Cyclists and walkers to have greater priority with new changes to Highway Code


Cyclists and pedestrians will be granted greater priority over motorists on the road, as new changes to the Highway Code come into play this autumn. The changes were first announced on 29th July by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, and will come into force after receiving parliamentary approval.

In 2018, a safety review conducted by the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy identified the need to improve safety for road users who were deemed ‘the most vulnerable’, including cyclists, walkers and horse riders.

As a result of the review, the government have introduced plans to implement a new set of rules within the Highway Code which gives more priority to vulnerable road users, while making motorists have a greater responsibility for collective road safety.

A few key features of the new Highway Code changes include:

  • A new ‘hierarchy of responsibility’ on the road. This will place walkers at the top of the hierarchy and motorists at the bottom.
  • Walkers will be given greater priority over motorists at junctions and crossings (they currently only have priority at zebra crossings).
  • Cyclists will be given priority over motorists at junctions, but only if they are travelling straight ahead.

The new hierarchy of responsibility

As stated on the government website, the introduction of the hierarchy of responsibility will be reflective of the potential danger that the specific road user can cause: ‘road users who can do the greatest harm [will now] have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.’

This effectively means that those driving cars, vans or lorries will be at the bottom of the hierarchy, and therefore will have a greater responsibility for road safety of those around them, compared to walkers and cyclists, who are at the top.

These changes to the Highway Code have been met with support from groups such as Living Streets, a UK charity which campaign for safe, everyday walking.

Stephen Edwards, Interim CEO, says ‘The Highway Code currently treats children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people’s safety. These changes will redress that balance.

‘Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm should take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose.’

Concerns over the new Highway Code changes

The new Highway Code changes have caused some concern with organisations such as the Road Haulage Association (RHA). Chief Executive Richard Burnett has stated that ‘making a driver (motorist or commercial vehicle driver) who has no control over how a cyclist is trained to use the roads responsible for the safety of others is inherently unjust.

‘The rules around pedestrian priority make sense, the change for cyclists increases road danger and collision risk. The hierarchy of risk created by the operation of cars, vans, coaches, buses and lorries is already reflected in the additional ongoing training undertaken by lorry and coach drivers.’

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