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Traffic in London illustrating changes to the Highway Code

Kim Chamberlain, a partner at Brain Injury Group member firm CL Medilaw, discusses the recent changes to the highway code and who they affect.

The aim of the Highway Code changes is to improve the safety of people walking, cycling and riding horses

As a lawyer representing many injured clients and seeing the impact on their lives and that of their families, the changes to the Highway Code are welcomed. There has been a common sense approach, as pedestrians and cyclists are more at risk of serious injury. The changes should not come as a surprise and do not remove the responsibility expected of all road users.

The main changes:

Hierarchy of road users

Those road users most at risk are now at the top of the hierarchy.

Vehicles who have the potential to cause the greatest harm in an accident, bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the dangers to others. The pedestrians and cyclists are the most vulnerable road users and the rules are designed to treat them as such.

Likewise, cyclists and horse riders have a greater responsibility to pedestrians. At a junction, drivers, cyclists and horse riders must give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road you are emerging from or you are turning into.

Cyclists should give way to pedestrians on shared use cycle tracks.

Only pedestrians can use the pavement but pedestrians may use any part of the road and use cycle tracks as well as the pavement, unless there are signs prohibiting them.

Drivers and motor cyclists must not cut across cyclists or horse riders 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.

Drivers must wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary.

Traffic should give way to pedestrians, crossing or waiting to cross at a junction. If you have started crossing, you have priority and other traffic should give way.

Cyclists

There are a number of changes that are focused on making it safer for cyclists on our roads and also increases their responsibility to other road users. There were 141 pedal cyclists killed in Great Britain in 2020, 4215 seriously injured, and another 11,938 were injured according to government statistics. This was also in the year where there were quieter roads due to the pandemic.

The changes can be summarised as follows:

Shared spaces

  • Cyclists should not to get to close to people walking, or riding a horse when passing them or at high speed, particularly from behind.
  • Cyclists should slow down and let people walking know they are there.

Position in the Road

  • Riding in the centre of a lane on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowing.
  • Keeping at least 0.5 metres (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge when riding on busy roads with vehicles moving faster than them.

Cycling in groups

  • Cyclists should be considerate of the needs of other road users when riding in groups.
  • Can ride 2 abreast, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders.
  • Be aware of people driving behind them and allow them to overtake (for example, by moving into single file or stopping) when it’s safe to do so.

Cyclists passing parked vehicles

  • Take care when passing parked vehicles, leaving a 1 meter gap to avoid being hit if a car door is opened.
  • Watch out for people walking into your path.

Overtaking

  • Cross a double-white line if necessary (if the road is clear) to overtake someone cycling or riding a horse.
  • Leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30ph, and giving them more space when overtaking at higher speeds
  • Allow at least 2 metres of space when passing horse riders.
  • If you are passing pedestrians walking in the road allow at least 2 metres of space and keep to a low speed.

Passing slower-moving or stationary traffic

  • Cyclists can pass slower-moving or stationary traffic on their right or left, but need to be careful, particularly on the approach to junctions, and when deciding on whether to pass lorries or large vehicles.

Cycling at junctions

  • When turning into or out of a side road cyclists should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross.
  • Position themselves in the centre of their lane, where they feel able to do this safely, to make them as visible as possible and avoid being overtaken when it is dangerous.

Cyclists have priority when going straight ahead at junctions

  • When cyclists are going straight ahead at a junction, they have priority over traffic waiting to turn into or out of a side road, unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise.
  • Cyclists are asked to watch out for drivers intending to turn across their path, as people driving ahead may not be able to see them.

Roundabouts

  • Drivers of cars or motorcycles should give priority to cyclists on roundabouts.
  • The code already says that cyclists and horse riders may stay in the left-hand lane of a roundabout when they intend to continue across or around the roundabout and drivers must be aware of this and take extra care not to cut across them.

The ‘Dutch Reach’

  • Where drivers or passengers in a vehicle are able to do so, they should open the door using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening. For example, using their left hand to open a door on their right-hand side.
  • This will make them turn their head to look over their shoulder and be less likely to cause injury to cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrian.

The rules are only advisory and only time will tell what impact they have on road safety. They are already proving to be controversial within some motoring organisations indicating that they were not widely published before they came in.

The changes to the Highway Code advocate a common sense approach to be adopted by all road users, adding protective measures for the most vulnerable. We have also seen the government strengthening existing law involving the use of hand-held mobile phones, resulting in a £200 fine and 6 points on your licence, working towards safer roads with the aim to reduce needless deaths and serious injury.


Written by Kim Chamberlain of CL Medilaw

Kim Chamberlain is a partner at CL Medilaw. She has over 25 years experience working with clients who have suffered catastrophic injury including brain injury, complex life changing orthopaedic injury and spinal injuries.

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