New Highway Code rules

New Highway Code rules now in effect

The Highway Code has been updated and all road users should take the time to familiarise themselves with the rules for the safety of themselves and others:

The changes are intended to clarify some areas of confusion and introduce a new ‘hierarchy of priority‘ which puts safety, and pedestrians, first. Vehicles are prioritised by speed and weight in relation to the amount of danger they represent in case of an accident (Rule H1).

…those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles.

Rule H1, the Highway Code

The hierarchy of priority

  1. Pedestrians – children, older adults and disabled people especially
  2. Cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles
  3. Drivers of motorcycles, cars/taxis, vans/minibuses, heavy goods and large passenger vehicles

Pedestrians now have right of way at junctions and all other road users must yield to people if they are waiting to cross.

Image from the Highway Code rule H2 showing a car waiting for pedestrians to cross at a junction.
Rule H2: Wait for the pedestrian to cross the junction before turning. This applies if you are turning right or left into the junction. (image from the Highway Code)

Clarifications include the right of cyclists to ride two-abreast or to take the ‘primary position’ in a lane for their own safety. Motorists are also encouraged to use the so-called “Dutch reach” when opening a door – opening it with the left hand so as to look over the shoulder and thereby avoid hitting a passing cyclist.

Motoring organisations such as the RAC and AA have welcomed the changes, but expressed concern that too few vehicle drivers are aware of them. Clearly if motorists are unaware of the rules, pedestrians will be taking their lives in their hands if they attempt to exercise their new rights (or indeed the rights they already had under the old Highway Code.)

These changes to the Highway Code are substantial, so it’s vitally important they are communicated clearly. In theory, they should make our roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, but unless everyone is aware of them, there’s a risk of angry clashes and, worse still, unnecessary collisions. Nobody wants to be on the right side of the Highway Code changes but in the back of an ambulance because of confusion on the part of a driver or any other road user.

RAC Media Centre

While the new rules are ‘advisory’, failure to follow the Highway Code can result in the commission of a driving offence. For example, “close passing” a vulnerable road user at an unsafe distance (less than 1.5m) constitutes ‘careless driving‘, which carries a punishment of 3-9 penalty points, a fine of up to 150% of your weekly wage, or discretionary disqualification from driving.

Orkney has 945 cars per 1000 adults as of 2020 (according to Transport Scotland) – the highest number in Scotland. With many narrow country roads this means motorists need to exercise patience and caution if they are to adhere to the Highway Code.

Active travel (i.e. walking and cycling) is a critical component of the fight against catastrophic climate change, and also reduces the burden on the NHS and public purse through a healthier populace. Anything which prioritises people and potentially makes the built environment safer and more pleasant to live in is to be welcomed.

Image credit: Karl Jilg / Swedish Road Administration

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1 reply »

  1. This is total nonsense ,on the narrow country roads which are 2.800mm wide many of which are used by walkers it is simply impossible for motorists to leave a seperation distance of 1.500mm between their vehicle and a pedestrian walking on the road .

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