The Highway Code applies to England, Scotland and Wales. Its primary goal is to promote safety on the road in support of building a healthier, more sustainable and more efficient transport system. The Highway Code changed on the 29th of January 2022 with several new rules being along with 49 updates to some of the existing rules.

Why Did They Change The Highway Code?

The changes for 2022 are a result of a public consultation on the Highway Codes in terms of improving road safety for those more at risk, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. This consultation occurred between July and October 2020 with more than 20,000 responses from businesses and other organisations. Most of the respondents agreed to all the changes which we’ll look at in the next section.

What Are The New Changes To The Highway Code?

Eight new rules have been added to the Highway Code with the most significant being the new ‘hierarchy of road users’. They’ve divided this into three rules: H1, H2 and H3 which involves prioritising vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians. Below is a summary of each:

Rule H1: Hierarchy of Road Users

The greatest responsibility for reducing the danger to others in a collision falls on those who own or drive vehicles as they do the most harm. The obligation is primarily extended to lorries, cars/taxis, and motorbike drivers. Cyclists and horse riders also have an additional duty to safeguard pedestrians by complying with the new traffic regulations.

Rule H2: Priority For Pedestrians at Junctions

At a junction, cars, motorcycles and horse riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which you are turning or from where you are departing. The new Highway Code stated that motorists should yield to pedestrians waiting at a zebra crossing (the current rule states that you only have to give way if they’re already on the crossing), and those waiting to cross a parallel crossing.

Rule H3: Priority for Cyclists When Cars are Turning

When turning into or out of a junction, changing direction, or moving lanes, you should not cut across cyclists, horse riders, or horse-drawn vehicles going straight. This applies whether they are riding in a cycle lane, cycle track, or heading ahead on the road and you must yield to them. Do not turn at a junction if doing so might cause the cyclist, horse rider or horse-drawn vehicle going straight to suddenly stop or swerve. You should stop and wait until there is a gap to safely execute your turn.

Other Changes To The Highway Code

They have also introduced several other new rules which further clarify when pedestrians have priority on the road. Here, we take a closer look at a few more changes that every road user should be especially aware of.

Positioning In The Road When Cycling

  • According to the new Highway Code, cyclists must take care when overtaking pedestrians and horses by slowing down and alerting them using their bell
  • They are advised to ride in the centre of their lane to make themselves more visible, especially on quiet roads and in slow-moving traffic or when approaching a junction when it would be unsafe for a vehicle to overtake
  • When cycling on faster moving or busier roads, riders must keep at least 0.5 metres (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge (and further where it is safer) for drivers to overtake when it is safe

Cycling In Groups and Passing Parked Vehicles

When cycling in groups, riders should be considerate of the needs of other road users. They may ride 2 abreast only when it is safe to do so, especially when travelling in larger groups or accompanying children or less experienced riders. According to the new Highway Code, cyclists should be aware of people driving behind them and allow them to overtake by moving into a single file or stopping when it is safe to do so. When passing parked vehicles, cyclists should leave sufficient space, at least a door’s width or 1 metre, to avoid being hit by an opening car door. Cyclists also need to be more alert of people walking into their path.

Overtaking Rules for Vehicles and Motorcycles

Vehicles may cross a double white line to overtake a cyclist or horse rider if necessary and when the road is clear. This only applies when they are travelling at 10 mph or less as indicated by Rule 129. The Highway Code changes have new guidance on safe passing distances and speeds for people motorists and motorcycles when overtaking vulnerable road users. This includes the following:

  • Leave at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) when overtaking cyclists travelling up to 30mph, and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds
  • Pass horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph with at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space
  • Allow at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) and keep to a low speed when passing people walking in the road where there’s no pavement, for example. You must wait behind them and do not overtake if it’s unsafe or not possible to keep those distances

New Highway Code Rules for Cyclists at Junctions

Cyclists turning into or out of a side road must give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross. Some junctions now feature small cycle traffic lights at eye level which may allow cyclists to move separately, before or after other traffic. Where there are no separate cycling facilities, the Highway Code recommends that cyclists proceed as if they were driving a vehicle. This includes staying in the centre of their chosen lane to make them as visible as possible and avoid being overtaken as this could be dangerous. Cyclists using junctions where signs and markings tell them to turn right should do so in two stages.

  • Stage 1: When the traffic lights turn green, go to the cycle and turn symbols on the road and wait
  • Stage 2: When the traffic lights on the far side of the junction turn green, safely make the turn

Cyclists, Horse Riders and Horse-drawn Vehicles on Roundabouts

The Highway Code now requires people driving or riding a motorcycle to give priority to cyclists and other vulnerable road users. The new rules state that vehicles and motorcycles should not attempt to overtake cyclists within that person’s lane and should allow cyclists to move across their path as they go around the roundabout.

The existing Highway Code already explains that cyclists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles may stay in the left-hand lane of a roundabout when they want to continue across or around. The new guidance explains that vehicles and motorcycles should take extra care when entering a roundabout and must not cut across cyclists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles.

Changes to Parking, Charging and Leaving Vehicles

The Highway Code recommends using a technique sometimes referred to as the ‘Dutch Reach’ when leaving a vehicle. This involves drivers or passengers exiting a vehicle to open the door using their opposite hand, if possible. For example, using their left hand to open the right-hand side door. Doing this will force them to turn their head and look behind them, helping to reduce the risk of injury to cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.

When it comes to electric vehicles, the Highway Code now includes guidance about using EV charging points. It states the following:

  • Park close to the charge point and avoid creating a trip hazard from trailing cables
  • If possible, display a warning sign
  • Neatly return charging cables and connectors to minimise the danger to other people and avoid creating an obstacle for other road users

Are The Highway Codes Legally Binding?

It’s essential that everyone reads the Highway Code and not just learner drivers as they update it regularly. Since many of the rules are legal requirements, failure to comply could mean you are committing a criminal offence.

While failure to comply with the ‘advisory rules’, in themselves, will not cause a person to be prosecuted, the Highway Code may be used as evidence in court proceedings (under the Traffic Acts) to establish liability. This includes all the rules in the Highway Code using advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.

The Alliance of British Drivers has asked the Government to send every household in the UK a printed copy of the Highway Code changes. This way, they can help educate all road users on the new and updated codes.

Summary of Changes for 2022

Duncan Dollimore of Cycling UK said: “Many people won’t have read the Highway Code for years, so it’s essential that the key changes are clearly explained, with simple, accurate and memorable messages.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) agreed that it would have to perform targeted awareness campaigns and behaviour change communications if the Highway Code changes were to have the desired impact.

As stated by a DfT representative: “Our well-established THINK! campaign will be developing a communications campaign to support implementation of the changes, both at launch and beyond, timed seasonally to support times of increased active travel.”

You can find more information about the Highway Code changes on the gov.uk website. To stay updated on all things motoring, please follow our weekly blog as we share valuable insights on vehicle maintenance, driving tips, MOTs and tyre safety among many other topics.