Highway Code being ‘ignored’: Major updates were supposed to make life safer for bikers – but in reality, nothing much has changed

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Changes to the Highway Code intended to boost safety are receiving a further publicity drive amid concerns they’ve made little difference, have created confusion and are mostly being ‘ignored’.

The revised Code was introduced on January 29, following calls for extra protection for the likes of pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, and motorcyclists. It was described at the time as the biggest change to the document in years.

The updates essentially boiled down to three new rules designed to enhance vulnerable groups’ safety. This included what’s known as the ‘Hierarchy of Road Users’ which highlights those most at risk and prioritises them. So, pedestrians ahead of cyclists and horse riders, then motorcycles ahead of car drivers – with heavy goods vehicles being regarded the least vulnerable.

London traffic

In a bid to bring it back into the public eye, a fresh publicity campaign has been launched. The Government’s THINK! road safety campaign, entitled ‘Travel Like You Know Them’, debuted on July 12 and aims to educate people in a number of ways and is running across video-on-demand services, radio, digital audio, online video, and more for the coming weeks.

But is this new drive an admission that the changes have had little or no impact?

“The Hierarchy of Road Users places a greater responsibility on all drivers and riders to drive with consideration for others, placing vulnerable road users at the centre of our driving decision-making,” says Adam Pipe, Head of the Essex Roads Policing Unit.

Between July 1 and July 18, the Essex force recorded 48 collisions where a casualty was killed or seriously injured. Almost 48% of these involved a vulnerable road user, consisting of 12 bikers, seven cyclists, two pedestrians, and one e-scooter rider.

Highway code 2022 edition

“If everyone understands that they now have responsibility for the safety of others and revisits their driving style and makes those necessary changes, we can work together to reduce the number of collisions and casualties on our roads,” Pipe continued.

A piece of research carried out by the RAC this year revealed that only 27% of motorists were familiar with some, if not all of the changes affecting themselves as a driver, but not all.

In fact, of the 2000 UK drivers spoken to, some 67% said there had not been enough publicity for the changes. What’s more, 47% admitted they had not looked into the updates at all.

MCN also spoke to the chief instructor of BMW Rider Training, Ian Biederman, who believes the changes are now being ignored out on the road.

UK road signs

“At first I saw drivers waiting at green traffic lights for a pedestrian, for example, or on one occasion, followed a car behind a cyclist who was waiting to overtake because they didn’t think they could give it enough room.

“That was at the start of it, with people being more observant of pedestrians and cyclists. It stayed for about a month. Now it’s all been forgotten or ignored,” he continued.

“Because we’re in the summer holiday season people are more distracted and perhaps they’re giving it a nudge because they’re noticing the regression of driver awareness again.

“I just wish they’d re-affirm the guidance more effectively. The problem is, as humans, unless we’re reminded of things regularly we become ambivalent. Most people don’t read or study the Highway Code unless they’re about to take their test.”

The other changes

Away from the Hierarchy of Road Users, a second ruling clarified giving priority to those most at risk when crossing the road. So, for example, a pedestrian crossing a side road should be given priority by a motorcyclist or car driver.

Previously, drivers/riders were told to give way to pedestrians if they ‘have started crossing and traffic wants to turn into the road’. Now though, even a pedestrian waiting to cross to cross the road should be given priority.

A third mandate concerned safe passing distances for the likes of cyclists and horse riders, for example cyclists being allowed to position themselves in the middle of the lane of minor roads and horse riders being given at least two metres passing space.


New Highway Code rules protecting more vulnerable road users set to arrive on January 29 2022

First published on 7 January 2022 by Dan Sutherland

Changes to the Highway Code will a Hierarchy of Road Users introduced

Changes to the Highway Code look set to come into force later this month, giving greater focus to the safety of vulnerable road users like pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders.

Proposed by the Department for Transport, the alterations to the rulebook will likely appear from January 29 2022, pending approval from MPs.

