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The Highway Code: Have the 2022 changes made a difference?

In 2022, the Highway Code changed to prioritise the safety of vulnerable road users. The changes applied to drivers and their behaviour towards vulnerable road users. Some of the changes included increasing overtaking distance, and giving priority to pedestrians crossing at junctions.

Organisations believe that there’s not enough awareness of the Highway Code changes. Are you aware of the changes?

Traffic with pedestrians and cyclists


Have the Highway Code changes made a difference to road safety?

The Highway Code changed in 2022 to make vulnerable road users like cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders feel safer. 

But the British Horse Society (BHS) says more work needs to be done to make sure drivers are informed about the Highway Code changes.

The organisation's Dead Slow campaign revealed that 3,552 road accidents involving horses were reported to the BHS in 2022. Sadly, 68 horses died and 125 were injured due to motorists. 

Alan Hiscox, director of safety at the BHS, said:

“Horses are still being killed and injured on our roads, riders continue to be seriously injured and too many drivers underestimate the importance of driving carefully around horses. This is detrimental to the safety of equestrians. You only have to look at the 68 horses who were tragically killed across the UK in 2022.”

“Our fear is that guidelines aren’t being clearly explained and delivered, this needs to change. Urgent action is required to make every road user aware of the Highway Code changes and, critically, why it’s so important to pass horses with care. Only through working collaboratively to educate and drive awareness will we be able to stop these awful incidents from happening over and over again.”

Its campaign aims to highlight the correct procedure for passing horses on busy roads:

  • Slow down to a maximum of 10 mph
  • Be patient - don’t sound a horn or rev your engine
  • Pass wide - give horses at least 2 metres and pass them slowly
  • Drive slowly away from the horses

Cyclists seem to have similar worries about the changes. A poll by cycling insurance specialist Cycleplan revealed that 32% said they felt unsafe on the roads even after the new changes. 33% said they have had or almost had an accident on the roads in the last year. 

Our research in 2022 showed that 60%* of us never check the Highway Code for updates, but it also seems that vulnerable road users don’t either.

Cycleplan’s survey also showed that 15% of cyclists weren’t aware of the changes to the Highway Code. This could lead to serious safety concerns for both drivers and cyclists.

Government data reflects the worries of each organisation. A total of 35,551 pedestrians and cyclists were either killed or injured on the road in 2022. Although high, this number is less than pre-pandemic levels. 

Organisations like the BHS, Living Streets and Cycling UK have recognised that there needs to be more awareness of the Highway Code to promote the safety of vulnerable road users. Here are the 8 changes you should be aware of.


1. Changes to the hierarchy of road users

The hierarchy of road users changed to make vulnerable road users feel safer on the road. Pedestrians sit at the top of the hierarchy, followed by cyclists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles.

The changes urge drivers to pay close attention to vulnerable road users by giving extra distance and prioritising their safety if they’re sharing the road. 

But everyone on the road must take into account their own safety, and the safety of other road users. 

It’s important that all road users:

  • Are aware of The Highway Code
  • Are considerate to other road users
  • Understand their responsibility for the safety of others

Neglecting to know the Highway Code could be used against you if you have an accident and it's found to be your fault. You might also face an expensive car insurance claim and maybe even points on your licence.

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2. Give way to pedestrians crossing at junctions

If pedestrians are crossing or waiting at a junction, drivers should give way and allow them to cross. 

When turning into a road, if you notice a pedestrian waiting to cross, you should allow the pedestrian to cross before turning into the road. 

If you’re driving to a junction and you notice a pedestrian waiting to cross, you have to allow them to cross before you reach the junction. 

Motorists, motorcyclists and cyclists must give way to pedestrians at a zebra crossing. This rule applied before the changes, but the Highway Code has emphasised this further in the update.

Motorists and motorcyclists must give way to cyclists on a parallel crossing too - these are similar to zebra crossings but with a cycle lane.


3. Overtaking a vulnerable road user if you’re driving or cycling

If you're driving, you can overtake a horse rider or cyclist if they’re travelling under 10 mph. This is provided that the lanes are marked with a double white line and that it’s safe to do so.

Passing distances also changed: 

  • If you’re overtaking a cyclist at 30 mph, you should leave at least 1.5 metres (5 feet). Give cyclists even more space if you’re travelling at a higher speed.
  • If you’re overtaking riders or horse-drawn vehicles you should leave at least 2 metres (6.5 feet). Horses can spook easily, so you shouldn’t pass them at speeds over 10 mph.
  • Allow 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space between you and any pedestrian that’s walking in the road - for example if there’s no pavement.

