The Highway Code – What Has Changed?

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

An update to The Highway Code has meant new rules for cars, cyclists and HGVs, including new rules regarding use of mobile phones, and the addition of a hierarchy of road users to help create “clearer and stronger priorities” for pedestrians.

The official Highway Code is not set to change until spring, but online editions and guidance from the Department of Transport has already been updated. This guidance is aimed to keep road users as safe as possible, although not everything in the Highway Code is legally enforceable. However, the Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings (under the Traffic Acts) to establish liability, which is why updates such as the hierarchy of road users are especially important to determine legal responsibility.

Hierarchy of Road Users

The Department of Transport has established the hierarchy of road users as the following:

  • Pedestrians
  • Cyclists
  • Horse riders
  • Motorcyclists
  • Cars/taxis
  • Vans/minibuses
  • Heavy Goods Vehicles/large passenger vehicles

Those at the top are at the most risk of harm in the event of a traffic accident, and those at the bottom can do the greatest harm on the road and are therefore most responsible for reducing the danger they pose to other road users.

As you can see from the above, cyclists and horse riders will still have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians, and the updated Highway Code stresses that pedestrians themselves still need to consider the safety of other road users.

Mobile Phone Usage

Supported by new legislation, the updated Highway Code features stricter rules regarding the use of mobile phones whilst driving. Although it is considered safe to use ‘hands-free’ devices, the new rules will also ban drivers from taking photos or videos, scrolling through playlists or playing games, even when stopped at traffic lights or junctions. This means that skipping a song on your playlist using your phone could risk having six points on your licence, as well as a £200 fixed penalty notice.

Priorities for Pedestrians

In the new rules, pedestrians are given more priority when crossing the road, which differs slightly from previous guidance. The new rules include the below:

  • 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.
  • 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.

New rules which include the terms ‘must/must not’ are supported by existing laws, whereas rules using the terms ‘should/should not’ serve as guidance for all road users. As you can see from the above, it is now the law to give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing.

Priorities for Cyclists

In the updated Highway Code, there is new guidance regarding right of way for cyclists and the way in which other road users should interact with cyclists:

“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”

Further guidance regarding cyclists advises that on quiet roads and streets, and in slower moving traffic, cyclists should ride in the centre of the lane to make themselves as visible as possible to other road users.

Despite media coverage about how these changes will cause cyclists to overrun the roads, these changes simply strengthen existing guidance about being aware of cyclists in traffic, and when turning and on roundabouts.

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