Amongst the changes will be a new ‘Hierarchy of Road Users’ concept, which places those most at risk in a collision at the top of the hierarchy. Pedestrians will sit at the top of the pile, with children, older adults and the disabled recognised as most vulnerable. This is then followed by cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists.

Although everyone is still expected to know and follow the rules as before, operators of vehicles capable of doing the greatest harm have the biggest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they pose to others on the roads.

The principle will apply most strongly to heavy goods and passenger vehicles, followed by vans and minibuses, cars and taxis, and then motorcyclists. A gap of at least 1.5 metres is needed when overtaking cyclists up to 30mph and you should allow at least two metres for horses, or pedestrians walking in the road.

Alongside this, road users should also give way to pedestrians crossing, or waiting to cross a road you are either turning into or exiting. What’s more, you must give way to pedestrians on zebra crossings and also walkers and cyclists on a parallel crossing.

Motorists should also not cut across a cyclist, horse rider, or horse drawn vehicle when  turning into or out of a junction, or changing direction or lane.

Likewise, you also shouldn’t turn into a junction if it will cause these road users to stop or swerve and you must stop and wait for a safe gap to pull out. Essentially, you need to treat them as you would any other motor vehicle, with them being more vulnerable road users.


Highway Code to support bikers

First published on 30 July 2021 by Jordan Gibbons

Motorbikes riding on UK roads

The Highway Code has been given an update to be published in the autumn that will create a hierarchy of vehicles designed to protect vulnerable road users.

In the current Highway Code everyone on the roads is given equal responsibility for their own (and each other’s) safety, which doesn’t really take into account the danger a HGV poses to a motorcyclist and not the other way around.

In the updated code road users will be instructed that the onus is on less vulnerable users to look out for the interests of more vulnerable users. So HGVs should look out for cars, cars should look out bikes, bikes for cyclists and cyclists for pedestrian etc.

This concept has been popular in European countries, with some even going as far as assumed liability in a collision for the more ‘dangerous’ vehicle unless there is clear evidence the more vulnerable user is at fault.

There are also minimum passing distances introduced for the first time with a minimum of 1.5m under 30mph or 2m over 30mph to be observed when overtaking a motorcycle or scooter.

Most of the changes have been developed to protect cyclists and pedestrians after a significant increase in both in recent years – something the pandemic has only accelerated.


Highway Code review for vulnerable road users doesn’t include motorbikes

First published on 30 July 2020 by Ben Clarke

Driving theory textbooks

On Tuesday, 28 July, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced their Review of The Highway Code to improve road safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders, which the DfT says is a “consultation seeking views on proposed changes to The Highway Code to improve safety for vulnerable road users, particularly the groups of cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders”.

The Highway Code, however, also lists motorcyclists as vulnerable road users leading some to question why bikers have been left out of the review.

“This is a shocking demonstration of the lack of care for the welfare of the most vulnerable road user group on the roads,” said Colin Brown from the Motorcycle Action Group.  “As motorcyclists, we have to face the accusations and vilification of our legitimate choice of transport mode, while simultaneously suffering a near complete lack of interest in making the roads safer for us.

“We take no issue with moves to improve safety for other road users, but this systemic and sustained process of turning a blind eye to the needs of motorcyclists is unforgiveable.”

Meanwhile, the Motorcycle Industry Association called the omission of bikes “of particular concern”.

However the DfT say that this is actually a review specifically for pedestrians, cyclists and horseriders and that motorcycling considerations can be found elsewhere.

“The safety for all users is at the core of our road safety strategy,” they said. “The Road Safety Statement published in July 2019, includes a section on motorcycles and safe riding.

“This review is part of a two-year process that began in 2018 looking specifically at the safety issues that cyclists and pedestrians face when travelling on the roads.”

The DfT added: “One of the top priorities identified was to review the guidance in The Highway Code to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians. This consultation is a direct response to that action. We have not undertaken a full-scale revision of The Highway Code at this time.”

Phil West

By Phil West

MCN Contributor and bike tester.