Highway Code changes will see cyclists given more rights than motorists at junctions

Cyclists will be given priority over motorists at junctions when travelling straight ahead under changes to the Highway Code to be announced today.

Drivers will also be given a specific duty to ensure people on bikes are safe, while they in turn will be told to look out for pedestrians. 

Motorists will also be told to give way to pedestrians crossing the road, and a new ‘hierarchy of road users’ will outline how responsibility rests with those who could potentially cause the most harm to others.

The changes are part of a new cycling and walking strategy to be unveiled today by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who will announce a £338million package to boost both across the country. 

But Hugh Bladen, from the Alliance of British Drivers motoring group, criticised the Government for ‘making a complete Horlicks of the situation’ and it was a ‘retrograde step’ that will lead to confusion on the roads. 

However, British former racing cyclist Chris Boardman described the changes as ‘inspiringly logical action’ and said they was a ‘real milestone for active travel’, while British Cycling called them a ’cause for celebration’. 

Cycling UK produced this example showing how priority should be presumed for those moving straight ahead, with the car driver therefore having to cede priority to both the pedestrian and cyclist

Cycling UK produced this example showing how priority should be presumed for those moving straight ahead, with the car driver therefore having to cede priority to both the pedestrian and cyclist

Cycling UK produced this example showing how priority should be presumed for those moving straight ahead, with the car driver therefore having to cede priority to both the pedestrian and cyclist

CURRENT RULES - Section 178 of the Highway Code on advanced stop lines states that motorists must stop at the first white line reached if the light ae amber or red, and should avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the market area at other times, such as if the junction ahead is blocked. Motorists are also told to allow cyclists time and space to move off when the green signal shows

CURRENT RULES - Section 178 of the Highway Code on advanced stop lines states that motorists must stop at the first white line reached if the light ae amber or red, and should avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the market area at other times, such as if the junction ahead is blocked. Motorists are also told to allow cyclists time and space to move off when the green signal shows

CURRENT RULES – Section 178 of the Highway Code on advanced stop lines states that motorists must stop at the first white line reached if the light ae amber or red, and should avoid blocking the way or encroaching on the market area at other times, such as if the junction ahead is blocked. Motorists are also told to allow cyclists time and space to move off when the green signal shows

CURRENT RULES - Section 182 of the current Highway Code refers to turning left. It states that drivers should use their mirrors and give a left-turn signal well before they turn left - and that cyclists, motorcyclists and other road users may be hidden from their view

CURRENT RULES - Section 182 of the current Highway Code refers to turning left. It states that drivers should use their mirrors and give a left-turn signal well before they turn left - and that cyclists, motorcyclists and other road users may be hidden from their view

CURRENT RULES – Section 182 of the current Highway Code refers to turning left. It states that drivers should use their mirrors and give a left-turn signal well before they turn left – and that cyclists, motorcyclists and other road users may be hidden from their view

These are the Government's 'key design principles' for its new plans for cycling, with the intention that it 'is or will become mass transit and must be treated as such'

These are the Government's 'key design principles' for its new plans for cycling, with the intention that it 'is or will become mass transit and must be treated as such'

These are the Government’s ‘key design principles’ for its new plans for cycling, with the intention that it ‘is or will become mass transit and must be treated as such’

Mr Bladen told MailOnline: ‘Quite frankly, you know, we all need to take care of one another on the road – and just to give cyclist carte blanche to go sailing through red lights seems to me to be taking things a step too far.

‘We’re all on the road together, let us all be sensible about the whole thing, and just to say cyclists can do whatever they like is absurd in my view. We should all be bound by the rules of the road that are there. 

What the new ‘hierarchy of road users’ will be

  1. Pedestrians
  2. Cyclists
  3. Horse riders
  4. Motorcyclists
  5. Cars/taxis
  6. Vans/minibuses
  7. Large passenger vehicles/heavy goods vehicles
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‘So, if there’s a stop sign, then we should all stop. If there’s a red light, we should stop. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on two wheels or four. 

‘They’re making a complete Horlicks of the situation if they change it any way. 

