Changes to the Highway Code: what road users need to know

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The Highway Code has recently been updated to give more priority and protection for pedestrians and cyclists, and other vulnerable road users. First published in 1931, the guidance has undergone many key updates over the years and its most recent update is one of the most notable.

What are the changes to the Highway Code?

The latest changes provide drivers with better guidance for smart motorways, variable speed limits, rest breaks and other advice on dealing with emergency situations on the road.

A ‘hierarchy’ of road users

One of the most notable changes is the new hierarchy of road users. Starting with the highest priority, this is:

  • Pedestrians
  • Cyclists
  • Horse riders
  • Motorcyclists
  • Cars and taxis
  • Vans and minibuses
  • Large passenger and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)

This hierarchy is to ensure that those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others. For example, a heavy goods vehicle would cause far greater harm than a pedestrian in a road traffic incident.

The Highway Code also clarifies existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements and crossing the road, as well as establishing safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists and horse riders.

33 changes

There are a total of 33 changes to the Highway Code which include updates to the rules or wording or adding images to make them easier to understand.

These new changes to the Highway Code include:

  1. Pedestrians will now have priority whether or not they have started to cross the road. In the previous guide, motorists only had to give way when pedestrians were stepping onto a crossing.
  2. Cyclists travelling straight ahead will have priority over motorists at junctions.
  3. Updates to the wording to ensure that readers understand that drivers need to get sufficient sleep before a journey and that emergency areas and hard shoulders on motorways are not to be used for rest breaks.
  4. Ensuring readers understand the speed limits for motorhomes and caravans, buses or coaches and oversized vehicles.
  5. How to avoid tailgating and the dangers of this.
  6. Emergency areas on motorways are not to be used for stopping or parking except in an emergency.
  7. Provisional licence holders can only drive on motorways when they are accompanied by an approved instructor and are displaying red ‘L’ plates, with dual controls.
  8. Ensuring people understand how to approach an amber flashing light.
  9. Closed lanes: what to do and how to identify them.
  10. Drivers must not exceed the speed limit on motorways, including limits in red circles.
  11. Drivers should move over, if safe to do so, when approaching people and vehicles stopped on the hard shoulder to create more space for them.
  12. Helping people understand the importance of switching on hazard warning lights to warn other motorists of a stopped vehicle, the need to keep on seatbelts when staying in a broken-down vehicle, and how those hard of hearing or speech impaired can communicate with the emergency service using the emergency SMS service.
  13. Drivers and pedestrians should not attempt to retrieve fallen items or obstacles on motorways and should stop in a place of relative safety and contact the emergency services.
  14. Drivers should remain alert for hazards and not slow down unnecessarily when passing an incident.
  15. Images of certain road signs have been added to ensure people understand what they look like (i.e. variable speed limit).

When do these changes come into force?

This latest set of changes was updated on 14th September 2021, in the wake of smart motorways, and are due to come into force on 29th January 2022.

This Highway Code applies to England, Scotland and Wales, and we would encourage all road users to familiarise themselves with the latest updates.

How will these changes to the Highway Code affect road traffic claims?

The changes to the hierarchy for road users mean that those who can do the greatest damage would bear the greatest share of responsibility in ensuring the safety on the road.

Higher duty of care for cyclists and pedestrians

This means that car drivers have a higher duty of care to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe on the road as they are more vulnerable and the effects of an accident would be more devastating.

Cyclists also have a higher duty of care against pedestrians under the hierarchy. The revised Highway Code now states that road users should be careful and keep an eye out for cyclists when turning at a junction and they are going straight ahead. Cyclists now have priority so if a vehicle hits a person on a bicycle whilst turning into a junction, they are more likely to be held responsible.

It’s important to note that, although cyclists and pedestrians are more vulnerable and the other vehicles have a higher duty of care, they should remain careful. It was a concern during the Consultation Period that the changes could lead to cyclists and pedestrians taking greater risks when using the roads, believing that the onus for their safety rests with others. Even if the vehicle has the higher duty of care, people seeking compensation for a personal injury claim can still be found ‘contributory negligent’ if their actions contributed to the incident.

With more people taking to their bikes after the pandemic, it is worth cyclists reading points 59 and 60 of the Highway Code, which mentions suitable clothing and lights. By being properly equipped, cyclists can be seen and, as a result, better protected on the road.

How we can help

Whether you were a pedestrian, cyclist, driver or passenger in a car or on a motorcycle, if you’ve been injured in a road traffic accident that wasn’t your fault, you may be able to start a claim for road accident compensation.

Our personal injury solicitors act for clients all over the UK from our six offices across Bristol and South Gloucestershire. For an initial no-obligation chat, call us on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form.


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