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Understanding the Highway Code rule changes

At the end of January the Highway Code hit the headlines after a major update came into force, affecting all road users and pedestrians.

The new measures aim to protect cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders when using or in close proximity to UK roads. They also aim to make the roads safer for vulnerable users by creating a hierarchy, which clarifies pedestrian and cyclist priority and establishes safer overtaking practices.

With this in mind, we’ve teamed up with Nationwide Vehicle Contracts to highlight the eight key changes and what they mean for us all.

1. Hierarchy of road users 

To ensure the safety of the most vulnerable road users, a new hierarchy will be implemented to protect them and reduce the number of collisions on UK roads. 

The new hierarchy when on the road is as followed: 

  1. Pedestrians
  2. Cyclists
  3. Horse Riders
  4. Motorcyclists
  5. Cars/taxis
  6. Vans, minibuses, large passenger vehicles or courier vehicles (eg HGV Training and buses)

2. Give way to pedestrians waiting at junctions 

When pedestrians are crossing a road or junction, motorists should now give way to them. Even if the pedestrian hasn’t started crossing the road, motorists should give way to those who are waiting. 

When approaching a zebra crossing, motorists, cyclists and those riding motorcycles should give way to pedestrians at the crossing, whereas at a parallel crossing motorists should give way to cyclists and pedestrians. 

3. New guidance on shared spaces between pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists 

People who are riding a horse, walking or driving a horse-drawn vehicle, should be aware of their surroundings and the safety of pedestrians. 

People who are cycling are asked to not pass pedestrians and horse riders at a fast speed or at close proximity. They are also asked to slow down when necessary and make people aware of their presence by ringing their bell, but to keep in mind that people may be deaf or partially sighted. New rules also mean cyclists should not pass on the left-hand side of a horse

4. New cyclist positioning on the road

Cyclists must now ride in the centre of their lane whilst cycling on quiet roads with slower-moving traffic, and also when approaching junctions or road narrowings. Whilst cycling on roads, bike riders now must keep at least 0.5 metres from the kerb edge on busy roads where vehicles are moving faster than them. When cycling past parked vehicles, cyclists should keep a one-metre distance and be aware of people walking into their path. 

For cyclists who are cycling in groups, they can now cycle two abreast, as it can be safer when cycling in larger groups and with less experienced riders. They must allow cars to overtake them when it is safe to do so. 

5. Safer overtaking when driving 

When driving a vehicle, you may now cross a double white line if necessary and the road is clear to overtake a cyclist or horse if they are travelling at 10mph or less. 

When overtaking cyclists 1.5 metres minimum must be left between the vehicle and cyclist going up to 30mph to give them more space. When passing horses, motorists must leave at least two metres of space. If motorists are driving by pedestrians walking on the road (no pavement), two metres should be left between the pedestrian and vehicle and speed should be dropped. 

6. Cyclists priority near junctions 

Cyclists are encouraged to use the small cycle traffic lights to make their journey safer. If cycling on roads that do not have this facility, it is recommended that cyclists proceed as though they are driving a vehicle, therefore should make themselves as visible as possible and avoid being overtaken where they deem it to be dangerous. Additionally, at a junction, going straight, cyclists now have the right of way

7. Priority when at roundabouts 

When at a roundabout, those driving a vehicle or motorcycle should not attempt to overtake people cycling within their lane, and should also allow cyclists to move across the roundabout when travelling around. 

8. Charging, parking and leaving vehicle changes

‘Dutch Reach’ is the new technique being implemented when opening doors. Drivers and passengers should now open their car doors using the hand opposite to the side to the door they are opening – for example, using your right hand to open a door on the left-hand side of the vehicle. This is so when opening the door the person is looking at their shoulder, making them less likely to cause injury to cyclists, motorcyclists and people on the pavement. 

When electric vehicle owners are charging their cars, they should park close to the charge point to stop pedestrians from tripping over cables. They should also display a warning sign if possible and return charging cables to reduce danger and obstacles to other people. 

“The new Highway Code changes are essential to the safety of all road users and pedestrians,” said Keith Hawes, Director of Nationwide Vehicle Contracts.

“As many of the rules in The Highway Code are legal requirements, it is important that all motorists keep up-to-date with the changes. Disobeying the rules can be a criminal offence which can lead to points on your licence, fines, driving bans and in the worst-case scenario, imprisonment.”

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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