Highway Code changes create new road user hierarchy

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Controversial updates to the document look set to be adopted later this year

Following a consultation period begun in 2020, the Government has announced changes to the Highway Code which give more priority to pedestrians and cyclists as well as introducing a ‘hierarchy’ of road users. Subject to parliamentary approval, the changes will take effect from this autumn.

The new hierarchy of road users has proved controversial, and aims to ensure that road users who have the potential to do the most harm have the most responsibility in reducing danger posed to other users. Increased pedestrian priority at junctions and when crossing roads, plus stronger guidance for motorists on dealing with cyclists are key to the new code.

The hierarchy has pedestrians at the top, followed by cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists, with cars, vans and minibuses, and large goods and passenger vehicles forming the bottom three tiers.

The consultation ran for 12 weeks, closing on 27 October 2020, and received nearly 21,000 responses from a range of respondents including government, public and business. The Government said that the majority of respondents to the consultation were in favour of all the changes proposed, believing that they would improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders, though it recognised that there were concerns raised, particularly from road haulage and freight companies, that larger vehicles would automatically be held liable in the event of a road collision with a road user higher up the hierarchy. It said however that the introduction of the new rules does not detract from the requirements for everyone to behave responsibly.

The RHA said it is ‘extremely concerned’ at the changes.

Commenting, RHA Chief Executive Richard Burnett said: “As far as we can see, there is little, if any, justification for these changes. The new priority rules for cycling are wrong. We have been campaigning for years to make cyclists aware of the dangers of undertaking turning HGVs but it now appears that they have right of way. This will encourage known unsafe manoeuvres by cyclists who are then absolved of responsibility for their actions towards motorists. Making a driver (motorist or commercial vehicle driver) who has no control over how a cyclist is trained to use the roads responsible for the safety of others is inherently unjust. The rules around pedestrian priority make sense, the change for cyclists increases road danger and collision risk. The hierarchy of risk created by the operation of cars, vans, coaches, buses and lorries is already reflected in the additional ongoing training undertaken by lorry and coach drivers.”