Changes to the Highway Code – What do they mean for you?

As a Personal Injury solicitor who exclusively acts for injured people, I have read much of the press coverage of the changes to the Highway Code with some alarm...

17 February 2022

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As a Personal Injury solicitor who exclusively acts for injured people, I have read much of the press coverage of the changes to the Highway Code with some alarm – as the protection of vulnerable road users is decried by some and completely incorrect information is being shared by others.

A full list of the actual changes to the Highway Code can be found here and these came into force on 29 January 2022.

Many think that the Code is something to be memorised when learning to drive, to be forgotten thereafter. In fact, some rules represent legal duties – those rules state what must be done. Failure to follow those rules is a criminal offence. Failure to adhere to rules which state what should or may be done can be used to demonstrate a failure to follow traffic laws. Breaches may be relevant in determining civil liability for injuries caused in a collision.

The most significant change to the Code is the Hierarchy of Road Users. Previous versions encouraged all road users to be “considerate towards each other”, emphasising “this applies to pedestrians as much as to drivers and riders”. The new Code still emphasises the need to be considerate but places “those most at risk in the event of a collision” at the top of the Hierarchy. This includes “pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists… children, older adults and disabled people.”

The revised Code highlights that “those in charge of vehicles which can cause the greatest harm bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others”. This is not a new concept in the civil courts. In determining liability for an accident the courts have long considered the balance of moral blameworthiness of the parties and the potential for each parties to do harm to each other in assessing who is at fault. The courts typically apply a high burden to drivers of motor vehicles to reflect that such a vehicle is “potentially a dangerous weapon” (e.g. in Lunt v Khalifa, referring to a car).

There has been some rancour about the new rules relating to cyclists and pedestrians. The focus of the revised Code is on protecting the most vulnerable. At a time when cycling injuries and deaths on the roads are on the rise (compared to a decrease in deaths and injuries in car accidents), any moves to protect these road users should be welcomed.

Cyclists

The revised Code states that cyclists can increase their visibility to others by cycling in the centre of their lane (not the road, as has been reported) and keeping at least 0.5 metres from the kerb. Cyclists may also ride two abreast, if it is safer for them to do so. Cyclists going straight ahead at a junction now have priority over traffic waiting to turn in or out of a side road.

Cyclists are not obliged to use cycle lanes or tracks – that is for the individual cyclist to decide on based on their experience and confidence. I have not been able to find any rule change which allows cyclists to run red lights, as has been reported.

Pedestrians

There are new rules requiring all road users (including cyclists and horseriders) to stop for pedestrians at marked crossings.

In addition, drivers should give priority to pedestrians, when turning into or from a side road, where a pedestrian is waiting to cross or is crossing. This change has caused some consternation. As this is a ‘should’ rule, not a ‘must’ rule, it does not drastically change the previous Code, which required drivers to give priority to pedestrians who had already begun to cross.

The ‘Dutch Reach’

The Code has always stated that drivers must not hit anyone when opening their door and the revised Code now states that drivers should implement the ‘Dutch Reach’ – using their opposite hand to open their door (e.g. right hand to left door) to turn to look over their shoulder when opening their door to avoid hitting cyclists, motorcyclists or pedestrians.

There are also new rules for vulnerable road users, which encourage them to take care and, crucially, ensure they can be seen (by wearing appropriate clothing, carrying/wearing a light or crossing the road sensibly). The Code explicitly protects the most vulnerable, but those road users are still expected to take care of themselves to a reasonable degree.

Any measures that encourage all road users to take greater care of those at more risk of injury than themselves is to be welcomed. I would encourage all road users to acquaint themselves with the changes to make sure they understand the duties that they are under to ensure that the most vulnerable are given the consideration and protection that they are entitled to, to prevent needless injury and deaths on the roads.

If you have been in an accident and want to pursue a claim, get in touch with personal injury team today.

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Senior Associate

Michaela Guthrie