In January this year, the Highway Code changed to prioritise the safety of vulnerable road users. Vehicles can potentially cause the most damage in a collision, so the changes mainly apply to drivers and their behaviour towards vulnerable road users. Some of the changes include increased overtaking distance, and giving priority to pedestrians crossing at junctions.
It’s a worrying stat that 60%* of us have never checked the Highway Code for updates - particularly when shake-ups like this one occur.
To keep you up to date, here’s what the new changes mean for road users.
1.Changes to the hierarchy of road users
The new 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.
Pedestrians sit at the top of the hierarchy, followed by cyclists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles.
But everyone on the road must take into account their own safety, and the safety of other road users.
To sum it up, 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
2.Give way to pedestrians crossing at junctions
Now, if pedestrians are crossing or waiting at a junction, drivers should give way and allow them to cross.
If you want to turn into a road and 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 new 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 at under 10 mph on double white lines - as long as it’s safe to do so.
There’s also an update on passing distances:
- If you’re overtaking a cyclist at 30 mph, you should leave at least 1.5 metres (five feet). Give cyclists even more space if you’re travelling at higher speeds.
- If you’re overtaking riders or horse-drawn vehicles you should leave at least two 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.
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 here 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
4.Driving on a roundabout with cyclists, riders or horse-drawn vehicles
If you’re driving on a roundabout, you should give priority to cyclists, riders or people driving 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.Electric car charging rules and how to leave 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.
The 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.
6.Drivers to be aware of cyclists and their position in the road
Although these rules apply to cyclists, it’s good for drivers to be aware of these rules.
Cyclists should position themselves 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, cyclists should keep 0.5 metres (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb.
Cyclists riding in groups
If you’re cycling in groups, you should ride two 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 two abreast and you notice someone driving behind you, try to move into single file or stop and allow them to overtake when it’s safe.
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 one metre) between yourself and the car.
Make sure you look out for pedestrians walking between parked cars and into your path too.
7.Cyclists at junctions
If you’re cycling into or out of a side road, you should give way to people who are 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 updates that apply to cyclists and other updates.
8.Walking, riding or cycling in a shared space
The rules don’t just apply to drivers.
In shared spaces like parks, cyclists, riders and people driving horse-drawn vehicles should make sure that 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.