How is the Highway Code changing & how does it affect you?

January 2022

If it’s been a while since you took your driving test your knowledge of the details contained in the Highway Code may be a little rusty.

For example, do you recall that it’s illegal to leave your engine running unnecessarily while on a public road? Or that sleeping in your car whilst drunk is against the law? How about ‘inappropriate horn use’?

The document has been updated many times over the years and the latest changes that come into place on January 29 don’t just affect the idling, sleeping or beeping drivers among us.

These are the important changes you need to know about.

People crossing the road at junctions

Previously cars have had the right of way and anybody waiting to cross a road at a junction had to wait until a safe break in traffic.

The new rule states that if you’re waiting to cross at a junction, it’s the traffic that now has to give way. Similarly, if somebody has already started to cross the road that you want to turn into, you must give way to them.

As these changes may take some time for everybody to become fully aware of, it is still a sensible precaution to ensure that it’s safe to cross the road and that you can make eye contact with any drivers who may be approaching so they are clear on your intentions.

Walking, cycling or riding in shared spaces

Roads or other spaces shared by people walking, cycling and riding horses are also subject to new guidance. Cyclists should respect the safety of pedestrians, but equally pedestrians should be careful not to obstruct cyclists.

Cyclists shouldn’t pass people walking or riding a horse too closely or too quickly, and should let them know they are there as they approach especially from behind.

Positioning in the road when cycling

People should cycle in the middle of their lane on quiet roads, when there’s slow traffic or as they approach junctions, and at least half a meter away from the kerb on roads where traffic is moving faster than them.

This will inevitably make it harder to pass, but also increase the safety of these more vulnerable road users.

When cycling in groups people are advised to be considerate of other road users, and can ride 2 abreast when it’s safe to do so. Cyclists are also advised to be aware of traffic building up behind them and give them opportunities to overtake where necessary.

Overtaking when driving or cycling

Double white lines down the centre of the road mean you shouldn’t overtake any vehicle, but the new rules introduces some flexibility in the event you are passing a cyclist or horse travelling at less than 10mph (and even then only if it is clearly safe to do so).

Cyclists can overtake slower moving traffic on either the right or left, as long as they are certain the driver is aware of their presence.

People cycling at junctions

When cyclists are turning into or out of a side road they too must give way to pedestrians already crossing or waiting to cross.

Where there are traffic lights controlling a junction the new Code advises cyclists to position themselves in the centre of the lane to make them more visible and with less chance of them being overtaken in a dangerous manner.

People cycling, riding a horse and driving horse-drawn vehicles on roundabouts

Roundabouts can be particularly treacherous for cyclists and the changes to the Code make this safer. Drivers and motorcyclists should give priority to cyclists on roundabouts and shouldn’t attempt to overtake them within their lane.

Cyclists should also be allowed to travel across lanes as they negotiate the roundabout so they can exit at their desired junction. They can also remain in the left hand lane, even if they intend to travel all the way round the roundabout, and drivers need to be particularly aware of this change so they don’t cut across them.

Parking, charging and leaving vehicles

A couple of years ago we wrote on this blog about the Dutch Reach technique for opening your car door from the inside and it has now been enshrined as a new addition to the Highway Code!

Reaching across your body to open the door with your opposite hand means you naturally rotate your head and shoulders to give you a better view of oncoming traffic.

The recommendation is to reduce the chances of causing injury to cyclists, motorcyclists or pedestrians if you’re opening onto a pavement.

There is also new guidance in place for the first time for electric vehicle charging points.

Drivers should park as close to the kerb as possible, avoid creating a trip hazard with trailing cables and ideally display a warning sign while their vehicle is charging.

All of these changes are designed to make roads safer for all users.

For more information on all the changes please visit the website.