The Highway Code is being updated after consultation to increase protection for cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians.  If approved, these new rules will come into force at the end of January and will require motorists to show care and consideration for vulnerable groups of road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders.  It will be apparent from previous blogs that her at Ringrose we have enthusiastic cyclists and riders and these changes will be welcomed by them.

There are 3 main changes being proposed:

The most interesting one is perhaps the establishment of a “hierarchy” of road users, such that road users who have the potential to do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.   This would be called Rule H1.  This means the order of prioritisation will be pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists, with children, older adults and disabled people also thought to be more at risk.

What it means is that a driver of say, a huge truck would now have a specific responsibility to take care towards more vulnerable road users “below” them in the hierarchy.  Whilst this does not mean that more vulnerable road users don’t need to look out for themselves any more and can act as they like, the possibility is that if there is a collision between a large or fast vehicle and a cyclist,  it might be the case that initially, the driver might be thought to be at fault until evidence shows otherwise.

The new Code also clarifies existing rules on pedestrian priorities, with  drivers and riders now giving way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road.

It also establishes guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists or horse riders amongst other changes for these groups.  This has long been a particular concern for both cyclists and horse riders and the British Horse Society’s “Dead Slow” campaign message has been taken into account, with the speed recommended for passing horses now at 10 mph.  Horse riders are a particularly vulnerable group, as the horse is of course a living being itself and can be very easily startled.

The question is often asked “Well, why ride on the roads at all then if it is so dangerous?”.  Trust us, horse riders do not ride on busy roads for pleasure!  Sometimes it is the only way to get to suitable areas for riding, such as bridlepaths or open ground and riders do not stay on the roads longer than they have to.

These changes come after years of campaigning by cycling, pedestrian and horse-riding groups and are long overdue.  Despite measures to establish traffic free zones across the country, roads remain busier than they ever have been.  Even though rural areas can be quieter in terms of traffic volume, the traffic that is there can be tempted to drive faster, even though visibility on such roads can be limited due to road layout and bends and high hedges. There are incidences of vehicles deliberately trying to frighten horses on roads and worse, deliberately driving into them, such as in this shocking news item from the Mirror newspaper on 2 December:

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/furious-driver-reverses-horse-drawn-25599189

One can only wonder at what goes through their minds…

Under the new requirements of the Highway Code, drivers are banned from:

  • Cutting across cyclists, horse-riders or horse-drawn vehicles at junctions.
  • Turning at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist or horse-rider to stop or swerve.
  • Doing anything that would risk a collision with a cyclist.

They must also:

  • Give cyclists, horse-riders and pedestrians as much room as a car when overtaking, which is 1.5 metres for cyclists, two metres for horses.
  • Drive under 10mph when passing horses and under 30mph when going past cyclists.
  • When passing a pedestrian who is walking in the road (where there is no pavement) at least two metres berth should be given and speed should be dropped to “low”.

The head of Cycling UK, Duncan Dollimore said:

“These amendments bring not just much-needed clarity on key areas of reducing danger on our roads”

One proposed change that is a little controversial is a new rule saying motorists should give way to pedestrians about to cross at junctions.  At present, only have to give way if the pedestrian has started to cross. Will this cause confusion over whether a pedestrian is “about to cross”, or just trying to decide which way to go somewhere? The Code currently tells drivers to ‘look out for pedestrians waiting to cross and be ready to slow down or stop’.

Under the new Code, cyclists are 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 in to let them overtake.  This is not a new concept; cyclists and motorcyclists do frequently ride in the centre of roads so as to have more control over the traffic behind them, but there are some who find this frustrating and even an arrogant attitude.

As with all new concepts, it will take time for the practical aspects of the changes to be seen and for mindsets to change to accommodate them.  Education and publicity will be key.  The Highway Code is not itself the law, but breaches of the Code go a long way to establishing breaches of duty in law.

We can help

It is not our intention to detail all the new changes and there may be more tweaks before the final new version is published.  You would need to read the whole new Highway Code to see all the changes in detail.  We just want to flag up that there are changes on the way, which we hope will make the roads safer-and more pleasant to use- for all users.

As Personal Injury Solicitors, we see the often devastating consequences of any type of road accident, so anything to reduce the number of accidents and life-changing injuries is welcome.

For further information if you have been involved in an accident on our roads contact us on 01522 561020 or email wecanhelp@ringroselaw.co.uk

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