The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued a consultation document seeking views on the proposals, which are designed to improve road safety for vulnerable road users. It’s not a full-scale revision of the Highway Code. Instead, the changes focus on three main areas:
- Introducing a ‘hierarchy of road users’ that ensures those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.
- Clarifying existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements and that drivers and riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road.
- Establishing guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists or horse riders, and enduring that they have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead.
‘Considerable new text’
The rules for cyclists are likely to stimulate the most discussion. The DfT says “there is considerable new text within this chapter” of the Highway Code to ensure the safety of cyclists.
This comes amid the announcement of a government scheme offering £50 bike repair vouchers to cyclists in England. The Fix Your Bike Vouchers scheme website was “taken offline by the Energy Saving Trust following high levels of interest”.
The proposed changes clarify the position on cyclists riding two abreast, while informing motorists that cyclists should be given priority on a roundabout. Drivers are also told to give cyclists “at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”.
Crucially, cyclists will be able to ride two abreast or more and will be encouraged to ride in the centre of their lane in the following situations:
- On quiet roads or streets. If a faster vehicle comes up behind you, move to the left to enable them to overtake, if you can do so safely.
- In slower-moving traffic. Move over to the left if you can do so safely so that faster vehicles behind you can overtake when the traffic around you starts to flow more freely.
- At the approach to junctions or road narrowing where it would be unsafe for drivers to overtake you.
“This is quite important,” says Duncan Dollimore of Cycling UK on The Guardian website.
“There are some roads police who believe you should ride 50cm from the gutter, and that you shouldn’t be rising two abreast on a country road.”
In the ‘waiting and parking’ section of the Highway Code, motorists will be advised to use the ‘Dutch Reach’ method when opening a car door. This means reaching across to open the door with the hand furthest from the door. This protects cyclists approaching from behind by ensuring you turn your body to face the window and don’t open the door too widely.
The government says the objective of the ‘hierarchy of road users’ is not to give priority to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders in every situation’. However, it does attempt to place the road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy.
The revised Highway Code could also include references to blanket 20mph speed limits in urban areas. To reflect the car industry’s shift to electrification, there’s also specific references to electric car charging points and cables.
The consultation period will run until midnight on 27 October 2020. The full document can be found here.