‘I think it’s a retrograde step and it will lead to confusion because cyclists will think they have right of way.’

Upgrades and requirements to ensure that the effects of travel schemes are properly assessed are among the raft of new measures.

Updates to the Highway Code will include a ‘hierarchy of road users’ that ensures users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others.

There will also be strengthened pedestrian priority on pavements and when crossing or waiting to cross the road. 

Changes will also be made to guidance on safe passing distances and speeds, as well as ensuring that cyclists have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead.

Cycling expert Carlton Reid, the former editor of BikeBiz magazine, said today: ‘Since it was introduced in 1931, the Highway Code has stressed that road users have equal responsibility for safety despite the clear disparity between users with and without engines. 

‘This is why the change is significant. It’s taken 90 years but finally the UK Government formally recognises the power imbalance on our roads. No more ‘steam before sail’.’

Changes to the Highway Code will include ensuring that cyclists have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead

Changes to the Highway Code will include ensuring that cyclists have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead

Changes to the Highway Code will include ensuring that cyclists have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead

Speaking about the new ‘hierarchy of road users’, Mr Reid added: ‘Yes, it will need a PR blitz and yes, it’ll need enforcing by the courts but all new drivers will be taught this new hierarchy — even if only in a lip-service way by reluctant driving instructors — but it’s a potentially seismic power shift nonetheless.

‘It also has potential ramifications for driverless cars. They will have to be programmed to cede priority to pedestrians and cyclists. In which case, they won’t work in cities.’ 

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK head of campaigns, told MailOnline today: ‘The Highway Code should look to reinforce behaviour which reduces the danger we pose to others road users and protects those most at risk, so rules which place greater responsibility on people driving larger vehicles are long overdue. 

‘Whilst we all have responsibility for our own behaviour, a bus driver’s failure to pay attention carries far greater risks to others than a pedestrians’, so of course those in charge of larger vehicles should bear greater responsibility.

‘Hopefully, these changes will herald a different attitude where the first question in any road safety conversation is how we reduce danger, not how people protect themselves from it. 

‘They also reflect wider government commitments on climate change, the environment, and public health, all of which rely upon more people walking or cycling short journeys, and that won’t happen if they don’t feel safe, so rules which prioritise the safety of vulnerable road users are a welcome first step.’

And RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: ‘These proposals should make cycling and walking safer and this is to be welcomed. A concerted effort must now be made to communicate the changes to drivers because as we know, many do not read the Highway Code for long periods after passing their test. 

‘Ultimately, the aim should be to ensure that everyone using the roads understands the new rules because any confusion is likely to lead to avoidable collisions.’

A spokesman for the London Cycling Campaign said today: ‘Many organisations in our campaigning sector have been putting work in to get the Highway Code changed to incorporate this important ‘road user hierarchy’.

‘No ‘on-paper’ rule change will radically improve safety for cyclists overnight. But this is progress, without a doubt.

The Department for Transport said: ‘The Highway Code’s hierarchy of road users will outline how responsibility rests with the road users who could potentially cause the most harm to others. 

‘For example, car drivers will be responsible for ensuring cyclists are safe, while cyclists will be responsible for looking out for pedestrians. The hierarchy does not remove the need for all road users to behave responsibly.’

It comes after last year saw the use of cycles rise more than in the previous 20 years put together.

The number of miles cycled on British roads rocketed by 45.7 per cent to five billion largely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Shapps said: ‘Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment.

‘As we build back greener from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone.’

The announcement has been welcomed by everyday walking charity Living Streets, which says the proposed changes will ‘redress the balance’ of road user responsibility. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will announce a £338million package to boost cycling and walking across the country

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will announce a £338million package to boost cycling and walking across the country

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will announce a £338million package to boost cycling and walking across the country

Stephen Edwards, interim chief executive at Living Streets, said: ‘The Highway Code currently treats children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people’s safety.

‘These changes will redress that balance. People walking cause the least road danger but are often left paying the price.

‘Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm should take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose.

‘Whether we choose to also drive or cycle, we are all pedestrians. These proposed revisions will benefit us all.’ 

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