Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Cracking the Code



If you’re a UK resident or driver, the Highway Code needs no introduction. Unsurprising, perhaps, given that it was first published 91 years ago, and has been a necessary part of every UK learner driver’s homework for close to a century.


Published to coincide with the Road Traffic Act 1930, it was, let’s say, a timely publication  At the beginning of the 20th century driving was an unregulated activity: there were no driving licences, no driving tests, and no minimum age.


By the year the Code was first published, there were 2.3 million motor vehicles sharing Britain’s roads with pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-drawn vehicles. But the glamorous world of the motor vehicle was a dangerous one: around 7000 people died annually in accidents. To put that in perspective, in 2019, when over 40 million motor vehicles were on British roads, the number of fatalities was 1870.


Needless to say, over the last near-century, British roads, vehicles, and road users have changed immeasurably, as has the Code itself. The first edition featured just 21 pages;; today’s Code has 212. Note: for a fascinating look at the history of the Highway Code and British motoring, take a look at Historic England Blog’s 'The Untold Story of the Highway Code.'


Despite its importance in helping to educate drivers in road etiquette and law, the Highway Code tends to be something pored over by learners in order to pass their theory test, then all but forgotten for the rest of their driving life. Which, no doubt, explains a lot …


But even if the Code isn’t part of your regular reading list, this year it sees some important changes that all drivers need to be aware of. Along with around 50 updates to the nearly 300 existing rules, eight new rules will be introduced. Some of these aim to create and clarify a 'hierarchy of road users' that prioritises those most at risk of serious collisions – cyclists, horse riders, pedestrians, etc – while other changes cover things such as the use of technology.


The new rules will roll-out from the end of January 2022, and whilst they have been planned for some time, awareness of these changes among UK drivers is very low: two-thirds of drivers, new and old alike, are totally unaware of the coming changes, with an even greater number unaware of the new rules being added. Whilst the more minor changes probably won’t make a big difference to your everyday driving, some of the new rules, which apply to how you share the road with other users, almost certainly will. And, as the courts say, ignorance is no excuse.


So, what are these changes and how will they affect you? We won't cover all the changes here (although we do recommend that you familiarise yourself with the proposed changes on the UK Government website), but let’s take a look at some of the most relevant changes we expect to be included.


Hierarchy of Road Users 

A new concept to the Code, the hierarchy places road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top. In a nutshell, those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others. It doesn’t remove the necessity for ALL road users to behave responsibly – and the Code has plenty of examples of how to behave on the roads – but it does mean that we should all be much more aware of the danger we may pose to road users more vulnerable than ourselves, and our responsibilities towards them. 






Pedestrians and cyclists are at the top of the hierarchy, as these are the most vulnerable road users. HGVs and large passenger vehicles are the least vulnerable, so they have lower priority.


Rules H1, H2 and H3 (all new) detail and expand on the Hierarchy of Road Users:

Rule H1 

  • 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. 
  • Everyone suffers when road collisions occur, whether they are physically injured or not. But those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles. 
  • Cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse drawn vehicles likewise have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians. 
  • None of this detracts from the responsibility of ALL road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety. 
  • Always remember that the people you encounter may have impaired sight, hearing or mobility and that this may not be obvious.

Rule H2

This is for all non-pedestrian road users, and makes a number of significant changes. The rule states:

  • At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning. 
  • You MUST give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing (see Rule 195). 
  • Pedestrians have priority when on a zebra crossing, on a parallel crossing or at light controlled crossings when they have a green signal. 
  • You should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing. 
  • Horse riders should also give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing. 
  • Cyclists should give way to pedestrians on shared use cycle tracks and to horse riders on bridleways.
  • Only pedestrians may use the pavement. Pedestrians include wheelchair and mobility scooter users.
  • Pedestrians may use any part of the road and use cycle tracks as well as the pavement, unless there are signs prohibiting pedestrians.

Rule H3

Rule for drivers and motorcyclists. 

  • You should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle. This applies whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them. 
  • Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist, horse rider or horse drawn vehicle going straight ahead to stop or swerve. 
  • You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary. This includes when cyclists are: 
    • approaching, passing or moving off from a junction
    • moving past or waiting alongside stationary or slow-moving traffic
    • travelling around a roundabout
Another change that all drivers need to be aware of relates to overtaking cyclists and horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles. While there has been a rule to provide a 'safe distance' (often described as 'a car door’s width') when overtaking, the Code now explicitly states minimum distances:

Rule 163

  • give motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 215). As a guide: 
  • leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph, and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds
  • pass horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allow at least 2 metres space
  • allow at least 2 metres space and keep to a low speed when passing a pedestrian who is walking in the road (e.g. where there is no pavement)
  • take extra care and give more space when overtaking motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians in bad weather (including high winds) and at night
  • you should wait behind the motorcyclist, cyclist, horse rider, horse drawn vehicle or pedestrian and not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances

There are plenty of other updates, so here’s a few that have caught the Velocisti’s eye:

Mostly covering the safe parking and exiting of your vehicle, Rule 239 now includes the 'Dutch Reach,' which may be familiar to the cyclists among you:

  • where you are able to do so, you should open the door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening; for example, use your left hand to open a door on your right-hand side. This will make you turn your head to look over your shoulder. You are then more likely to avoid causing injury to cyclists or motorcyclists passing you on the road, or to people on the pavement

With technology making huge inroads into every area of driving, and at a rapid rate, and Rule 239 also includes the following rule for electric vehicle owners:

  • When using an electric vehicle charge point, you should park close to the charge point and avoid creating a trip hazard for pedestrians from trailing cables. Display a warning sign if you can. After using the charge point, you should return charging cables and connectors neatly to minimise the danger to pedestrians and avoid creating an obstacle for other road users.

More big changes planned for 2022


While the Highway Code may be the most pressing matter in terms of driver awareness and affecting road users, there are some other big legislative changes touted for 2022 that will also affect UK drivers. These aren’t all done deals, but it’s certain you’ll see some of these changes brought into effect this year. 

From using your mobile, to renewing your licence, and even GPS controlled speed limiters, we’ll be taking a look at some of these potential changes in our next blog post.