The latest version of The Highway Code is being published tomorrow (29 January). There are (depending on which report you read), 8 new rules and 49 updated rules – but some of these updates are to clarify wording and/or where one underlying principle affects more than one rule.
Of course, much of the Highway Code is a guide rather than prescriptive. However, to paraphrase the opening paragraph of the first Highway Code: “although breaking any of these rules is not in itself an offence, it will make it so hot for you that you won’t know the difference.”
So how will we be affected by the latest changes?
Hierarchy of Road Users
The most significant change is the introduction of a hierarchy of road users. This prioritises road users in order of vulnerability. Drivers of larger vehicles have a responsibility to look after more vulnerable road users. The greater harm that your vehicle could cause in the event of a collision, the greater your responsibility to reduce the danger you pose to others.
The hierarchy is:
- Horse riders
- Cars and taxis
- Vans and minibuses
- Large passenger vehicles (that’s buses and coaches to you and me) and heavy goods vehicles
This doesn’t give the smaller vehicles a carte-blanche to do why they like. All road users need to consider the safety of all other road users. Cyclists are advised to take a more prominent position in the road (middle of the lane on quiet roads, and at least 0.5 metres (18 inches) from the kerb on busy roads). However, they are also reminded to give way to traffic trying to overtake them.
Speaking of overtaking cyclists, the recommended passing distance is given as 1.5 metres (4 feet 6 inches) at speeds of up to 30 mph, and further at higher speeds. Also, you are now permitted to cross a double-white line to pass a cyclist or horse rider, if they are travelling at 10 mph or less.
One of the major ways in which pedestrians are being prioritised is in the new rule for turning into junctions. If a pedestrian is crossing or waiting to cross, you must give way to them.
I can’t help thinking that this is merely formalising what many motorists are doing already. I presume this rule also applies for cyclists on a shared path, such as Leigh Road coming out of Eastleigh, or Wide Lane where it crosses the entrance to Lakeside Country Park. However, I don’t know whether it also applies to traffic coming out of the side road – this would certainly reduce the number of swerves I have to make around emerging vehicles when running.
The next new rule states that ‘you should not cut across cyclists, horse riders, or horse-drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane’.
Isn’t this obvious? I wasn’t aware that this wasn’t a rule already and have been doing it for years
There are numerous other rule changes that enforce the hierarchy of road users, such as at roundabouts, crossings, and junctions. See the official government website for details.
The new rules also change how we get out of the car, introducing the “Dutch Reach” method of opening the door. You push the door open with the hand on the opposite side to the door being opened (so left hand for a driver; right hand for a front seat passenger). This causes your body to twist and so gives you a better view of any road users coming up behind.
And finally, the law on using mobile phones is being tightened. In addition to the existing bans on making calls and texting, drivers will not be permitted to use the camera or scroll through music playlists. The penalty is a £200 fine and six points on your licence. And remember; being stationary in traffic counts as driving.
Incidentally, a bus-using friend of mine tells me that bus drivers won’t even look at her phone if she tries to show them where she is trying to get to, for fear that even this would contravene the law.