On 29 January 2022, rules for road users changed and in total, 10 sections and 50 rules of the Highway Code were added or updated.
Updates to the Code have come about as a result of a public consultation on how to improve road safety for people walking, cycling and riding horses. However, there’s concern that these changes make it easier for drivers to be prosecuted over accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.
It’s also been pointed out that there’s been a lack of advertising to inform the public of the regulations. According to a poll conducted by the AA, one in three drivers is unaware of the new rules.
You can find a summary of all the changes in The Highway Code updates list on GOV.UK.
But while you can go online to find out the updates to the Highway Code, physical copies containing the new rules won’t be available until the spring.
How will changes affect drivers?
Most significantly, there’s been a change to the hierarchy of road users.
The hierarchy is based on the principle that drivers of vehicles that cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility, therefore must take care to reduce the danger to others.
Drivers of HGVs, LGVs, cars, taxis and motorcycles hold most responsibility. Cyclists and horse riders have a responsibility to reduce their danger to pedestrians. As of 29 January 2022, pedestrians have priority when crossing road junctions, while cyclists have priority when passing a turning car.
The problem with this is that responsibility should rest with all road users, including pedestrians, to avoid risks. But now, there’s no legal requirement for pedestrians to cross using formal crossings.
If an accident does occur, fault is assumed to lie with the road user ‘who can do the greatest harm’ unless they can prove otherwise. For motorists, this could mean increased insurance claims, penalty points, fines, and worst-case scenario – criminal court cases.
Updates on motorists overtaking
To overtake someone cycling or riding a horse, if they’re travelling at 10 mph or less, you can cross a double-white line if necessary and provided the road is clear.
When a driver overtakes a motorcyclist, cyclist or horse rider, they must leave a minimum distance of 1.5 metres at speeds of less than 30mph and 2.0 metres at speeds of more than 30mph.
Where a pedestrian is walking in the road, you must allow at least 2.0 metres of space and pass them at a slow speed. If you can’t, you have to wait.
Again, responsibility lies predominantly with motorists, rather than equally with cyclists and pedestrians, to avoid hazardous situations.
Use of handheld mobiles banned except in emergencies
Since 2003, holding mobile phones to call and text while driving has been banned. However, the Highway Code didn’t mention other activities related to handheld mobiles.
Sensibly, this rule has been tightened as distracted driving is the second leading cause of collisions after drunk driving.
The change means the Highway Code is now in line with the law, and drivers are prohibited from using handheld devices for anything; this includes taking videos or photos, playing games, etc. This still applies when your vehicle isn’t moving.
Mobile phones can be used for hands-free calls, payment at tolls or booths and satellite navigation as long as the device is firmly secured.
Will these changes improve road safety?
The jury is still out on whether these new rules will improve road safety. Action group Voters for Motors argue that the regulations should be scrapped amid fears the changes could end up increasing accidents.
A spokesperson for the group said: “Our concerns over the Highway Code include the fact that encouraging the undertaking and overtaking of vehicles intending to turn by cyclists will cause more crashes that drivers will be blamed for under the new ‘hierarchy of road users’.”
Only time will tell what impact the new Highway Code will have on our roads.
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