The not-so-daft new Highway Code rules

You’ve probably already seen that the Highway Code is due to get an update on 19th of January.

So, what’s it all about? Well, it comes down to road safety.

As the article in Despatch says in its first section, these changes are all about ‘reinforcing good driver behaviour’.

A new road-user hierarchy has been added to the Highway Code. This isn’t really a new hierarchy, just that it’s now been added to the Highway Code. Those of us who have been delivering speed awareness course and other types of driver rehabilitation courses have spoke of this for years.

new highway code rules 2022
Are the new rules actually new?

It’s always been the case that pedestrians have the complete right of way on any part of the public highway. The public highway being from one boundary, all the way across the road to the other boundary (not on a motorway, this is not a public highway and is covered separately in the Motorways Act and relevant sections). So, on a normal road, from one fence, across the pavement, across both lanes of traffic, the opposite pavement to the other fence, would be the public highway. On a dual carriageway, one boundary, across however many lanes, the land or permanent works separating the lane/s all the way to the other boundary.

The hierarchy has always given pedestrians the first right of passage. This is followed up with horses (back to the magna carta I believe to ensure safe passage to troops etc.), farm animals and animals used to correctly herd them. After that (like it or not) cyclists and then the humble motor vehicle. The new hierarchy suggests a higher order of the largest vehicles having the most responsibility.

hierarchy of road users
The road users that can cause the most damage has the most responsibility on the road

Now let’s look at why this is right.

By their very nature, pedestrians and cyclists are the most vulnerable road users. With no safety equipment or protective cage around them, pedestrians sit at the very top of the heirarchy.

It’s possible a pedestrians or cyclist could even have a learning difficulty, making them even more vulnerable. The driver of a motor vehicle has a duty to look after the more vulnerable. It’s a responsibility we take on in having a driving licence.

Think of it this way – it’s the order they were put on this earth! Pedestrians came first. None of us are old enough to remember how a mechanically-propelled vehicle needed to have a man 25 feet waving a red flag in-front – but this was to protect the pedestrian.

Drivers take lessons with a professional driving instructor, two tests and sign to confirm they are medically fit to drive. Pedestrians do not have to. We obviously could not turn it around so the pedestrian took the responsibility.

Lets look at what else the Despatch article says…

The most notable change for candidates and trainers is; “At a junction you should give way to people crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from you are turning’.

Despatch, DVSA

Is this really any different to what we teach now?

I remember when I first became a driving instructor. I was told (and have taught ever since) to give way to pedestrians at the junction. Give way does not mean stop, but stop if necessary.

So, on approach to a junction, what would we teach? Mirrors, signal, position, speed and look? Look for what? Yes, a pedestrian or anything that might cause us to change our speed or direction (I believe they’re called hazards!)

Lets go back a few steps.

Mirrors. Why did we check the mirrors? Ah, to see what’s behind… So what? Well if in this early stage of planning you see a vehicle close behind you, what do we teach our pupils to do? Ease of the gas a little, or as the Highway Code says when a vehicle is close behind you “increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front” (or just plan old “slow down”) This will cause the vehicle behind to slow down but you all know this, you’ve been teaching this for years. A pedestrian at a junction might cross – they might not, the rule gets us to teach our pupils to be prepared for them to step out and plan.

What would be the alternative to this… to not stop if they walk out in front?

Person walking into junction
What’s the other option, run them over? Image: DVSA

If you were teaching a pupil to pass a bus waiting at a bus stop, you’d ask your pupil about what if a pedestrian runs out from behind the bus. This is no different. There is nothing new here, just an awareness to what we teach.

Obviously, things go wrong and should that pedestrian have stepped out in a situation that could never have been expected, if no matter what planning a vehicle was still too close, if, if, if would all be taken into account in an insurance claim – or for that matter for a driving test result.

