Earlier this year, the UK government confirmed a raft of planned changes to the Highway Code. As the single most important road safety ‘rulebook’ for motorists and pedestrians alike, it was hoped that the announcement would be taken seriously and that the new rules would be followed verbatim.
When new legislation like this is introduced, it inevitably passes some people by. But in the case on the latest changes to the Highway Code, research suggests that a surprising proportion of people have no idea anything has changed.
In fact, one poll indicated that as many as two out of three Brits were completely unaware of the fact that the Highway Code was set to be updated this year.
The New and Improved Highway Code
As always, the alterations to the Highway Code were implemented for the greater good of the public in general. The ‘new and improved’ rules that went into effect at the end of January outlined a new hierarchy of road users, wherein those who pose a higher level of risk to others take on a higher level of responsibility.
What this means is that while cyclists will need to take on more responsibility for the safety of pedestrians, motorists will need to take greater care of cyclists. It is essentially a way of communicating the importance of working together collectively to look after one another when out and about on public roads.
However, government representatives admitted in the interim that the changes are likely to be of limited practical value or benefit, if so many people are unaware that they have taken place.
Legal Requirements vs. Advisory Measures
Further complicating matters is the way in which the changes to the Highway Code include a variety of new legal requirements, along with several ‘advisory measures’ that are not in fact mandatory by law.
For example, each of the following has been presented strictly as an advisory measure by the government, meaning that while they are recommended, they are not legal requirements:
Acknowledging the difficulties faced in bringing road users up to speed with the new rules, campaigners suggested that too many people will have already been unaware of even the basics of the existing Highway Code.
“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,” said Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Head of Campaigns.
Sentiments shared by the Transport Secretary, who suggested that the only way to improve road safety – particularly for cyclists – is to launch a more comprehensive national campaign.
“With cyclists feeling increasingly unsafe, these are welcome changes, but they will be totally meaningless if the public don’t know anything about them. A comprehensive national safety campaign is needed to keep cyclists safe on our roads, but ministers are missing in action,” commented Transport SecretaryLouise Haigh.
Even so, the new regulations require cyclists to take more responsibility for those they may pose a health and safety risk to on public roads. This includes giving way to pedestrians on shared-use cycle tracks, and to give way to horses on bridleways.
In addition, cyclists will also be expected to alert those nearby to their presence in the same way as motorists, either vocally or by ringing their bell.
“The changes to the Highway Code will improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders,” added a representative of the Department for Transport
“The department has established a working group of key organisations to ensure that messages about the changes are as widespread as possible, and our well-established Think! campaign will continue to ensure all road users are aware both when these changes come into effect and beyond.”
The new rules were officially added to the Highway Code on January 29 this year. However, it remains to be seen if and to what extent they make a difference to road safety. Or for that matter, how many motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are even aware that the new rules exist.