Highway Code Changes Mean Motorists are More Responsible for Road Users' Safety

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From Saturday 29 January 2022, new Highway Code rules will apply to all road users.

With nine sections being updated and with 50 rules being added or updated, these changes will affect everyone on the roads: from car and van drivers to pedestrians and cyclists.

Why has the Highway Code been changed?

4,290 pedestrians and 4,700 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads last year.

The Department for Transport (DfT) hopes that these changes to the Highway Code will improve the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders and protect them from road traffic accidents.

However, if you’ve been involved in a road traffic accident, get in touch with our specialist Road Traffic Accident Solicitors to see how we can help you.

  • "I do not expect the new Highway Code to be applied retrospectively, but over time, I expect it to alter the opinions, thoughts and decisions of Judges in Courts. In certain types of accidents, I would expect litigation and trials to replace once was previously decided case law."

    Simon Stanfield

    Partner, Head of Road Traffic Accidents

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The biggest change to the Highway Code: The Hierarchy of Road Users

Previously, pedestrians and motorists had equal responsibility for each other’s safety when out on the roads.

The new Highway Code has changed the distribution of responsibility by introducing a hierarchy of road users.

The new hierarchy means that road users that could cause the greatest harm, like cars, vans and lorries, have more responsibility to reduce the danger they might inflict on the more vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.

The hierarchy puts the road users most at risk of a collision at the top and those that could cause the most harm at the bottom:

    1. Pedestrians
    2. Cyclists
    3. Horse riders
    4. Motorcyclists
    5. Cars/taxis
    6. Vans/minibuses
    7. Large passenger vehicles/heavy goods vehicles

Other Significant Changes to the Highway Code

Previously, drivers, horse riders and cyclists had priority over pedestrians when they approached a crossing; they’d only need to give way to a pedestrian if the pedestrian had already started crossing the road.

With the new Highway Code rules, drivers, horse riders and cyclists must now give way to pedestrians who are either crossing the road at a crossing or waiting to cross it.

Cyclists have also been reminded that pavements are for pedestrians only, and that pedestrians are allowed to use cycle lanes unless there’s a nearby road sign that says they can’t. 

The new Highway Code also now states that at junctions or when changing direction or lanes, drivers must not cut across a cyclist or a horse rider that is going straight on.

Drivers must now stop and wait for a safe gap when cyclists or horse riders are:

  • Approaching, passing or moving away from a junction
  • Moving past or waiting alongside still or slow-moving traffic
  • Travelling on a roundabout

To stop cyclists colliding with open vehicle doors, they’re now being advised to leave at least a door’s width - or one metre - when passing a parked vehicle.

Parked motorists are also being told to perform the "Dutch Reach" when opening their vehicle door.  

The Dutch Reach means a motorist should open their door using the hand on the opposite side to the door they’re opening. For example, they would use their left hand to open a door on their right side. This manoeuvre should make them turn their head, look over their shoulder and check their blind spot.

The updated Highway Code states that cyclists and horse riders are now able to ride in the centre of their lane when they’re approaching a junction or when they’re on a narrow road where an overtaking vehicle could cause them harm.

Previously, cyclists were told they should avoid riding two abreast on narrow or busy roads.

With the new changes, cyclists should now ride two abreast because it’s safer for them to do so, especially if they’re in a large group of cyclists, or if they’re accompanying children or less-experienced riders.

Is the Highway Code Legally Enforceable?

The aim of the Highway Code and its recent updates is to keep all road users as safe as possible, but not everything in The Highway Code is legally enforceable.

Contact the Road Traffic Accident Team if you’ve been involved in a road traffic accident that happened because someone failed to follow the Highway Code.

We’ve worked with clients whose lives have been devastated by death and serious injuries on our roads, due to entirely avoidable collisions.

Get in touch to see how we can help.

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