One in five drivers don’t know the Highway Code had received a rule shake-up earlier this year, a survey suggests.
Road safety charity IAM Roadsmart polled 1,000 motorists about the controversial changes introduced in late January.
Some 20 per cent of respondents revealed they were clueless about the updated guidance, including the newly-established ‘hierarchy of road users’ that means drivers of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm bear the most responsibility to take care of others around them.
Are you aware of changes to the Highway Code? One in five drivers polled by IAM Roadsmart said they didn’t know its rules had been updated in Janaury
The road safety charity claims its findings show that seven million out of the 35.9million registered drivers in Britain are potentially unaware and likely breaking the rules, of which 50 were updated or added at the start of 2022.
More than half of drivers polled admitted they can’t remember the last time they read the Highway code.
Additionally, more than a third of those surveyed said they hadn’t referenced it in more than a year.
Despite this, 83 per cent of respondents believed changes and regular updates to the code are important.
Changes implemented in January include the new hierarchy of road users.
This means drivers have more responsibility for the safety of vulnerable road users.
The updated code also introduces a new section that when pedestrians are waiting at a junction, other traffic should give way.
Director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart Neil Greig said: ‘An alarming number of motorists are driving on Britain’s roads without awareness of key changes which fundamentally shift the dynamics of shared use.
‘This is a serious safety risk which could actually see the updated code causing more conflict on our roads rather than less.’
Highway Code changes from 29 January have been among the most controversial in recent history, with drivers and pedestrians receiving extra priority designed to keep them safe
A new ‘hierarchy of road users’ means drivers of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm bear the most responsibility to take care of others around them, including cyclists
More than half of drivers – 51 per cent – think the Government has done a shoddy job communicating the Highway Code changes, the charity says.
The Government confirmed in January that it will fund a new £500,000 Think! campaign across radio and social media to raise awareness for the changes to the rules, though it didn’t start until mid-February – almost a month after they were introduced.
This has raised safety concerns among motoring bodies like the AA, which found in a poll of 13,700 drivers taken ahead of the January update that that a third didn’t know the Highway Code was due to be revamped in 2022.
Mr Greig added: ‘Before the roll out of the new Highway Code changes, we warned that a huge education campaign would be required to ensure the amendments are disseminated and fully adopted by the millions of existing drivers, motorcyclists and road users.
‘Unfortunately, our survey shows that the government education campaign did not effectively communicate the changes, or perhaps even reach the eyes and ears of drivers in the first place.
‘In future, we would urge the Department for Transport to be more realistic about the impact that simply changing a seldom read document will have on the behaviour and safety of road users.’
A total of 50 rules have been added or updated in nine separate sections of the Highway Code from 29 January 2022, yet one if five motorists are unaware of there being changes
HIGHWAY CODE CHANGES DRIVERS NEED TO KNOW
Such a significant overhaul to Highway Code guidance might, for some drivers, be a little overwhelming, so we’ve listed the ten major changes that affect motorists and put them into their simplest terms…
1. There’s a new ‘hierarchy of road users’
One of the most controversial changes to the Highway Code is the introduction of a new ‘hierarchy of road users’ – a pyramid scheme of protection to keep those who are most vulnerable safe.
It means drivers of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm bear the most responsibility to take care of others around them.
Essentially, the bigger and heavier the vehicle you drive, the more responsibility you have to reduce risk.
The hierarchy of road users is a pyramid scheme of protection to keep those who are most vulnerable safe
It means HGV, truck and bus drivers have the most responsibility, followed by drivers of vans and minibuses, then cars and taxis, and next motorbike riders. Cyclists and horse riders also have more responsibility than pedestrians.
The rule doesn’t mean pedestrians can roam around the road believing they are cloaked by this invisible protection without a care in the world.
The Highway Code update includes the line: ‘The hierarchy does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly.’
Highway Code wording explained
Must/Must not – Legal requirements, and you’re committing a criminal offence if you disobey these rules.
Should/Should not, Do/Do not – Advisory wording, and may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability.
This Graphic shows how the Highway Code will change in relation to drivers and cyclists, including new right of way for pedestrians at junctions
2. Pedestrians have more right of way at junctions
While pedestrians have always had the right of way if they’re already in the road, this Highway Code update gives them even more rights at junctions.
If a person is crossing or even waiting to cross at a junction, other traffic should give way. And if traffic is turning into the road that a pedestrian is crossing, they should wait and allow them to get to the other side.
Rule makers have also provided a clarification about rights of way on zebra or parallel crossings (the latter being the same as a zebra crossing but with a cycle route that also crosses the road). It now states that all road users – including motorcyclists and cyclists – must give way to anyone walking or pedalling across these crossing types.
Cyclists are encouraged to ride in the middle of the road in some circumstances and, even if there is a cycle lane, they will not be obliged to use it
3. Cyclists can be in the middle of a lane in the road (even if there is a cycle lane)
Updated guidance now provides cyclists with more rights to position themselves more prominently in the road.
The Highway Code says cyclists can ride in the centre of their lane on quieter roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowings.
