The Highway Code: 8 changes you need to know

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February 15, 2022

There have been several recent updates to The Highway Code that affect all UK road users such as drivers of lorries, trucks, light goods vehicles, buses, coaches, minibuses, cars and vans.

It’s hoped the new Highway Code rules will primarily offer more protection to vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, pedal cyclists, horse-drawn vehicles, horse riders and pedestrians and will encourage all road users to be more responsible, alert and considerate.

In addition, there are also cyclist new rules and guidance to not only help keep cyclists safer, but that also require cyclists to afford the same level of protection and courtesy (as vehicles are required to do for them), to pedestrians and horses, specifically in ‘shared spaces’.

Why are these Highway Code changes needed?

If you take a look at some of the following hard-hitting statistics, it’s easy to see why the government felt extra measures were necessary to protect the most vulnerable road users.

For Cyclists:

UK road usage has changed dramatically in recent years with the biggest changes relating to cyclists. Government statistics have revealed that between 2004 and 2020:

  • pedal cycle traffic grew by 96%
  • an average of 2 cyclists died and 83 were seriously injured every week (and these statistics are only compiled using data for ‘reported’ incidents; many incidents go unreported)
  • In the UK in 2020 alone:
    • 141 cyclists were killed
    • 4,215 cyclists were seriously injured
    • 11,938 cyclists were slightly injured

For pedestrians:

The Department for Transport’s 2020 annual report shows that:

  • 346 pedestrians were killed in 2020 alone (less than normal due to lockdowns!)
  • 24% of road user deaths were pedestrians
  • 32% of HGV collision-related deaths were pedestrians

For horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles:

See overtaking and undertaking

Despite the risks of not knowing the Highway Code rules, an AA poll has revealed that a worrying one in every 25 motorists admit they don’t know and nor will they bother to find out about the new Highway Code updates.

Note: If you don’t abide by The Highway Code and your [dangerous] driving causes an accident, injury or death, you could receive penalty points and a fine, or even go to prison.

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Following some motorists’ complacency coupled with lack of government promotion of the new rules, we’ve put together this definitive guide setting out the 8 new Highway Code changes 2022 affecting all road users.

  1. Hierarchy of vulnerable road users
  2. Pedestrians crossing junctions
  3. Spaces shared by non-motorists
  4. Cyclists’ road positions
  5. Overtaking and undertaking
  6. New junction rules for cyclists
  7. Highway code changes 2022 roundabouts: Priority to cyclists and horses
  8. Vehicle disembarkation, parking and charging

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1. Hierarchy of vulnerable road users

The pecking order of who gets priority on public roads has been specifically updated to afford greater protection to the most vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, horse riders, horse-drawn carriages and cyclists, and in some instances, motorcyclists.

The changes require:

  • The need for all road users to be fully conversant with The Highway Code and understand their obligations and responsibilities under it to keep other road users safe from harm at all times.
  • All drivers and motorcyclists, horse drawn vehicles or horse riders and pedal cyclists to give priority to pedestrians, either already crossing or waiting to cross the road, into which they are about to turn.
  • Both drivers and motorcyclists should give priority to, and not cut across, horse riders, carriages or cyclists (i.e. you must wait for a cyclist or horse rider approaching a junction to turn into the road you also want to turn into before you proceed), regardless of the circumstances or road setup.

To sum up, the road hierarchy, starting from the most vulnerable road users through to the least vulnerable, is as follows:

  • Pedestrians
  • Pedal cyclists
  • Horse riders
  • Horse-drawn vehicles
  • Motorcyclists
  • Cars
  • Vans
  • Minibuses
  • Large vehicles such as HGVs and buses

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2. Pedestrians crossing junctions

The Highway Code pedestrian crossing rules have been updated to explicitly define what a pedestrian right of way now includes, namely:

  • pedestrians can cross the road before you turn into it at a junction, even if they are waiting to cross the road and have not started to cross it, you must stop and give way
  • you must also give way to pedestrians and stop moving forward to allow pedestrians walking along the road ahead of you to safely complete their journey [to the other side of the road]
  • new Zebra crossing rules about giving way now specify that people driving, riding a motorcycle or cycling must give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing or a parallel crossing, even if it has a bike lane.

Read: What happens if you hit a pedestrian with your car in the UK?

3. Spaces shared by non-motorists

Cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians should all be equally respectful of each other’s safety when using shared spaces - period.

