This week we’re expecting an announcement from Government about revisions to the Highway Code, which will represent a landmark shift in favour of people walking, wheeling, cycling and other vulnerable users such as people on horses.
We asked our members for their support when the Government consultation was launched back in the autumn of 2020, and you did so in droves, enabling British Cycling to speak with a clear and collective voice on your behalf. We collated all of the responses we received from you and – together with Policy Advisers Chris Boardman and Dame Sarah Storey – submitted an organisational response on your behalf.
The revisions we expect to see this weekend are the culmination of years of collective campaigning from many road safety organisations and organisations like ourselves, and I’m proud to say that our ‘Turning the Corner’ campaign in 2016 was a significant catalyst in achieving the long overdue review thanks again to substantial support from you our members.
So, have we got everything we asked for? We have certainly gained a great deal. What is most important is that the Highway Code has been brought into line with other similar road rules in most other countries by adopting a hierarchy of responsibility to strongly place the burden of responsibility for people’s safety on to the person in charge of the larger vehicle. This places pedestrians at the top of the hierarchy, then people cycling, horse riders, motorcycles and so on all the way down to drivers of large vehicles like HGVs, which have the greatest capacity to do harm.
These changes to the Highway Code stop some way short of what many of you will know as a law of presumed liability, but they do imply many of the same levels of responsibility, especially to drivers.
Changes to the rules regarding responsibility at junctions were critically important and formed the basis of our Turning the Corner campaign five years ago. Junctions remain some of the most dangerous places for people cycling, as well as for other more vulnerable users, and we know that some of the most serious incidents involving our members happen at junctions – particularly those with a poor line of sight.
The new wording in the Highway Code to rules 2, 3 and 76, and the new Rule H3, mean that there is much greater clarity over driver responsibility at junctions, particularly the need to give way to people cycling straight on and to people walking across the mouth of a junction. This is a huge achievement, and one which British Cycling members again played a vital role in bringing about.
On the issue of close passing, we are very encouraged by the changes made to rule 163 regarding safe passing distances. The recommendation for a minimum distance of 1.5 at speeds up to 30mph and more at greater speeds has been adopted. This is a critical change and closes the loophole of allowing the driver to make their own mind up as to a safe passing distance.
Despite these successes, there are some areas where our expectations have not been fully met. For many British Cycling members who cycle regularly with others on the road, we feel that rule 66 and subtle additions to rule 213 regarding riding two abreast are stronger, however a frustrating change to our proposed wording still leaves too much ambiguity and is not the crystal-clear statement we hoped for.
We were disappointed to see that our suggestion for corresponding changes to the driver-facing rule 154 was not adopted. We are in discussion with other cycling groups, particularly the team at Cycling UK, about keeping the pressure on the Government on this point.
Rules 72 and 73 regarding road positioning have greatly clarified the need for people to cycle as part of the traffic and not subservient to motor vehicles. We are in discussion with the Bikeability Trust about the wording of rule 74 which strangely deviates from the instruction delivered in Bikeability sessions and included in the national standard for cycle training regarding turning right. We hope to make an urgent revision there regarding correct positioning for that manoeuvre.
As soon as the new code is published, we will share it with our members and highlight the changes we think are most relevant to people who cycle. But you may be wondering what difference any of this will make to your experiences riding on the road? Much of that will depend on the scale of the Government’s awareness-raising efforts over the coming months and the strength of the language used to explain the changes to people – both of which are things which we continue to work on with officials at the Department for Transport.
We are one of a number of organisations being consulted on the communications work and are hopeful that Government officials and the Ministers in the Department for Transport and at Transport Scotland and Welsh Government will listen to the advice they receive about the importance of getting it right first time. The recent campaign by Transport for London (subsequently cancelled) has highlighted again the importance of making the message crystal clear.
While it is obvious that changes to the Highway Code are not going to change the behaviours of the most dangerous and aggressive drivers on our roads overnight, but over time it should help to convict more of those people and support more effective sentencing when they come before the courts. For the vast majority of drivers who want to do the right thing we sincerely believe that – if communicated in the right way – these changes can help to improve standards on our roads and make cycling safer for everyone.
Our long-term hope remains that as our roads start to introduce new and autonomous technologies there will be an opportunity to completely rewrite the Highway Code from scratch, but for now these revisions are welcome and – with the continued support of our members – we will champion those which aim to protect the most vulnerable on our roads and continue to call for change where our collective expectations haven’t been met.
Thank you, as always, for your ongoing support.
If you have any questions, you can contact our Policy Manager Nick Chamberlin at email@example.com.