What are the new changes to the Highway Code?

Rachael Stibbe

Senior Associate

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August 31, 2021

Categories Personal Injury Claims

Changes have been proposed to the Highway Code to be published this Autumn following a review to improve road safety for vulnerable road users. A summary of the main changes can be viewed here.

A consultation which concluded at the end of October 2020 generated nearly 21,000 responses and the majority were in favour of all the changes proposed, believing that they would improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders. The consultation outcome showing the Government’s review of the Highway Code can be viewed here:

General changes

These changes will apply to many sections of the Highway Code covering general rules, waiting/parking, using the road as well as vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and animals to give them more protection on the road. A new Hierarchy of Road Users will be introduced to the Highway Code which ensures that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to other road users.

The new hierarchy would be in the order of which road users are most likely to be harmed in the event of a collision as follows:-

• Pedestrians (including children, older adults and disabled people)
• Cyclists
• Horse riders
• Motorcyclists
• Cars/taxis
• Vans/minibuses
• Large passenger vehicles/heavy goods vehicles

The Hierarchy does not remove the requirement for all road users to behave responsibly. The new Highway code will say that it is important that ALL road users are aware of The Highway Code, are considerate to other road users and understand their responsibility for the safety of others.

Rules for pedestrians

Changes will introduce clearer and stronger rights of way for pedestrians, particularly at junctions and make it clearer when pedestrians have the right of way. Changes will introduce a new requirement for drivers and riders to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a side road or junction, or waiting to cross at a zebra crossing. Currently, drivers and riders turning into a road at a junction must only give way to pedestrians if they have started to cross and must only give way at zebra crossings if a pedestrian has moved onto the crossing. Essentially, this now gives pedestrians a general right of way to cross at side roads, junctions and zebra crossings even if there is close oncoming traffic.

This means that drivers and riders must be even more vigilant to pedestrians because pedestrians will now have the right of way and step out into their path without warning and it will be difficult to avoid liability.

Rules for cyclists

The new changes also place a requirement on drivers to give way to cyclists including when they are turning into/out of junctions or changing direction or lane. Drivers will also be required to give way to cyclists in cycle lanes including when approaching from behind and give priority on roundabouts. As the emphasis in the new Hierarchy is to place a greater duty of care on road users that can cause more harm i.e. drivers and riders, presumably we will see a reduction in accidents involving cyclists.

Cyclists will be recommended to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross the road or at junctions and procedures will be recommended to them for cycling at roundabouts and road positioning. Cyclists will also be advised to adopt a middle position in their lane in order to be seen and only move to the left to allow traffic to overtake only if it is safe to do so.

Changes to the highway code for cyclists will also include strengthening the value of safety training and of using a cycle helmet to reduce the risk of head injury.

Guidance is also to be given to cyclists in shared spaces. They will be warned in shared spaces not to approach pedestrians behind at speed, or too close and to take care when passing by- especially with children, older adults and disabled people. The changes encourage cyclists to use a bell and shout a polite warning. They will also be warned that horses can be startled when passing them without warning. Cyclists will be warned they must ensure they are considerate towards horse riders.

The changes will also make it clear that cyclists are expected to be prepared to slow or stop if necessary. If an accident is caused by a cyclist, the injured party will struggle to claim their losses from them if the cyclist is not insured, and there is still no legal requirement for cyclists to have insurance. Whilst cyclists are a vulnerable road user themselves, pedestrians are more vulnerable so will have priority according to the new hierarchy.

Rules about animals

The changes will introduce a suggestion that those new to horse riding, or those that have not ridden for some time should consider taking their Ride Safe Award from the British Horse Society. It is not a legal requirement to have insurance to take a horse out onto the road which means that horse riders may not be insured in which case they would be personally liable for any injury damage or loss caused by them (or their horse) to a third party.

Waiting and parking

The Highway Code is known to contradict in places. For example, drivers are warned to take care when opening their doors in case another road user is close by, but equally road users are warned not to get to close to vehicles in case a door suddenly opens into their path. A change will be introduced, the first of which is to introduce the ‘Dutch Reach’ when opening a door and will advise the driver/passenger to open the door using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening, which will make them turn their head to look over their shoulder. The reason given is that they are then more likely to avoid causing injury others passing by. Presumably, we should see a decline in vehicle door accidents which often end up settling on a 50/50 split liability basis for lack of evidence.

What do people think?

The change was welcomed by Living Streets, a charity which advocates more walkable 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 said people walking are the least dangerous road users but are “often left paying the price” of other people’s actions. Everyone would benefit, he says, as everyone is a pedestrian on some occasions, even if they drive or cycle at other times.

Ineos Grenadiers team principal Sir Dave Brailsford has welcomed the changes: “Cycling has had a real boost during the pandemic as people of all ages have recognised its many benefits and it is a real positive that the government are making cycling such a transport priority for the future. Getting on your bike is great for your health and it’s also great for the environment so there has never been a better time to get pedalling.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said cycling and walking help people keep fit, reduce congestion and help the environment, so he was determined to keep the trend going by making them easier and safer.

Possible impact on future litigation and motor claims

Only time will tell as to whether or not the changes reduce the number of accidents and therefore motor claims each year. If they do, then no doubt we will expect to see a reduction in our motor premiums as insurers should not be paying out so much on claims each year.

On the other hand, the changes have still left a potentially ambiguous defence as they make it clear that all road users should be aware of The Highway Code, are considerate to other road users and understand their responsibility for the safety of others. What is to stop insurers pretty much pleading this as standard if their driver or rider is involved in an accident in involving a vulnerable road user to try and reduce pay outs?

Although these changes to the Highway Code focus on the most vulnerable road users and establish new clear priorities when using the road, further away from the Code, unless and until the Government makes it a mandatory requirement to have third party insurance when using the road as a horse rider or cyclist, I do not personally think that sufficient protection is being provided to third parties involved in a road accident involving a cyclist or horse rider who is at fault. This includes vulnerable road users who are victims in accidents involving cyclists or horse riders and is a longstanding gap that surely needs closing.

Finally, whilst encouraged in the changes, it is still not a legal requirement for cyclists to wear a cycle helmet, which would protect against head injuries in some accidents and reduce injuries and claims. This is also something that should be introduced given how high up cyclists are on the new hierarchy. The same goes with horse riders, who over the age of 14 years old are also not legally obliged to wear a hat despite campaigns and despite there rather ironically being strict rules in place for the safety standards requirements of a riding hat.

For advice about claims for compensation following a road traffic accident, contact Associate Rachael Stibbe who specialises in personal injury claims on 01227 763939.