Highway Code update comes into force in England, Scotland and Wales

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Jacob King/PA</span>
Photograph: Jacob King/PA

Cyclists and pedestrians are better protected as of Saturday as a revamp of the Highway Code comes into force, despite concerns that millions of drivers are confused by or unaware of the changes.

An AA survey of more than 13,700 drivers carried out this month indicated that 33% were unaware of the changes, including 4% who had “no intention” of looking at the details.

A communications drive will be launched by the Department for Transport’s road safety offshoot Think! in mid-February, and there will be further campaigns in the summer.

As part of the revamp in England, Scotland and Wales, cars are expected to give way when pedestrians are crossing or waiting to cross at junctions, while cyclists are advised to ride in the centre of lanes on quieter roads, in slower-moving traffic, and when approaching junctions, to make themselves as visible as possible.

The guidance also introduces a hierarchy of types of road users based on which is likely to cause most harm in the event of a collision, meaning someone driving will be expected to watch out for people cycling, walking, or riding a horse, and cyclists will need to be aware of pedestrians.

Nine sections of the Highway Code, which contains advice and rules for people on Britain’s roads, have been updated, with 50 rules added or amended. The changes are advisory, so non-compliance will not result in a fine.

Related: Common myths about what UK Highway Code changes will mean

The AA’s president, Edmund King, voiced concern at the potential impact of the guidance to give way to pedestrians at junctions, saying it risked collisions, since drivers who stopped to allow someone to cross on dual carriageways or fast-flowing A roads were “likely to get hit by another vehicle from behind”.

He said pedestrians could be endangered if one driver gave way but another travelling in the opposite direction failed to stop.

“Drivers will have to make their own judgments on what they should do in the scenarios they find themselves in,” King told the PA news agency. “However, if the judgments of the driver and the pedestrian are at odds on a very busy road, this could lead to problems.”

The roads minister, Lady Vere, said this week that the updated Highway Code would make Britain’s roads safer and encourage people to “respect and consider the needs of those around them”.

The charity Cycling UK said the changes must be “communicated with simple, accurate and memorable messaging”.

What are the changes?

  • Hierarchy of road users
    People in charge of vehicles that can cause the most harm in the event of a collision have the greatest responsibility to look out for other road users.

  • Walking, cycling or riding in shared spaces
    Cyclists should not overtake people walking or riding a horse in shared spaces closely or at high speed, and pedestrians should not obstruct paths.

  • Positioning of cyclists
    Cyclists should make themselves as visible as possible by riding in the centre of lanes on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions.

  • Pedestrians crossing
    Traffic should give way when people are waiting to cross at junctions, updating the earlier guidance that applied only to those who have already stepped out on to the crossing. Traffic must give way to people on zebra crossings.

  • Overtaking cyclists
    Drivers travelling at speeds of up to 30mph should leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists. They should give more space when overtaking at higher speeds.

  • Opening car doors
    Car occupants should open doors using their hand on the opposite side to the door, making them turn their head to look over their shoulder. This technique, known as the Dutch reach, reduces the chances of doors being opened into the path of cyclists and motorcyclists.

Dutch reach graphic
  • Overtaking cyclists at junctions
    When cyclists are travelling straight ahead at a junction, they have priority over traffic waiting to turn into or out of a side road, unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise.

  • Cycling in groups
    The new text makes clear that people cycling can ride two abreast but should be considerate of the needs of other road users when in groups.

  • Roundabouts
    Drivers should take extra care when entering roundabouts to make sure they do not cut across cyclists.

  • Electric vehicle charging
    Electric car owners using a public charge point should park near the device and avoid creating a trip hazard from trailing cables.

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