There has been much talk in the media about whether the recent changes to the UK Highway Code will really reduce the number of accidents on the road. With arguments that rather than making the roads a safer environment, there will be a greater risk to pedestrians and increased road rage, you might be wondering just why the Government has passed such a divisive amendment.

Despite the recent media frenzy, there is still an overall lack of awareness of what the changes are. And, when road users are uncertain of their responsibilities, then you can anticipate an increase in accidents and in the resulting car crash personal injury claims.

In this guide, we’re going to look at the changes, address the criticisms, and help you understand your new responsibilities.

The Hierarchy of the Road

One of the fundamental changes is the introduction of a hierarchy of road users. This places the most vulnerable at the top and those who are at risk of causing the greatest damage at the bottom. This then means that those at the bottom are required to take a greater level of responsibility towards those above them.

The hierarchy, with the most vulnerable listed first, is:

1. Pedestrians

2. Cyclists

3. Horse riders and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles

4. Cats and motorcycles

5. Cans and minibuses

6. Large goods vehicles and large passenger vehicles such as buses

Criticisms of the Hierarchy

Critics of the hierarchy point out that placing all the responsibility on larger vehicles isn’t always a fair situation to put those drivers into. One such scenario that has been highlighted is –

If as a cyclist approaches a red light, they undertake an HGV on the inside that places them in the vehicle’s blind spot. When the lights change to green, the larger vehicle sets off with the intention of turning left. The hierarchy would imply that the lorry driver needs to be aware of the cyclist and hold back until they are clear before they then begin to turn.

Even though the cyclist has placed themselves in the position of danger, the HGV is the vehicle that would cause the greatest harm, and so liability would sit with them if there was an accident.

Our Analysis

While it does seem as if the larger vehicles have an undue level of responsibility, other users are not absolved of the need to ensure safety on the roads. The Highway code states that ALL road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders, are responsible for their own and other road users’ safety.

Cyclists To Ride in the Middle of the Road

This was always going to be a highly contentious element of the changes. The new Highway Code states that where it would be dangerous for other road users to overtake, the cyclist should ride in the middle of the road. This ensures that they can be clearly seen and are only overtaken when there is enough room to give them appropriate levels of clearance.

Criticisms of Middle of the Road Cycling

The main concern with this aspect of the changes is that it would be down to the cyclist to decide whether that section of the road is safe for another vehicle to overtake them. The Highway code talks about a narrow road but again, that’s down to personal interpretation.

Critics have warned about increased levels of road rage and dangerous overtaking when the cyclist sits in the middle of the road for too long.

Our Analysis

You would hope that common sense would kick in when road users find themselves in this situation. That the cyclist would be balanced and reasonable in deciding if a car can overtake safely and that the car would only make the maneuver when it’s safe to do so.

Pedestrian Right of Way

Before the changes, if pedestrians were waiting to cross a road, road users would quickly analyse whether it was safe to stop and let them cross. If there was a greater risk of an accident by stopping, then the right thing to do was to continue the journey.

The new Highway Code requires that when pedestrians are crossing or waiting to cross a road, other traffic gives way. If the pedestrian has started to cross and other traffic wants to turn into the road, then the pedestrian has priority, and the other road users must give way.

Criticisms of the Pedestrian Right of Way

Imagine a scenario of needing to turn into a junction that’s near a school. Now think of that scenario at the start or end of the school day. The poor driver waiting to turn could be left sitting in the middle of the road until they can make their maneuver. This places the car in a  high-risk location with an increased risk of an accident.

Then there’s the risk of unscrupulous pedestrians realising the ‘power’ they have and the ability to make cars wait for them to cross. It seems all too easy for a pedestrian to cause an accident resulting in a personal injury claim.

Our Analysis

Before the new rules were introduced, road users were only required to give way to pedestrians when they had started to cross the road into which they were turning. This new requirement is a dramatic change to the way in which people drive, yet there has been little in the way of awareness campaigns and education to help them understand their new responsibilities.

Sadly, we think that it will only be once the fines, points and claims begin to flood in that drivers will fully appreciate their new responsibilities.