It’s the planning that’ll be marked on a test and I doubt there is anyone amongst us who do not talk to learners about what may or may not happen at a junction. The new rules still say a pedestrian should take care and look at junctions, will they really just start walking out in front of vehicles?

The Highway Code makes new references to people walking, cycling or riding in shared spaces. There is nothing new. The guidance talks sensibly about ensuring others are aware of your presence. Not to pass pedestrians at high speed or too close. I do wonder if this should have included the new motorised wheelchairs we see traveling at speed, although this is mentioned in the section on motorised powered wheelchairs in they should only travel at the speed of the pedestrians already walking.

There is updated guidance for the cyclist.

  • “Riding in the centre of their lane on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowings”
  • “Keeping at least 0.5 metres (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge (and further where it is safer) when riding on busy roads with vehicles moving faster than them

I am sure many of us are aware that this has been the guidance during cycling proficiency for many years now anyway. The Highway Code just brings this to the motorist’s attention.

Being in the centre of a road makes a cyclist more visible. It has been demonstrated that when cyclists hug a kerb, drivers try to squeeze past them and there have been many crashes and deaths caused because of this. A cyclist in the middle of the road causes a driver to think more about the overtake, maybe while muttering something under their breath – but think more all the same.

Similarly, many of us have known the advice about riding 2 abreast for a long time and the reasons are the same as above. However, note, cyclists are urged to consider pedestrians too and to keep one metre away from vehicles when passing them.

The Highway Code will have updated guidance about motor vehicles passing pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders and reminds drivers of the crossing a double white line and the 10mph rule. Remember this is for everyone’s safety, no matter what someone’s feelings are about any road user, the feelings they would have if it all went horribly wrong would be worse.

Note these words, “The updated code will confirm that people cycling may pass slower-moving or stationary traffic on their right or left.” The wording is ‘confirm’, not change. Cyclists have always been able to do this and as such, instructors should have already been teaching this.

It goes on to give some responsibility to the cyclist, they should proceed with caution on the approach to junctions and when deciding whether it is safe to pass lorries or other large vehicles.

There are a lot more rules for cyclists when turning left and right etc. As an instructor we make our pupils aware of these rules and discuss the merits of what our could pupil do if (it’s always about ‘if’), if this and if that. Trying to encourage the learner to think for themselves. We cannot possibly look at every scenario, but to start your pupils on the journey of considering options is they best gift we can give them. The old approach of telling simply covered a few scenarios – if something happened later, the pupil would simply negate their responsibility with ‘my instructor never told me that’.

Interestingly – and rightly so, some of the new guidance separates motorcyclists at junctions and roundabouts with cyclists. It really endorses the hierarchy of the cyclist over the motorcycle. The section goes on to say a cyclist etc. may stay in the left-hand lane when negotiating a roundabout. This can make sense at many roundabouts rather than have a cyclist try to negotiate many lanes. Motor vehicles just hold back.

The Dutch reach 🇳🇱

There is mention of a system for drivers to open doors. Personally, I always asked pupils how they would ensure it was safe before opening a door. If a pupil gives me their version of what is safe and, in my opinion, it is safe, then I will always be happy. I’m not a fan of endorsing any particular method in anything. If we did, we move away from the essence of coaching, and fall back to telling and the superficial learning that goes on with that.

Yes, the Dutch reach(or something similar) might be a way to encourage IF a pupil has no clue, but it’s rare to find pupils with no clue.

Before we knock these new bits of advice, consider the alternatives, not stopping for pedestrians, not giving additional room and not planning for them? Surely that really is a recipe for disaster.

PS: We’ve updated the Lesson Planner with diagrams of the new updates for your pupils. If you haven’t got yours already, click below.

One thought on “The not-so-daft new Highway Code rules”

  1. I might have a preference although I couldn’t agree more generally – “I’m not a fan of endorsing any particular method in anything. If we did, we move away from the essence of coaching, and fall back to telling and the superficial learning that goes on with that.”

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