However, new Highway Code changes, specifically directed at cyclists, now state a cyclist must:

  • Not to zoom by at high speed or get too close to pedestrians or horses when cycling past, especially when approaching from behind
  • Slow right down, call out or ring a bike bell to let others walking ahead know that you’re coming up behind them
  • Be mindful that not all pedestrians can hear or see you. So if someone doesn’t respond, it’s probably because they’re deaf, blind or partially sighted.
  • Never pass a horse on its left side

You might like to read: How do I make a pothole damage claim?

4. Cyclists’ road positions

Many of you have likely heard or seen road cycling news reports about some of the more controversial rule changes and guidance concerning the positioning of cyclists on the roads.

New guidelines for pedal cyclists advise them to:

  • ride in the centre of their lane (i.e. their half of the road):
    • on quiet roads
    • in slower moving traffic
    • when approaching a junction
    • where a road narrows
  • take care when cycling past parked vehicles and leave a door’s width or 1 metre between them and the parked car
  • keep an eye out for pedestrians

And groups of cyclists should:

  • be considerate and aware of other road users and their needs when cycling in groups
  • when it’s safe to do so, ride two abreast - particularly when cycling in a large group or with children

5. Overtaking and undertaking

The British Horse Society (BHS) reported in 2020 that there were 1,037 incidents reported and that nearly two horses are killed on roads every week in the UK.

Guidance now advises what distance you should be from motorcycles, cyclists, horses or pedestrians when driving a vehicle by keeping:

  • 1.5 metres (5 feet) away from fast cyclists or motorcycles, or when overtaking in vehicles at higher speeds
  • 2 metres (6.5 feet) away from horses or pedestrians

The guidance also stipulates that you must wait behind the above mentioned vulnerable road users until it’s safe to overtake them while maintaining the above distances.

6. New junction rules for cyclists

New amendments to protect cyclists and pedestrians now state that cyclists:

  • are required to give priority to pedestrians when they are turning into or out of a side road
  • are permitted to use small cycle traffic lights (at eye-level) when it is safer and easier to do so
  • should act the same way as a vehicle where there are no cyclist facilities (i.e. position their pushbike in the centre of a lane) so that:
    • they are visible to other road users and
    • to avoid being overtaken when it would be dangerous to do so

There are also additional rules for cyclists turning right at junctions requiring this is now done in two stages:

  • First stage: when lights turn green proceed straight ahead to the road spot marked with a right turn for bicycles and then stop and wait
  • Second stage: when lights on the far side (now facing the cyclist) turn green, proceed to turn right

The updates also clarify that a cyclist has the right of way when going straight over a junction and any vehicles waiting to turn into or out of a side road must give way to a cyclist - unless any markings or signs state a cyclist should do otherwise. 

7. Highway code changes 2022 roundabouts: Priority to cyclists and horses

The UK roundabout rules for cyclists and horses has always been that they use the left-hand lane in a roundabout, even if they intend to turn right.

5% of all pedal cycle fatalities and 13% of serious injuries occur at roundabouts.

The new guidance confirms that all drivers and motorcyclists should take extra care and give priority to cyclists, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles on roundabouts and:

  • Not try to overtake this group of road users 
  • Not cut across this group of road users

Read: Car insurance premiums increase for majority of drivers amidst the new rules for renewals

8. Vehicle disembarkation, parking and charging

Cycling UK has reported that an average of 60 people are killed or seriously injured by car doors every year and the AA says this figure is more likely to be around 700 door injuries a year.

To protect cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians from what is known in the cyclist community as ‘dooring’, the code recommends vehicle drivers use a technique known as the ‘Dutch Reach’ when you’re about to open your door and exit a parked vehicle.

The Dutch Reach technique means you should use the hand furthest away from your door to open it (i.e. use your left hand to open a door on your right) so that you ‘reach’ in such a way that you’re prompted to look over your shoulder to check for other road or pavement users.

Note: Highway Code parking near a junction rules stipulate you must not park within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction or opposite a junction. Whilst this isn’t a new rule, it is a parking offence, not all road users appear to be aware of.

Parking and charging

Brand new guidance for the use of electric vehicle charging points includes:

  • Parking as close to the charging point as possible to avoid cable tripping hazards
  • To display a charging warning sign if possible
  • Make sure you return cables and connectors tidily to avoid creating obstacles for other road users

Links to all the updated Highway Code rules can be found in this article on the government’s website: Highway code changes 2022 gov uk

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