Highway Code changes give priority to cyclists and walkers


Long-awaited changes to the Highway Code finally came into force on 28th January, bringing with them a new ‘hierarchy of responsibility’ for motorists, cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians.

According to the government website, the new hierarchy of responsibility will mean that ‘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 is important information for anybody using public roads, especially those who drive. With the new changes, motorists now have a greater overall responsibility for road safety than walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Essentially, this is because those driving a vehicle have the ability to cause more damage than, say, a pedestrian enjoying an afternoon stroll.

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There are additional changes to the Highway Code which road users should be aware of, including:

  • Greater priority given to pedestrians at junctions and crossings (they currently only have priority at zebra crossings).
  • Priority given to cyclists at junctions if they are travelling straight ahead.
  • Cyclists making themselves ‘as visible as possible’ by riding in the middle of quieter lanes, when approaching junctions and when traffic is moving slowly.
  • Cyclists being permitted to pass vehicles on either the right or left side in slow-moving or stationary traffic.

These rules have been introduced in response to the Cycling and Walking investment strategy safety review, which took place in 2018. A 12-week consultation was also held in July 2020, with 21,000 participants taking part to give their say on what changes were needed for the Highway Code, including rules on pedestrian priority on pavements and guidance on safe passing distances for vehicles overtaking cyclists.

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A mixed response to the new Highway Code changes

The changes, first announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on 29th July 2021, have been met with mixed responses by road users across the board.

Many road users have reported confusion on the roads as motorists and cyclists alike get used to the new rules. Jason Wakeford, from road safety charity Brake, said: ‘It’s vital that government works hard to promote the Highway Code changes, to help all road users understand the new rules and our shared responsibility to reduce deaths and serious injuries.’

The need for wider knowledge on the Highway Code changes is clear, especially in the early stages of these changes taking place. The Department for Transport has announced an awareness campaign taking place for the new rules, which will take place across radio and social media, with ‘further activity [taking] place in the summer.’

Hopefully, as road users become more aware of the new changes, we’ll move towards people feeling safer on the roads no matter what form of transport they take.

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