Changes to the Highway Code – what’s changing and what does this mean?

Over 40 changes to the Highway Code, including updates to existing rules as well as the addition of new text, came into effect from 29 January*. Whilst these changes are relevant to all road users, it’s important that our commercial motor clients are aware of these changes and communicate them effectively to their drivers.

Aviva Insurance Limited have issued the following article to help shed some light on the key areas.

What are the key changes?

The most fundamental change of principle is the inclusion of a Hierarchy of Road Users designed to place road users in order of potential harm. The aim is to improve safety for vulnerable road users (VRUs), in particular pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders.

The updated text states that “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, followed by vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles.”

In order of the potential to cause harm, the hierarchy can be represented as follows:

  • Large vehicles / HGVs
  • Vans / Minibuses
  • Cars / Taxis
  • Motorcyclists
  • Horse Riders
  • Cyclists
  • Pedestrians

With Vans and HGVs sitting at the top end of this hierarchy, there’s additional emphasis on the responsibility that sits with the drivers of these vehicles in maintaining safe practices on the roads.

Aviva’s solicitor partner, DWF, provided the following summary of some of the other key specific rule changes relevant to our commercial clients:

Rule H3 – You should not cut across cyclists going ahead when turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle. This applies whether cyclists are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them. Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve, just as you would do with a motor vehicle. You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary.

Rule H2 – At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning.

Rule 151 – In slow moving traffic motorists should allow pedestrians or cyclists to cross in front of you.

Rule 140 – Motorists should give way to cyclists in a cycle lane especially when approaching from behind.

Rule 163 – As a guide:

  • Leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds.
  • Pass horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allow at least 2 metres space.
  • Allow at least 2 metres space and keep to a low speed when passing a pedestrian who is walking in the road (e.g. where there is no pavement).
  • You should wait behind the motorcyclist, cyclist, horse rider, horse drawn vehicle or pedestrian and not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances.

Rule 212 – Give motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians walking in the road, at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car. Drivers should take extra care and give more space when overtaking motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians in bad weather (including high winds) and at night.

Aviva would also include:

Rule 72 – In addition to setting out safe passing distances, the right for cyclists to ride in the centre of their lane, to ensure that they remain visible. At junctions or on narrow roads, cyclists can maintain their central position where it would be unsafe for a driver to overtake.

Rule 239 – Opening the door of parked vehicles to avoid injury to cyclists, motorcyclists and/or pedestrians with the introduction of the ‘Dutch Reach’. This means that when opening your vehicle door, you should use your hand furthest from the door to reach across your chest. This movement forces the body and head to turn, allowing you to scan your rear view mirror, side mirror and check over your shoulder into your blind spot, enabling you to see if it is safe before opening your door.

Another significant update also on the horizon in 2022 is the introduction of a new driving offence – Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving punishable with an obligatory disqualification from driving and up to two years in prison. Previously offences for causing serious injury were specific to dangerous driving and driving when disqualified but this has now been extended to include careless driving which means there is now an increased risk of a custodial sentence and loss of driving licence for even a minor lapse of concentration. Serious injuries are also much more likely where pedestrians and cyclists are involved.

What does this mean?

It’s vital that our commercial customers are aware of these changes and of the potential impacts on their business. They have a responsibility to ensure their drivers are informed of these updates and are prepared for any changes in VRU behaviour as a result. In addition, the introduction of the new offence also lowers the threshold for prosecution, increasing the risk of severe punishment of up to two years imprisonment. It’s important that drivers themselves are aware of this increased personal liability when behind the wheel.

Gill Milner, Technical Practice Leader Casualty at Aviva commented: “Employers must make sure that their staff are made aware of the changes to the Highway Code to prevent potential confusion or conflict on the roads. Also, where appropriate, they should put in place arrangements to ensure that everyone understands the practical requirements when driving for work. Employers should take this opportunity to promote the wider safety message about sharing roads safely and raising the awareness of vulnerable road users so that everyone can contribute to making the roads a safer place.“

Impact on claims

In line with this new legislation, we may start to see more VRU-related claims; claims which, by their very nature, can result in serious injury or fatalities. Such claims can be devastating for all involved and can be costly depending on the damage caused. In addition to this, we may start to see claimant solicitors looking to capitalise on these changes after the recent Whiplash Reforms, which came into effect in 2021, changed the way low value whiplash claims are managed. Claims involving VRUs are exempt from this new process, allowing claimant solicitors the ability to recover substantial damages and costs, making these claims potentially more lucrative, and therefore attractive to claims management companies.

Charles Ashmore, head of Major Injury at DWF, commented: “The courts have for a long time applied the law recognising that drivers of motor vehicles have much greater capacity to cause harm than cyclists and pedestrians and apportion fault accordingly. But these changes go further to apply that principle in certain scenarios and there is a concern it may make pedestrians and cyclists less aware of their surroundings relying entirely on the driver to anticipate their actions.”

Whilst this article is aimed at the impacts seen by commercial businesses, we all have a responsibility to be aware of these changes and to act accordingly when out on the road. As the updated text states “None of this detracts from the responsibility of all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety.”

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