New Changes to the Highway Code – What are they and why should we care?

Changes to the Highway Code came into effect on 29 January 2022. 50 rules have been added or updated to not only heighten awareness of road risks, but to bring greater accountability for those who pose a higher risk to other road users.

Why the need for these changes to the Highway Code in 2022?

The Highway Code is actually 90 years old, but it has been updated hundreds of times since it was originally published. The changes in 2022 are all centred around improving road safety for everyone, particularly those most vulnerable. With more cars on our roads than ever before (82% of all road users) and data showing that cars and motorised vehicles pose the most threat to other road users, it’s no surprise that most of the changes will affect drivers.

Data driven change

Here’s a snippet of some key data that backs the need for change.

High number of deaths and injuries on our roads: Figures from the Department for Transport show that 4,290 pedestrians and 4,700 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on UK roads from the start of 2020 to June 2021. 

Levels of danger by travel mode: An independent report by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety for 2019, when 1,752 people lost their lives, produced some stark data which highlighted the level of danger imposed on other road users by each major travel mode. Below are a few graphics showing some of the data they gathered. 

Motorised vehicles pose the biggest threat: A total of three people in motorised vehicles were killed in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists in 2019. By contrast, 517 pedestrians and cyclists were killed in incidents involving motorised vehicles.

It was clear from this data that cars and motorised vehicles are more likely to be involved in collisions that cause a death in Britain. When put like that, the decision to formalise a hierarchy of road users in this latest update to the Code makes complete sense.

So what are the Highway Code changes that affect cyclists most?

As a cyclist, here are the key changes to the Highway Code that you should be aware of:

  • 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. For example, a person cycling assumes responsibility to look out for the safety of those walking. 
  • Positioning of cyclists: Cyclists should make themselves as visible as possible by riding in the centre of lanes (primary position) on quiet roads, on narrow sections of roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions. 
  • Cycling in groups: The new text provides clarity about cycling two abreast. It says that people cycling can ride two abreast as it can be safer to do so, but should be considerate of the needs of other road users when in groups. 
  • 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 and at least two metres are required when overtaking people who are walking on roads without pavements. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pedestrians crossing: People driving, riding a motorcycle or cycling 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 onto the crossing.
  • Opening car doors: Car occupants should open doors using their hand which is closest to the centre of the vehicle when seated, making them turn their head to look over their shoulder. Also known as the Dutch reach, this technique reduces the chances of doors being opened into the path of cyclists and motorcyclists.
  • Roundabouts: Drivers should take extra care when entering roundabouts to make sure they do not cut across cyclists.

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Why should we care about the changes to the Highway Code?

It’s important to remember that in the UK, we do have some of the safest roads in the world. But with the number of deaths and serious injuries on the rise, as well as the growing number of cars and cyclists on the roads, more clarity is welcomed by a lot of people.

Simply put, we all share the roads and we all want to travel from A to B safely. Most of the above changes are plain common sense and many have been part of the Code for years. Having more clarity around a few historic points of contention will hopefully make the roads a safer place for everyone.

It’s important to remember as well that many of the rules in the Highway Code are legal requirements. And other rules, whilst not strictly offences in and of themselves, could be used as evidence in court proceedings to establish liability. Stricter penalties, such as unlimited fines as well as licence points have also been introduced around some of the rules.

How have the changes been received?

The answer to that is it depends upon the media you read and the networks you belong to! There was certainly a lot of confusion initially and a general lack of awareness of the changes. In January, a campaign launched the changes which gained traction in the national media, but there hasn’t yet been a full government-backed campaign.

As with any change, the Code updates were met with mixed reactions. However, they are here to stay and it’s everyone’s responsibility to stay up to date with changes to the Code and follow them!

It’s perhaps too early to say what impacts the changes have had on our roads as it will take time for them to filter through and for people to actually follow them. We’re certainly not expecting a difference overnight. Once the dust has settled a little, we’ll check back in and share our findings with you.