Highway Code changes – are you aware of the new rules?

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There are significant Highway Code changes happening this week. The new rules come into force on 29 January, but are you aware of the changes?

If you are not fully aware of the rules revamp, you are not alone. A recent survey by The AA of 13,700 drivers found that a third (33%) did not know the Highway Code was being updated. Some 4% said they had “no intention” of looking at the details.

In today’s blog, Hannah Carr, from our Salisbury team outlines how the changes will affect cyclists, pedestrians, horse riders and other road users.

This week’s Highway Code changes include the introduction of a hierarchy of road users, which aims to create ‘clearer and stronger priorities’ for road users most at risk of serious collisions, such as cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.

The new hierarchy is to ensure those who can do the most harm to road users have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose.  Drivers of large passenger vehicles and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will have the “greater responsibility to reduce the danger posed to other road users.”

Other important changes to the Code include:

  • Drivers should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road, and pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing
  • Drivers should give priority to cyclists when travelling straight ahead
  • Guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists and horse riders
  • Introduction of a new ‘Dutch Reach’ technique which tells motorists how to open the door of their vehicle while looking over their shoulder

What do the changes mean in practice?

  • Drivers no longer have priority at junctions

BEFORE the changes: Drivers had priority at junctions unless the other road user was half-way across the junction.

AFTER: The new Highway Code now makes it clear that if you’re turning at a junction and there’s a cyclist, horse-rider, scooter or pedestrian ready or preparing to cross, these more vulnerable road users have right of way.

  • All traffic must stop for pedestrians waiting at crossings

BEFORE the changes: Cyclists, drivers and horse riders only had to stop at zebra and parallel crossings if someone was already walking across, with the advice to slow down when approaching a zebra crossing, in anticipation of pedestrians.

AFTER: The 2022 Highway Code has been updated so cyclists, drivers and horse riders are legally required to stop at zebra crossings if people are waiting to cross, not just if they are already crossing.

  • Cyclists can ride wherever they feel most visible

BEFORE the changes: Cyclists were only required to ride on the left and ensure bike lights were used at night.

AFTER: The new Code means that cyclists will have to ride no less than half a metre from the verge or kerb, ‘further where it is safer’ and motorists must pass cyclists with at least 1.5 metres space up to 30mph with more distance required for higher speeds.

In addition, cyclists are expected to pull to the left on quieter roads, slower-moving traffic, and busy junctions, to ensure safer overtaking opportunities.

  • Drivers must wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists

 BEFORE the changes: There was no requirement for motorists to treat cyclists as though they were other vehicles.

AFTER: When the new Code comes into force this week, drivers are advised against turning in a way that ‘cuts across’ cyclists’ right of way. They are also asked to consider cyclists like another motor vehicle.

  • The ‘Dutch Reach’ is the recommended method for leaving your vehicle

BEFORE the changes: it was previously recommended that drivers check mirrors and over their shoulders for any oncoming traffic.

AFTER: In a Highway Code first, drivers have now been given specific advice on how to exit their vehicles safely.

To reduce the number of cyclists hit by car doors swinging open unexpectedly, the Highway Code has introduced the ‘Dutch Reach’ method.  This involves drivers (or passengers) opening their door with the hand further from the door. The method prompts the driver or passenger to turn their bodies and heads to look over their shoulder and be more mindful of passing cyclists.

What will be the impact of the new Highway Code?

The Department for Transport says the new system will pave the way for a “more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use.”

Hannah Carr says:

“The proposed changes are welcome to reduce the number of road traffic casualties, particularly among vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. However, it is essential that all road users are educated about these changes if our roads are to become safer.

“Getting the message across to all who need to hear it is vital. The rule changes affect everyone – not just motorists. While the Government has announced it will launch a THINK! awareness-raising campaign, it’s a concern that so many drivers are still unaware of the Highway Code changes and don’t fully understand the implications just days before the new rules become enforceable.

“As the way we use our roads changes and we continue to see a rise in cyclists, growing numbers of e-scooter riders and in time, the use of automated vehicles, it’s vital the Highway Code keeps up with an evolving landscape. But we need any changes in legislation to be clearly communicated as effectively and widely as possible.”

What does the Highway Code changes mean for personal injury claims?

The changes in the Code will almost certainly give rise to changes in the Courts’ approach to issues of liability between motorists on the one hand and cyclists and pedestrians on the other.

It is likely that if an incident occurs, the Courts will apportion blame to the road user who “can do the greatest harm’ unless proven otherwise.

The full list of the Highway Code rule changes can be viewed on the government website.

 If you have been injured in a road traffic accident that was someone else’s fault and you are looking for expert legal advice, please get in touch with one of our expert solicitors. Call us on Freephone 0800 884 0777, email info@novumlaw.com or complete our online enquiry form.

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