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New Highway Code changes ‘inherently unjust’

Road users on foot and bike are to gain greater priority over cars at junctions and crossings due to new Highway Code changes. However, the RHA (Road Haulage Association) has announced that it is deeply concerned that the changes are unfair and unsafe and could put vulnerable road users at additional risk.

09 September 2021

New Highway Code changes ‘inherently unjust’

The new rules – due to be published this autumn – will strengthen right of way for pedestrians on pavements and when crossing, or waiting to cross, the road.

The updated Code will also give cyclists priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead, as well as issue guidance on safe passing distances and speeds.

Plus, a “hierarchy of road users” will ensure the more high-risk modes of transport have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to others.

This move comes as part of the government’s new £338 million fund to boost cycling and walking.

Changes “unfair and unsafe”

However, the RHA (Road Haulage Association) has announced that it is deeply concerned that the changes are unfair and unsafe and could put vulnerable road users at additional risk.

Of particular concern is the ‘hierarchy of road users’, which will see road users of larger vehicles, such as lorries and coaches, given extra responsibility for the safety of road users who are potentially at more risk, such as cyclists and pedestrians.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said that it is ‘inherently unjust’ to make commercial vehicle drivers and other motorists responsible for the safety of others over whom they have no control.

“As far as we can see, there is little, if any, justification for these changes. The hierarchy of risk created by the operation of cars, vans, coaches, buses and lorries is already reflected in the additional ongoing training undertaken by lorry and coach drivers.”

The other proposal which the RHA most strongly objects to is a new rule that gives cyclists a right of way to undertake turning vehicles. The change will require vehicles turning left to give way to cyclists coming from behind.

Mr Burnett continued: “While this is certainly something that all commercial vehicle drivers are trained to do as a matter of course, it simply isn’t always possible to see cyclists in this blind spot. We believe that this proposal must be dropped.”

Tom Cotton, head of RHA policy and infrastructure for England and Wales, said: “The proposal to give cyclists a special rule that gives them a right of way to pass a turning vehicle is dangerous, it simply defies logic to promote a manoeuvre that puts cyclists in this dangerous and vulnerable position on the road.”

What are the main changes to the Code?

The full Highway Code is over 150 pages long, with more than 300 rules. So, what are the new Highway Code rules for 2021?

In total, 33 rules will be amended, and two new rules will be introduced.

There are four main changes to the Code for drivers to be aware of:

  1. The introduction of a “hierarchy of road users”: putting the road users most likely to be seriously harmed in a collision at the top of the hierarchy. Therefore, pedestrians - especially children, older and disabled adults - are at the top of the hierarchy. Top-down, the hierarchy goes: pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders, motorcyclists, cars and taxis, vans and minibuses, large passenger, and heavy goods vehicles. In the Government’s consultation, 79 percent of the 21,000 consulted support this concept.
  2. Clarification on giving way to pedestrians crossing, or waiting to cross, the road.
  3. Establishing safe passing speeds when overtaking cyclists and horse riders, and giving them priority when travelling straight ahead at junctions
  4. Improving guidance for motorway driving, particularly if there is an incident or breakdown.

What new rules will be introduced?

Two new rules introduced see enhanced guidance on emergency areas. This follows concerns about fatalities on smart motorways where there is no hard shoulder.

New rule 270 has been proposed, reading:

Emergency areas are located along motorways with no hard shoulder or where the hard shoulder can be used as an extra lane (see Rule 269) and MUST only be used in an emergency. They are marked by blue signs with an orange SOS telephone symbol and may have orange surfacing.

The planned updates are expected to get parliamentary approval this Autumn, ahead of a new edition of The Code being published.

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