Transport Secretary Grant Shapps recently announced a raft of changes to the Highway Code to improve road safety for vulnerable road users.
The changes, which are due to receive parliamentary approval this autumn, will prioritise pedestrians and cyclists over cars.
The Department for Transport (DfT) says the new Highway Code will include a ‘hierarchy’ of road users. Those road users who could do the most significant harm (e.g., heavy goods vehicles) will have the “greater responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.”
The hierarchy in order of priority will be:
- Horse riders
- Large passenger and heavy goods vehicles
Under the current Highway Code, drivers only give way when pedestrians step onto a zebra crossing. However, the new rules provide vulnerable road users with priority. At junctions, drivers must ensure anyone above them in the hierarchy are not crossing the junction, waiting to cross, or are approaching the junction and likely to cross. The driver must pause and allow them to cross safely before proceeding.
The new rules also give cyclists priority when travelling straight ahead at junctions. In practice, if you are driving beside a cyclist, you have a greater responsibility as the motorist to ensure the cyclist’s safety because you are driving the more dangerous vehicle. Drivers must now wait until cyclists have made their move rather than driving alongside them or in front of them.
The changes have been welcomed by the charity Living Streets, which campaigns for a better walking environment in towns and cities.
Stephen Edwards, the charity’s interim chief executive, said:
“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.” He also said that people walking are the least dangerous road users but are “often left paying the price” of other people’s actions.
Implications for personal injury claims
“Road traffic accidents are a leading cause of death and severe harm, such as brain and head injuries and spinal injuries. Any initiatives to improve road safety and reduce the number of serious collisions are welcomed.
“The courts have long recognised a hierarchy of road users with the most vulnerable at the top, but we all have a responsibility to prevent accidents and ensure the safety of others.
“It remains to be seen if the changes will result in tougher questions being asked of drivers involved in road traffic accidents and how the new rules affect the apportioning of blame and how much ‘contributory negligence’ more vulnerable users are given. This could result in significant implications for future personal injury claims involving drivers and pedestrians or cyclists.”
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