You shouldn’t overtake unless you’re able to maintain this distance while passing.


4. Driving on a roundabout with cyclists, riders or horse-drawn vehicles

The Highway Code update says If you’re driving on a roundabout, you should give priority to:

  • Cyclists
  • Horse riders
  • Horse-drawn vehicles

Cyclists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles should stay in the left-hand lane of the roundabout. This applies even if they’re going across or around the roundabout. 

People driving a car or riding a motorbike should:

  • Not attempt to overtake a cyclist or rider in their lane
  • Allow cyclists or riders to move across their lane as they travel around the roundabout

When entering a roundabout, drivers shouldn’t cut across vulnerable road users who are continuing around the roundabout in the left hand lane. 


5. Leaving your vehicle safely

The Highway Code is encouraging motorists to use a new technique when leaving a vehicle. 

When you’re parked and about to leave the vehicle, you should open the door using the hand opposite to the door you’re opening. 

For example, if you were opening the door on your right, you’d use your left hand to open it.

This technique is sometimes called the ‘Dutch reach’. 

The technique makes drivers turn their head to look over their shoulder and behind them. This means they’re more likely to see a cyclist, motorcyclist or pedestrian before they open the door. 


6. Electric car charging rules

 The Highway Code has also brought in new rules for electric cars.

Drivers should park closely to the charging point, making sure that the charging cables don’t create a trip hazard.

While your EV is charging you should display a warning sign if you can. 

Once you’ve finished charging, return the cables and connectors so it’s not an obstacle for other road users.


7. Highway Code changes for cyclists 

Although the following Highway Code rules apply to cyclists, it’s good for drivers to be aware of these.


Passing slow or stationary traffic

If you’re cycling and you’re passing slow or stationary traffic you can pass them on the right or left. But you should use caution as drivers might not be able to see you. Remember this particularly when:

  • You’re approaching junctions
  • Deciding whether to pass lorries or other large vehicles

Position in the road in certain circumstances

You should position yourself in the centre of the lane:

  • On quiet roads
  • In slow moving traffic
  • At the approach to a junction or if the road narrows

On busy roads with fast moving traffic, keep 0.5 metres (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb.


Cyclists riding in groups

If you’re cycling in a group, you should ride 2 abreast. The Highway Code mentions that this technique could be safer, particularly if you’re cycling with young people or inexperienced cyclists.

If you’re cycling 2 abreast and you notice someone driving behind you, try to move into single file or stop, if it's safe. You can then allow them to overtake.

If you’re cycling in a group, you need to be aware of road users that are more vulnerable than you. For example, pedestrians.


Cycling past parked vehicles

If you’re cycling past a parked vehicle, leave at least a door’s width (around 1 metre) between yourself and the car. 

Make sure you look out for pedestrians walking between parked cars and into your path too.


Cyclists at junctions

If you’re cycling into or out of a side road, you should give way to people crossing or waiting to cross. 

There are also new traffic light systems for cyclists at junctions that mean cyclists can move separately from traffic.

If you’re cycling at a junction with no dedicated traffic lights, you should position yourself at the centre of your lane if you can do this safely. This means that:

  • You’re as visible as possible
  • You may avoid being overtaken where this could be dangerous

Cyclists also have priority when going straight ahead at junctions. If traffic is waiting to turn into or out of a road, cyclists going straight ahead have priority. 

As always, be aware of vehicles that might cross your path, as they may not have seen you. 

You can find more information on GOV.UK on further Highway Code updates that apply to cyclists.


8. Walking, riding or cycling in a shared space

There are also Highway Code changes for people in shared spaces like parks. 

Cyclists, horse riders and people driving horse-drawn vehicles should make sure they’re considering the safety of pedestrians. 

If you’re cycling, you should:

  • Not pass people walking, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle closely or at high speed.  Take extra care if the walker or rider can’t see you.
  • Slow down when necessary and let people walking know you’re there. Cyclists can do this by ringing their bell.
  • Approach walkers with care. Remember that they could be deaf, blind or partially sighted.
  • Not pass horses on the horse’s left side.

Pedestrians should also make sure not to obstruct the path of riders and cyclists.  

*Research carried out by One Poll on behalf of Confused.com of 2,000 UK drivers who have car insurance policies. This was conducted between 25 January and 31 January 2022.