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New Highway Code Changes Prioritise Active Travel

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Did you know that on Saturday 29th January 2022 the Highway Code changed?

What is the Highway Code?

The Highway Code is the set of advice, guides and mandatory rules which apply to all road users in the UK and help to keep us all safe by promoting road safety.

The Highway Code can be used in court to establish liability. Also, certain rules in the Highway Code are legally binding, so it is incredibly important to know the rules of the road, your responsibilities, and the responsibilities of those you share the roads with.

The current changes which came into force Saturday 29th January are the result of consultations that took place in 2020, which demonstrated support for improving safety for vulnerable road users.

What are the changes?

January saw the introduction of a new 'Hierarchy of Road Users' whereby those most at risk in the event of a collision - pedestrians, followed by cyclists and horse riders - are at the top of the hierarchy. Meanwhile, motor vehicle drivers are at the bottom of the hierarchy, indicating that they have more responsibility and must take great care to drive safely, particularly looking out for those above them in the list.

“In any interaction between road users, those who can cause the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they pose to others.”

Here are some of the changes that are coming into play:

  • Pedestrians now have priority and right of way when crossing or waiting to cross a road a vehicle is turning into. They are also able to use any part of the road or cycle tracks as well as pavement, unless there are specific signs prohibiting pedestrians.

  • Drivers and motorcyclists should give way to cyclists who are riding straight ahead, whether the cyclist is using a cycle lane, cycle track, or riding ahead on the road.

  • Vehicle doors should now be opened using the “Dutch reach” method. This means using the hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening so you’re better able to twist and look over your shoulder to see oncoming cyclists or other traffic. This reduces the likelihood of a “dooring” incident.

  • When overtaking cyclists, drivers should leave a minimum distance of 1.5m, more if they are driving fast or in a large vehicle. When overtaking pedestrians or horses, drivers should leave at least 2m and slow right down.

  • The amendments also state that extra care should be taken in bad weather and at nighttime. If it’s not possible to meet the mimimum clearances, or if it’s unsafe at all, then you should not overtake.

These changes are widely supported by many advocating for improved active travel and a shift away from car culture to a zero carbon transport system. They are touted by some as ‘a landmark shift in favour of people walking, wheeling, cycling and other vulnerable users’.

What do our Transport Just Transition Organisers think?

Our Transport Just Transition Organisers at Climate Action Leeds welcome these changes which, if adopted as standard driving practice, will make the roads much safer for vulnerable road users. We know that increasing active travel and reducing car use is vital to helping reach our city’s carbon goals and air quality targets. However, many people currently view road safety as a barrier to travelling actively (e.g. wheeling, walking or cycling).

We hope these changes to the Highway Code will be part of a virtuous cycle which sees more people cycling and walking and leaving the car at home. This in turn will reduce congestion (making all road travel more efficient), and further improve safety for cyclists and other vulnerable road users as their numbers increase.

This update represents an important step in creating cities as we want to see them - no longer dominated by cars and where people can move around safely and freely.

However, the changes will only be effective if they are properly communicated and enforced.

We welcome the recent THINK! campaign "Travel Like You Know Them" which has aired throughout July and August, and hope to see longer term campaigns to help embed the changes. In the meantime, we can all keep spreading the word to our friends, family and colleagues, and make sure to start practising the Dutch Reach ourselves!

Full details of the changes can be found here.


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