Motoring groups today warned new Highway Code rules that will give cyclists priority over motorists at junctions when travelling straight ahead could cause ‘confusion’ that will lead to ‘avoidable collisions’.
The change set to cause the most issues is a new rule saying motorists should give way to pedestrians crossing at junctions – and should also give way to people waiting to cross a zebra crossing or parallel crossing.
In addition, cyclists have been told to ‘ride in the centre of your lane to make yourself as clearly visible as possible’ when on quiet roads or streets – but if a faster vehicle comes up behind, move to the left to let them overtake.
Drivers will also now be given a specific duty to ensure people on bicycles are safe, while those on two wheels in turn will be told to look out for pedestrians, as part of the new rules announced today.
A new ‘hierarchy of road users’ in the Code will also outline how responsibility rests with those who could potentially cause the most harm to others – with pedestrians ahead of cyclists, then horse riders.
But the RAC warned that a ‘concerted effort’ must now be made to communicate the changes to drivers because ‘many do not read the Highway Code for long periods after passing their test’, adding that it was vital for everyone using the roads to understand the new rules ‘because any confusion is likely to lead to avoidable collisions’.
And Hugh Bladen, from the Alliance of British Drivers motoring group, criticised the Government for ‘making a complete Horlicks of the situation’ and it was a ‘retrograde step’ that will lead to confusion on the roads.
The new Code – which will be presented to Parliament this winter and come into force early next year if it is approved – states that at a junction, motorists ‘should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning’.
Drivers should also ‘give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing, and pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing’. The new Code also states that motorists ‘should not cut across cyclists going ahead when turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane’.
The changes are part of a new cycling and walking strategy to be unveiled today by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who will announce a £338million package to boost both across the country.
British former racing cyclist Chris Boardman described the changes as ‘inspiringly logical action’ and said they was a ‘real milestone for active travel’, while British Cycling called them a ’cause for celebration’.
Cycling UK also praised the changes, saying that ‘rules which place greater responsibility on people driving larger vehicles are long overdue’, while the London Cycling Campaign said it was ‘progress, without a doubt’.
This MailOnline graphic shows how the Highway Code will change early next year in relation to drivers and cyclists
Mr Bladen told MailOnline: ‘Quite frankly, you know, we all need to take care of one another on the road – and just to give cyclist carte blanche to go sailing through red lights seems to me to be taking things a step too far.
‘We’re all on the road together, let us all be sensible about the whole thing, and just to say cyclists can do whatever they like is absurd in my view.
What will the new Highway Code rules say?
Here are four of the new rules that will be in the updated Highway Code:
NEW RULE H1 – How ‘hierarchy of road users’ will see responsibility on those who could cause most harm
It is important that ALL road users are aware of The Highway Code, are considerate to other road users and understand their responsibility for the safety of others. Everyone suffers when road collisions occur, whether they are physically injured or not. But those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, followed by vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles. Cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles likewise have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians. Always remember that the people you encounter may have impaired sight, hearing or mobility, and may not be able to see or hear you. None of this detracts from the responsibility of all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety.
NEW RULE H2 – How drivers will now have to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a road or zebra crossing
Rule for drivers, motorcyclists, horse riders and cyclists
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 pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing. You should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing, and pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing. Horse riders and horse drawn vehicles should also give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and 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. Cyclists should give way to pedestrians on shared use cycle tracks. Only pedestrians may use the pavement. This includes people using wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Pedestrians may use any part of the road and use cycle tracks as well as the pavement, unless there are signs prohibiting pedestrians.
NEW RULE H3 – Drivers should not cut across cyclists and should wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists
Rule for drivers and motorcyclists
You should not cut across cyclists going ahead when turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle. This applies whether cyclists are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them. Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve, just as you would do with a motor vehicle. 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
NEW RULE 72 – Cyclists can ride in the middle of quiet roads before pulling over to the left when necessary
Rule for cyclists
Road positioning. When riding on the roads, there are two basic road positions you should adopt, depending on the situation.
1. Ride in the centre of your lane, to make yourself as clearly visible as possible, in the following situations:
- on quiet roads or streets – if a faster vehicle comes up behind you, move to the left to enable them to overtake, if you can do so safely
- in slower-moving traffic move over to the left if you can do so safely so that faster vehicles behind you can overtake when the traffic around you starts to flow more freely
- at the approach to junctions or road narrowings where it would be unsafe for drivers to overtake you
2. When riding on busy roads, with vehicles moving faster than you, allow them to overtake where it is safe to do so whilst keeping at least 0.5m away from the kerb edge. Remember that traffic on most dual carriageways moves quickly. Take extra care crossing slip roads.
‘We should all be bound by the rules of the road that are there.
‘So, if there’s a stop sign, then we should all stop. If there’s a red light, we should stop. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on two wheels or four.