When travelling along more congested roads with faster moving vehicles, cyclists should keep at least half a metre (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge – and can ride even closer to the middle of a lane where it is ‘safer to do so’.
All these above rules also apply when there is a cycle lane available, with cyclists not obliged to use it if they prefer not to.
Away from the Highway Code, drivers in a town or city should also bear in mind that there is often a very good reason why cyclists aren’t right up against the kerb. Road surfaces there tend to be riddled with potholes, drain covers and other imperfections that can make cycling close to the kerb dangerous, with no margin for error if cars are squeezing them in from the other side.
Cyclists are within their right to cycle two-abreast in a single lane, and this is encouraged for large groups such as the one pictured
4. Groups of cyclists encouraged to ride two-abreast
Additional advice is now given to cyclists riding in groups, with requests to be ‘considerate of the needs of other road users’ but also makes clear they can ride two abreast in a lane.
In fact, the new wording encourages this in particular scenarios, such as in larger groups, or when accompanying children or less experienced riders.
That said, when a vehicle is approaching from behind, groups of cyclists are told they have a duty to allow a driver to overtake, for example by reverting to single file or stopping.
How much space do you need to give? Driver will need to leave 2 metres (or 6.5 feet) between their vehicle and people riding horses at speeds under 10mph
5. Drivers should keep these distances from cyclists, horse riders and ramblers when passing
Motorists need to have their mental tape measures at the ready, as the latest Highway Code update has a number of scenarios where they need to keep a certain distance from other road users.
Firstly, when overtaking a cyclist or horse rider travelling at 10mph or less, a motorist can cross a double-white line in the centre of the road to overtake – provided there isn’t anything coming in the opposite direction.
When overtaking cyclists riding at speeds up to 30mph, a driver should leave at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) of space, and even more if the motorist is passing at higher speeds.
A driver will also need to add another half metre (taking it to 2 metres, or 6.5 feet) when passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10mph – the same needs to be done when passing people walking in the road, like when coming across ramblers on roads where there is no pavement.
The Highway Code states that a driver should wait behind these road users and not overtake until it is possible to achieve these specific clearances.
6. Cyclists can pass you on the left as well as the right when you’re in a jam
Motorists need to keep their wits about them on congested routes, as the Highway Code update now says a cyclist is allowed to pass them when in slow-moving or stationary traffic both on the right and the left.
However, it does urge particular caution to cyclists when passing (particularly on the left where drivers might not be expecting them to be) on the approach to junctions and especially when passing lorries and large vehicles that may not have seen them and are a major injury risk.
In slow-moving traffic, cyclists are permitted to pass vehicles on the left or the right, whichever they choose. This means motorists need to be more aware of their positioning
7. Cyclists have priority going straight ahead at junctions
Drivers need to be extra vigilant of cyclists as well as pedestrians at junctions with a selection of new rules designed to protect them and also provide priority.
The code recommends that people cycling should act like any other vehicle when dealing with junctions where there are no specific cyclist facilities in place.
This includes positioning themselves in the centre of their chosen lane where they feel able to do this safely. This should make them more visible to drivers and prevent traffic overtaking them when they’re trying to turn.
The code clarifies that when people cycling are going straight ahead at a junction, they have priority over traffic waiting to turn into or out of a side road, unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise.
People cycling are asked to watch out for motorists intending to turn across their path, as people driving ahead may not be able to see them.
8. An update to roundabout rules
The Highway Code now clarifies that anyone driving or riding a motorcycle should give priority to people cycling on roundabouts, meaning they should not attempt to overtake them in the lane they’re travelling in and should allow cyclists to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout.
And while cyclists and horse riders were already allowed to use the left-hand lane of a roundabout no matter which exit they were taking, additional guidance now says that drivers have to take ‘extra care’ when entering a roundabout to make sure they do not cut across these road users.
The introduction of the Dutch Reach technique should help prevent scenarios like this one where a vehicle occupant opens the door on a passing cyclist
9. Going Dutch
The code now recommends motorists exit their vehicles using a technique called the ‘Dutch Reach’.
Where drivers or passengers in a vehicle are able to do so, they should open the door using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening. For example, using their left hand to open a door on their right-hand side.
This will physically force them to turn their head to look over their shoulder behind them, which means they are more likely to spot people about to cycle past their door.
The code also says that cyclists should leave a door’s width – or one metre – when passing a parked car to avoid being hit if a passenger or driver swings it open.
If drivers are concerned a charging cable could be a trip hazard for pedestrians, they should put out a warning sign
10. Electric car owners should take provisions to not trip pedestrians with their charging cables
Finally, the Highway Code now has new instructions for electric vehicle users. And one of these is primarily focused on what to do when using a charging point.
Drivers should park as close to the device as possible so the charging cable doesn’t become a trip hazard for people walking.
And if they are concerned someone might fall over the cable, they should put out a warning sign near their vehicle.
The guidance also states that they should neatly return the charging cables in the device so they don’t cause a hazard for pedestrians when not in use.
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