Updated Highway Code launches to bring 'rules into 21st century'

Active travel and cycling charities welcome changes that come into place in the UK from Saturday

London cyclists
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The updated Highway Code comes into place, in the UK, from midnight tonight. The government says that changes are "bringing the rules into the 21st century".

However, Cycling UK says that a shift in "entrenched driving behaviour" needs to happen in order for the rules to make roads safer.

The big addition is the introduction of the "Hierarchy of Road Users", which places pedestrians at the top, as the most vulnerable, followed by cyclists, with motorists at the bottom.

This means those with the most risk in the event of the collision are placed at the top. It does not "remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly" on the road.

>>> What do the changes to the Highway Code really mean for cyclists and drivers?

The roads minister, Baroness Vere, said she was "determined" to make roads less dangerous for everyone.

In a press release, she said: "These updates to The Highway Code will do just that by bringing the rules into the 21st century, encouraging people to respect and consider the needs of those around them, and ensuring all road-users know the rules of the road."

Other additions include cyclists being encouraged to ride in the centre of the lane "on narrow sections of road, on quiet roads or streets, at road junctions and in slower-moving traffic"; cyclists are also advised to use cycle lanes where it is "safer and easier" but are not obliged to do so.

Drivers and cyclists alike are told: "At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning."

Other changes include motorists being advised to use the "Dutch reach" when opening their door into traffic, in order to look out for cyclists: "Where you are able to do so, you should open the door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening".

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK's head of campaigns, said that the changes will not happen "overnight".

“The latest changes to the Highway Code are a hugely important start towards a mindset shift that will make the roads safer for everyone," he said. "Not just for people who chose to cycle or walk.

"We’ve seen the public’s attitude shift on seat belt use and drink driving. This shows entrenched driving behaviour can change. The new Highway Code requires a similar shift, and it can happen again but not overnight.

"To make our roads safer for everyone, government must be looking in terms of years not months to communicate and eventually enforce these changes.”

There has been concern over the publicising of the changes to the Highway Code, with some cyclists arguing that it is drivers that need to be educated on the changes.

Chris Boardman, the new Active Travel Commissioner for England, said that the update clarifies "our responsibility to each other."

"It shouldn’t take bravery to cross a road or ride to school with kids but sometimes it feels that way," the ex-professional cyclist said. "These changes to the highway code clarify our responsibility to each other and simply reinforce what good road users already do. 

"This refresh does more than offer guidance though, it makes our towns, cities and villages nicer places to live.”

Xavier Brice, the CEO of Sustrans said that his charity supported the update. 

“We must all continue to look out for each other as we travel," he said. "But this new hierarchy at last recognises that road users with the potential to cause the greatest harm have greater responsibility.

"We know that when people feel safer they are more likely to choose active forms of travel such as walking and cycling and so Sustrans strongly supports the UK Government’s decision to amend the Highway Code.”

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