‘They’re making a complete Horlicks of the situation if they change it any way.
‘I think it’s a retrograde step and it will lead to confusion because cyclists will think they have right of way.’
And RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: ‘These proposals should make cycling and walking safer and this is to be welcomed.
‘A concerted effort must now be made to communicate the changes to drivers because as we know, many do not read the Highway Code for long periods after passing their test.
‘Ultimately, the aim should be to ensure that everyone using the roads understands the new rules because any confusion is likely to lead to avoidable collisions.’
Upgrades and requirements to ensure that the effects of travel schemes are properly assessed are among the raft of new measures.
Updates to the Highway Code will include a ‘hierarchy of road users’ that ensures users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others.
There will also be strengthened pedestrian priority on pavements and when crossing or waiting to cross the road.
Changes will also be made to guidance on safe passing distances and speeds, as well as ensuring that cyclists have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead.
Cycling expert Carlton Reid, the former editor of BikeBiz magazine, said today: ‘Since it was introduced in 1931, the Highway Code has stressed that road users have equal responsibility for safety despite the clear disparity between users with and without engines.
‘This is why the change is significant. It’s taken 90 years but finally the UK Government formally recognises the power imbalance on our roads. No more ‘steam before sail’.’
Speaking about the new ‘hierarchy of road users’, Mr Reid added: ‘Yes, it will need a PR blitz and yes, it’ll need enforcing by the courts but all new drivers will be taught this new hierarchy — even if only in a lip-service way by reluctant driving instructors — but it’s a potentially seismic power shift nonetheless.
‘It also has potential ramifications for driverless cars.
‘They will have to be programmed to cede priority to pedestrians and cyclists. In which case, they won’t work in cities.’
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK head of campaigns, told MailOnline today: ‘The Highway Code should look to reinforce behaviour which reduces the danger we pose to others road users and protects those most at risk, so rules which place greater responsibility on people driving larger vehicles are long overdue.
‘Whilst we all have responsibility for our own behaviour, a bus driver’s failure to pay attention carries far greater risks to others than a pedestrians’, so of course those in charge of larger vehicles should bear greater responsibility.
‘Hopefully, these changes will herald a different attitude where the first question in any road safety conversation is how we reduce danger, not how people protect themselves from it.
‘They also reflect wider government commitments on climate change, the environment, and public health, all of which rely upon more people walking or cycling short journeys, and that won’t happen if they don’t feel safe, so rules which prioritise the safety of vulnerable road users are a welcome first step.’
A spokesman for the London Cycling Campaign said today: ‘Many organisations in our campaigning sector have been putting work in to get the Highway Code changed to incorporate this important ‘road user hierarchy’.
‘No ‘on-paper’ rule change will radically improve safety for cyclists overnight. But this is progress, without a doubt.
The Department for Transport said: ‘The Highway Code’s hierarchy of road users will outline how responsibility rests with the road users who could potentially cause the most harm to others.
‘For example, car drivers will be responsible for ensuring cyclists are safe, while cyclists will be responsible for looking out for pedestrians. The hierarchy does not remove the need for all road users to behave responsibly.’
NEW RULES — Two of the new rules in the updated Highway Code – rule H1 (left), which introduces the ‘hierarchy of road users’ concept; then rule H2 (right) which refers to how motorists ‘should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing’
NEW RULES — Rule H3 (left) in the new Highway Code refers to when cyclists should get priority, while Rule 72 (right) allows cyclists to cycle in the middle of the road in certain situations
Rule 62 on cycle tracks is shown before (left) and after (right) the changes, with new rules refering to them being ‘physically protected or located away from motor traffic’ – adding that they may be separate by a feature such as a ‘change of material’
These are the Government’s ‘key design principles’ for its new plans for cycling, with the intention that it ‘is or will become mass transit and must be treated as such’
It comes after last year saw the use of cycles rise more than in the previous 20 years put together.
What the new ‘hierarchy of road users’ will be
- Horse riders
- Large passenger vehicles/heavy goods vehicles
The number of miles cycled on British roads rocketed by 45.7 per cent to five billion largely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Shapps said: ‘Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment.
‘As we build back greener from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone.’
The announcement has been welcomed by everyday walking charity Living Streets, which says the proposed changes will ‘redress the balance’ of road user responsibility.
Stephen Edwards, interim chief executive at Living Streets, said: ‘The Highway Code currently treats children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people’s safety.
‘These changes will redress that balance. People walking cause the least road danger but are often left paying the price.
‘Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm should take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose.
‘Whether we choose to also drive or cycle, we are all pedestrians. These proposed revisions will benefit us all.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will announce a £338million package to boost cycling and walking across the country
A cyclist waits at a junction in London today. A new rule makes clear that at a junction, drivers should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road – and cyclists will have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead
A woman walks on a zebra crossing in London today as the Transport Secretary announced changes to the Highway Code