Drivers be aware: What changes are being made to the Highway Code?

·3-min read
Walkers and cyclists will take priority over drivers in new changes to Highway Code  (AFP via Getty Images)
Walkers and cyclists will take priority over drivers in new changes to Highway Code (AFP via Getty Images)

Changes to the Highway Code establishing a “hierarchy of road users” have been put to parliament to prioritise cyclists and pedestrians at junctions and on roads.

However, these reforms have not been made entirely clear, according to an AA survey of 13,500 drivers, only a third of which knew about the proposed changes.

Coming into effect on January 29 2022, subject to parliamentary approval, rules H1, H2, H3 and 72 will provide clarity for cyclists who are expected to become part of mass transit through government efforts to encourage sustainable travel.

Here’s the new rules and changes to the Highway Code you should know about:

What is the “hierarchy of road users”?

The phrase “hierarchy of road users” means the responsibility of road users will be in accordance with the following new ranking from most to least vulnerable: pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists, cars and taxis and vans and minibuses, larger buses and finally lorries.

More exposed road users will be given a higher priority of safety on roads and more responsibility on those who could cause more harm.

New rule H1, announced by Transport Secretary in July 2021, stated: “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.

“The hierarchy does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly.”

What rules have changed for cyclists?

Rules H3 and 72 give clearer boundaries for cyclists including that drivers maintain a mandatory 1.5m distance when overtaking bicycles and waiting for a “safe gap in the flow cyclists” before making manoeuvres.

New rule 72 also specifies the positioning for cyclists, which was not previously in the code.

Bike riders are now recommended to ride in the middle of the road in slow traffic, on quiet roads and approaching junctions.

Rule 66 has seen revisions, thanks to input from campaigners for cycle safety, to more clearly define when the “two abreast” position is safe.

It will now read: “Be considerate of the needs of other road users when riding in groups. You can ride two abreast and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders. Be aware of drivers behind you and allow them to overtake (for example, by moving into single file or stopping) when you feel it is safe to let them do so.”

Some of the code has also been reworded to more toned down suggestions such as rule 59 on hi-vis clothing: “Light-coloured or fluorescent clothing can help other road users to see you in daylight and poor light, while reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) can increase your visibility in the dark.”

Who gets priority at junctions?

According to the old code, pedestrians only had right of way at junctions if they were already on the road but new rule H2 clarifies this according to the new hierarchy.

Rule H2 said: “At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning. You must give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing and to pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing.”

What is the “Dutch reach” method?

The ‘Dutch reach’ method of opening car doors is expected to be encouraged along the new rule changes and rewordings.

This technique calls for the use of the driver’s far hand to open their car door which requires the body to swivel and turn towards the direction of approaching cars and encouraging them to check for oncoming traffic.

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