Will the changes to the Highway Code make our roads safer for cyclists?

3 minute read

Cyclists on a road

As has been publicised widely in recent weeks, changes to the Highway Code have been made, intended to make our roads safer, particularly for pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists.

I wrote an article about how the proposed changes would impact cyclists back in September 2021 and this article looks at how the changes have been received since being implemented on the 29 January 2022.

How has the Highway Code changed for cyclists?

The principal changes concerning cyclists are;

  1. There is now a hierarchy of road users with those that can do the greatest harm having the greatest responsibility. This means that the greatest responsibility rests with HGV drivers followed by van drivers, car drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders and finally pedestrians.
  2. Drivers are required to give greater distance when passing cyclists. For cars passing cyclists, this distance is 1.5m when travelling at speeds of up to 30 mph and 2m in excess of 30 mph.
  3. When turning left into a side road, drivers are required to give priority to cyclists going straight ahead.
  4. Cyclists have priority over vehicles at roundabouts.
  5. There is an expectation that cyclists cycling on country roads, in slow moving traffic and when approaching junctions will cycle in the centre of the road to make themselves more visible to other road users.
  6. Drivers are advised to open their car doors when parked on a road with the left hand to minimise the risk of opening the door into the path of a cyclist.
  7. There is now guidance that when cycling on narrow roads and in large groups it may be safer for cyclists to travel two abreast.

There has been much discussion in recent days concerning how the changes are impacting road users.

Changes to the Highway Code for cyclists

Danger at junctions for cyclists

There is a fear that cyclists will not trust vehicle drivers stopping and waiting until they have crossed a junction before turning left, meaning that there could be a “stand-off” between the two at a junction whilst the cyclist waits for the car driver to turn left and the car driver waits for the cyclist to pass by safely as required by the Highway Code changes.

Similarly, there is a concern that the changes have not been publicised enough that a cyclist can feel confident to ride straight ahead at a junction and a car may turn into the side road in ignorance of the new guidance, thereby increasing injuries and fatalities. The AA has advised that in a poll of 13,000 of its members, 1 in 25 drivers had no intention of looking at the new rules and the AA criticised the Government of being “far too silent” in publicising the new changes.

When do the new Highway Code rules apply to cyclists?

Concerns have also been voiced that the changes will increase road rage as vehicles are held up on their journeys by cyclists travelling in the centre of roads and riding two abreast. These concerns have been fuelled by a number of photos on social media and in the press of multiple cyclists in the centre of roads leading a procession of slow-moving vehicles. Indeed, a recent newspaper report showed a cyclist in the centre of the road taking selfies with cars behind in an apparent display of superiority, which would inevitably cause annoyance and frustration to drivers.

Cycling UK, who was consulted on the new changes, has been quick to respond. It has reminded road users that the new rules are not a recommendation that cyclists always cycle in the centre of the road but only when they are most vulnerable, such as when approaching junctions or on narrow stretches of road.

Will the new Highway Code rules work?

Only time will tell whether the new changes will reduce injuries and deaths as hoped, or will lead to confusion and frustration amongst road users. As Head of Policy at the RAC, Nicholas Lyes, said of the new rules:

In theory, they should make our roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, but unless everyone is aware of them, there’s a risk of angry clashes and, worse still, unnecessary collisions. Nobody wants to be on the right side of the Highway Code changes but in the back of an ambulance because of confusion on the part of a driver or any other road user.”

Here at Enable Law we will be closely monitoring developments.

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