28 January 2022

New Highway Code rules

Steve Hennegan Partner & Head of Personal Injury

As of Saturday 29th January 2022, the Highway Code as you know it will change. The new rules give priority to cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders on the roads and under the new Rule H1, establishes the concept of a ‘Hierarchy of Road Users’ and places those with the most exposure or risk at the top of the hierarchy.

These changes now require all road users to know the Highway code, to be considerate of, and responsible for the safety of each other out there on the road.

You may have seen news headlines this week and opinions being shared on social media as the new law has caused quite a bit of a stir …. Have your say by answering our polls on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn!

These new additions are perhaps what most of us do already and some on the whole are sensible.

However, set out below is a summary of some of the changes and what they mean.

  • Drivers should leave at least 1.5m when overtaking cyclists to help keep them safe,

  • Cyclists will be advised to ride in the middle of the road when approaching junctions and on quiet roads - currently, those on bikes typically ride on the left-hand side or nearside of the road, all in an effort to be more visible,

  • Drivers must give priority to cyclists, pedestrians, and horse riders,

  • Drivers will be told to give more priority to cyclists and pedestrians, and everyone will have to give way to pedestrians that are waiting to cross a road they are turning into,

  • Pedestrians will have increased priority on the road,

  • Cars indicating to turn left or right will also have to give way to cyclists coming from behind and going straight on, under the new rules

What is the new hierarchy of road users?

So, from the 29th January 2022, in simple terms, road users will be ranked according to how vulnerable they would be in the event of an accident. Essentially the bigger a presence you have on the road the greater your duty to others, especially those smaller than you out there will be.

For example

  • Cyclists you now need to watch out for pedestrians,

  • Car drivers you need to be careful of cyclists,

  • HGV’s you need to be aware of everyone!

The hierarchy is there to promote an environment where we are to be more considerate of and responsible for the safety of our fellow road users. As mentioned already I expect most of us behave like this anyway, and you may be reading this thinking “Well I do that anyway!”

What else do you need to be aware of?

Pedestrians now get priority at junctions and zebra crossings.

This new rule is perhaps the one that has and will be the most contentious.

What this means in practice is that if you are driving your car and are turning into a junction and a pedestrian is waiting to cross, you must now give way to the pedestrian.

I’m sure we have all had close calls with the pedestrian who steps out into the road, with their head down looking at their mobile phone with their headphones in!

The same applies at zebra crossings when a pedestrian is waiting and at parallel crossings when both cyclists and pedestrians wait.

Turning in and out of a junction – you should no longer cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or leaving a junction, changing direction, or changing lane.

This rule applies regardless of whether a cyclist is using a cyclist lane, track or riding ahead. You should stop and wait for a gap that’s safe in the flow of cyclists.

Another great debate – cyclists who ride in the middle of the road – what are the rules here?

The advice has been clear for some time and the highway code is clear cut about where and when cyclists should be in the middle of the road.

  • To make themselves more visible on quiet roads or streets

  • In slow moving traffic – moving left when the flow of traffic picks up

  • Approaching junctions or road narrowing’s

  • When overtaking might be unsafe

Cyclists should keep at least half a metre away from the kerb, and likewise drivers must keep at least 1.5 metres space between up to 30mph. The faster you drive the more room you should leave!

Whiplash reforms

As a personal injury lawyer, I find myself musing over these changes and if there is any connection with the ‘whiplash’ reforms introduced by the Ministry of Justice in May last year.

These further reforms introduced a tariff of compensation which applies to injuries suffered by anyone involved in a road traffic accident and who suffered ‘whiplash’ injuries to the neck, back and shoulders.

What appears coincidental to me is that these changes in the Highway Code, all apply to those classified as ‘vulnerable road users’ under the MOJ reforms installed in May 2021, such as cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians. By virtue of being classed as vulnerable road users, these road users are in fact exempt from the ‘whiplash reforms’, and as such protected from the rather draconian reforms.

These changes in the Highway Code, may well lead to a regrettable increase in road traffic accidents (and possibly even more driving prosecutions) involving these vulnerable road users, certainly whilst all road users adjust to these changes, and any one affected should be aware of their rights under these changes.

However, if these changes increase safety for all on the roads then they should be welcomed.

We can help

If you have any personal injury enquiries including road traffic accident claims, please contact Steve Hennegan, who specialises in road traffic accidents, accidents at work and claims brought on behalf of families who have sadly lost a family member due to an accident.

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