road (for example, where there’s no pavement)
The code also requires drivers to;
“Wait behind them and do not overtake if it’s unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances.”
People Cycling Straight Ahead At Junctions
One of the common flashpoints is when a vehicle is turning at a junction and a cyclist needs to go straight ahead.
To tackle this, the code now clarifies that when someone is cycling straight ahead at a junction, they have priority of someone wanting to turn into – or out of – a side road (unless markings or signs indicate otherwise).
The code also adds a cautionary note to cyclists to be aware that drivers up ahead may not have seen them and to be careful of drivers cutting across their path.
Cyclists and Horse Riders on a Roundabout
The code has now been updated to state that drivers and motor cyclists on a roundabout should;
- not attempt to overtake people cycling within that person’s lane
- allow people cycling to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout
The code already explained that people cycling, riding a horse and driving a horse-drawn vehicle can stay in the left-hand lane on a roundabout if they intend to continue across or around the roundabout.
However, with these recent changes to the Highway Code, guidance has now been added to explain that people driving should take extra care when entering a roundabout.
Drivers are told 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
Finally, a further interesting addition to the Highway Code is also a sign of the times.
The recent changes to the Highway Code now factor in guidance for parking, charging and leaving vehicles.
Leaving a vehicle might not be something you would think you need guidance on, but the code now recommends a technique for doing so – often refered to as “Dutch Reach”.
According to the Gov.UK website;
“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.
This will make them turn their head to look over their shoulder behind them. They’re then less likely to cause injury to:
- people cycling or riding a motorcycle passing on the road
- people on the pavement”
In addition to this, the parking and charging of electric vehicles is also referenced in the changes to the Highway Code too.
The code now makes reference to those using EV Chargepoints, suggesting drivers should:
- park close to the charge point and avoid creating a trip hazard for people walking from trailing cables
- display a warning sign if you can
- return charging cables and connectors neatly to minimise the danger to other people and avoid creating an obstacle for other road users
We hope you have found this article useful. Please do share it across your social media accounts or directly with anyone who you think might find it useful.
Over the coming weeks we will be looking at major changes being announced in relation to mobile phone use. We will also be looking into the legalities for the use of automated / self-driving vehicles, so please do keep an eye out for those.
What do you make of the changes to the Highway Code outlined above? Are they a surprise to you or do you do these things already? Are there any changes to the Highway Code you would like to see? Please feel free to leave your comments in the section at the very bottom of this article.