On 29th January 2022 the Highway Code was amended following a public consultation to improve road safety for vulnerable road users. There is no doubt that better protection was necessary, and the Highway Code has now addressed this very issue ensuring the safety of `vulnerable road users`. The road users considered to be more at risk of suffering serious injury in a road traffic accident include pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders.
The changes to the Code are extensive. We have highlighted the main updates as follows: –
Hierarchy of road users
The hierarchy of road users is set to identify the order in which different road users are likely to be injured as a result of a Road Traffic Accident. The hierarchies as follows:-
- Horse riders
- Cars and taxis
- Vans and minibuses
- Larger heavy goods vehicles
It should be noted that the hierarchy does not remove the responsibility to act safely.
Pedestrians now have right of way over drivers and cyclists at junctions and at the side of the road. Previously, drivers only had to give way to a pedestrian if the pedestrian was already established on the road, for example, had started to cross or was already on a zebra crossing. Now, drivers and cyclists must give way to pedestrians who are waiting at a side road, junction or crossing. This gives pedestrians the main right of way on the roads, even when they are attempting to walk out into oncoming traffic.
As well as increased rights for pedestrians, drivers must now give way to cyclists who are turning into junctions, out of junctions or switching lanes as well as at roundabouts. Pursuant to rule 72 of the Highway Code, cyclists can now ride in the centre of their lane and position themselves to make them more visible.
Safe passing distances
Rule 163 of the Highway Code now provides safe passing distances for overtaking cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. This includes maintaining at least a 1.5 metre space when overtaking a cyclist at speeds of up to 30mph. More space is required when overtaking a vulnerable road user at speeds in excess of 30mph. If a pedestrian is on foot, a motorist is expected to allow at least two meters of space and reduce their speed on approach. Extra caution is expected in poor weather. The guidance also sets out that drivers should not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet the clearances set out above.
Safely passing and the Dutch Reach
When cycling by parked vehicles there is a risk of doors being opened into a cyclist’s path and this has become an increasing problem and a common cause of collision. Prior to the changes, cyclist`s had been asked to watch out for doors being opened. Rule 67 of the Highway Code now provides extensive guidance on the safe distance to pass parked vehicles. The suggestion is now a doors width or one metre when passing.
For those opening the doors, Rule 239 of the Highway Code has also been updated to include what is known as the Dutch Reach. When you are able to do so, you should open your vehicle door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening. This enables you to turn your body and head to check over your shoulder and the blind spot. Previously, the Highway Code had remained somewhat silent on this matter. This is the first time specific advice is being provided on how to exit a vehicle safely.
Zoey Smith our personal injury Solicitor says:
“the changes are welcome and it is clear that they should prevent the number of road traffic casualties, particularly among vulnerable road users. I feel that the changes have come at the right time and will hopefully encourage and protect our most vulnerable road uses to get back on the road after an extremely challenging time.
Nevertheless, the Government need to go one step further and educate road users otherwise it would have been a pointless exercise. New and learner drivers will have the benefit to learn the new rules whereas established road users will be less informed leading to confusion. I would predict without knowledge and education there will be an increase in pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist claims. Whilst the government is running their THINK! campaign to encourage and highlight the small steps that can be made to prevent serious accidents on the roads, it is doubtful this will be enough. The Government need to take action now to make people aware of the changes.
It will be extremely interesting to see how the approach to the issue of liability between motorists, pedestrians and cyclists will be taken by the Courts as most often the position on liability is argued whereas now it appears that the blame will be directed to the road user who can cause the most harm.
If you have been injured in a road traffic accident, please contact Zoey Smith on 01492 876354 for advice.