Highway Code changes: What you need to know

Major changes to the Highway Code came into force on 29 January for all types of road users 'to improve the safety of people walking, cycling and riding horses'.

Here are eight of the changes that you need to know about:

1. Hierarchy of road users

The hierarchy places those road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy. It does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly.

Rules that will change:

  • Rule H1 (Introduction)
  • Rule H2 (Introduction)
  • Rule H3 (Introduction)

2. People crossing the road at junctions

The updated code will clarify that:

  • when people are crossing or waiting to cross at a junction, other traffic should give way
  • if people have started crossing and traffic wants to turn into the road, the people crossing have priority and the traffic should give way
  • people driving, riding a motorcycle or cycling must give way to people on a zebra crossing and people walking and cycling on a parallel crossing, which is similar to a zebra crossing, but includes a cycle route alongside the black and white stripes).

Rules that will change:

  • Rule H2 (Introduction)
  • Rule 8 (Rules for pedestrians)
  • Rule 19 (Rules for pedestrians)
  • Rule 170 (Using the road)
  • Rule 195 (Using the road)
  • Rule 206 (Road users requiring extra care)

3. Walking, cycling or riding in shared spaces

Cyclists are asked to:

  • not pass people walking, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle closely or at high speed, particularly from behind
  • slow down when necessary and let people walking know they are there (for example, by ringing their bell)
  • remember that people walking may be deaf, blind or partially sighted
  • not pass a horse on the horse’s left

Rules that will change:

  • Rule H1 (Introduction)
  • Rule 13 (Rules for pedestrians)
  • Rule 62 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 63 (Rules for cyclists)

4. Positioning in the road when cycling

There will be updated guidance for cyclists about positioning themselves. This includes:

  • riding in the centre of their lane on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowing
  • keeping at least 0.5 metres (just over 1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge (and further where it is safer) when riding on busy roads with vehicles moving faster than them

People cycling in groups:

  • should be considerate of the needs of other road users when riding in groups
  • can ride two abreast - and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders
  • People cycling are also asked to be aware of people driving behind them and allow them to overtake by, for example, moving into single file or stopping when it’s safe to do so.

People cycling passing parked vehicles:

  • take care when passing parked vehicles, leaving enough room - a door’s width or one metre - to avoid being hit if a car door is opened
  • watch out for people walking into their path

Rules that will change

  • Rule 67 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 213 (Road users requiring extra care)

5. Overtaking when driving or cycling

The rule states you may cross a double-white line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to overtake someone cycling or riding a horse if they are travelling at 10mph or less (Rule 129).

The updated guidance on safe passing distances and speeds includes:

  • leaving at least 1.5 metres (5 feet) when overtaking, at speeds of up to 30mph, people cycling, and giving them more space when overtaking at higher speeds
  • passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allowing at least two metres (6.5 feet) of space
  • allowing at least two metres (6.5 feet) of space and keeping to a low speed when passing people walking in the road (for example, where there’s no pavement)
  • Wait behind them and do not overtake if it’s unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances.

People cycling passing slower-moving or stationary traffic:

  • The updates will confirm that people cycling may pass slower-moving or stationary traffic on their right or left.
  • They should proceed with caution as people driving may not be able to see them. This is particularly important on the approach to junctions and when deciding whether it is safe to pass lorries or other large vehicles.

Rules that will change

  • Rule 67 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 76 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 163 (Using the road)
  • Rule 212 (Road users requiring extra care)
  • Rule 215 (Road users requiring extra care)

6. People cycling at junctions

The changes will clarify that when turning into or out of a side road, cyclists should give way to people walking who are crossing or waiting to cross.

Some junctions now include small cycle traffic lights at eye-level height, which may allow cyclists to move separately from or before other traffic. Cyclists are encouraged to use these facilities where they help.

The changes to the code will recommend that cyclists should proceed as if they were driving a vehicle where there are no separate cyclist facilities. This includes positioning themselves in the centre of their chosen lane, where they feel able to do this safely. This is to make them as visible as possible and to avoid being overtaken where this would be dangerous.

People cycling turning right:

Where signs and markings tell cyclists to turn right in two stages, the code advises:

  1. stage 1 - when the traffic lights turn green, go straight ahead to the location marked by a cycle symbol and turn arrow on the road, and then stop and wait
  2. stage 2 - when the traffic lights on the far side of the junction (now facing the people cycling) turn green, complete the manoeuvre

People cycling have priority when going straight ahead at junctions:

The new code clarifies that when cyclists are going straight ahead at a junction, they have priority over traffic waiting to turn into or out of a side road, unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise.

People cycling are asked to watch out for people driving intending to turn across their path, as people driving ahead may not be able to see them.

Rules that will change

  • Rule H2 (Introduction)
  • Rule H3 (Introduction)
  • Rule 73 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 74 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 75 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 76 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 167 (Using the road)
  • Rule 170 (Using the road)
  • Rule 211 (Road users requiring extra care)

7. People cycling, riding a horse and driving horse-drawn vehicles on roundabouts

The new code will clarify that drivers or motorcyclists should give priority to cyclists on roundabouts. They should not attempt to overtake cyclists within that person’s lane and should allow people cycling to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout.

Guidance will be added to explain that drivers should take extra care when entering a roundabout to make sure they do not cut across people cycling, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle who are continuing around the roundabout in the left-hand lane.

Rules that will change

  • Rule 79 (Rules for cyclists)
  • Rule 167 (Using the road)
  • Rule 186 (Using the road)

8. Parking, charging and leaving vehicles

The code will recommend a new technique called the ‘Dutch Reach’: where drivers or passengers are able to, they should open the door using the hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening i.e. using their left hand to open a door on their right-hand side.

This will make them turn their head to look over their shoulder behind them. They’re then less likely to cause injury to:

  • people cycling or riding a motorcycle passing on the road
  • people on the pavement

Using an electric vehicle charge point:

For the first time, the code will include guidance about using electric vehicle charging points. When using one, people should:

  • park close to the charge point and avoid creating a trip hazard for people walking from trailing cables
  • display a warning sign if you can
  • return charging cables and connectors neatly to minimise the danger to other people and avoid creating an obstacle for other road users

Rules that will change

Rule 239 (Waiting and parking)

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