February 18, 2022
Saturday, the 29th of January 2022, heralded the arrival of the revised Highway Code. It’s been a long time since the Highway Code was last added to (over ten years, in fact), so changes were perhaps long overdue.
Although most of the revisions were widely expected, the national tabloid press greeted the arrival of the new edition of the ‘Code’, with acute scepticism bordering on outrage, in some instances.
However, for cyclists and other vulnerable road users, the changes to the Highway Code bring some welcome relief. According to the RAC Foundation, traffic volumes on our roads are back up to pre-pandemic levels and may get even heavier than they were before (if research highlighted by The Times newspaper proves true). Many cyclists have felt something needed to give, and the changes to the Highway Code may answer some, if not all, of their prayers.
Motorists should give motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles at least as much room as when overtaking other motorists. The amendment to the Code now provides suggested passing distances of at least:
Extra care should be taken in bad weather and motorists should wait behind the vulnerable road user and not attempt to overtake if it isn’t safe to pass at the suggested clearance distances.
The Dutch Reach, so-called because it first started to be used in the super cyclist-friendly Netherlands, is a means of opening the door of a stationary vehicle by using the hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening.
For instance, if you are using a right-hand drive car and are sitting in the driver’s seat, parked at the left-hand nearside kerb, then using the Dutch reach method, you would open your driver’s door by reaching over with your left hand to open it.
The idea behind this is that although admittedly an awkward method of opening the door, it only allows you to open the door a small amount. Using this method, if you have failed to look out for a passing cyclist or motorcyclist overtaking your stationary vehicle, at least you are unlikely to open the door far enough for it to knock the cyclist or motorcyclist off their bikes.
When used by a nearside seated passenger, the same method prevents passing pedestrians from getting injured by an errant door being flung into their path.
Sadly, whilst advising motorists to adopt the Dutch Reach method of opening a door is to be commended, the new rule is only advisory, not mandatory. It isn’t a MUST rule, i.e. there are no sanctions if you fail to follow the suggestion.
In addition, the rule starts by saying:
“ Where you are able to do so… you should (open the door using the Dutch Reach method.” It almost feels like the rule is included as a last resort.
By the way, if you knock someone off their bike by ‘dooring’ them it is still a road traffic offence, but then it already has been since 1986. At the same time very, few people have been prosecuted under the existing law.
The amendments and rules introduced into the new Highway Code have been made to benefit all vulnerable road users, including cyclists. When first presenting the proposals to refresh the Highway Code in the summer of 2021, Transport Minister Grant Shapps was quoted as saying:
“Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment.
“As we build back greener from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone.”
Giving cyclists rights of way at junctions and when travelling together on roundabouts, permitting them to ride two abreast and in the centre of the road lane in certain circumstances, are changes that put the safety of cyclists’ safety first. The same can be said of the recommendation that when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph, motorists should pass at a distance of at least 1.5 metres.
Inevitably the additions and amendments to the Highway Code rules are also of the type that will anger motorists. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the new Highway Code being published, the tabloid and regional press were quick to pass judgment, with articles sporting headlines such as:
“Highway Code changes are ‘bonkers’ as MP criticises cyclists riding in the middle of the road” – Daily Express
“Jeremy Clarkson jokes Highway Code changes were dreamed up at a Downing Street party” – Wales Online
It would be easy for cyclists to counter anti-cyclist comments with their own barrage of abuse against motorists. All that is likely to achieve is to foster more resentment towards cyclists than already exists.
The changes to the Highway Code are good news for cyclists. What is needed now is to make the changes work in practice, which involves if not exactly managing to get motorists onside as such, at least getting them to acknowledge the changes and make sure they adhere to them in practice.
From a cyclists point of view, it’s important to remember the overriding commitment of the new Highway Code rule H1 to ensuring:
“None of this detracts from the responsibility of ALL road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety.”
A more significant challenge may be getting road users of all types aware of the more prominent of the new Highway Code changes, at the very least. There is a genuine fear that relatively few people will ever become aware of the changes, let alone put them into practice.
Duncan Dollymore, head of UK campaigns at Cycling UK, said:
“Many people won’t have read the Highway Code for years, so it’s essential that the key changes are clearly explained.”
Nicholas Lyes of the RAC has outlined his concerns too:
“These changes to the Highway Code are substantial, so it’s vitally important they are communicated clearly. In theory, they should make our roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, but unless everyone is aware of them, there’s a risk of angry clashes and, worse still, unnecessary collisions.
“Nobody wants to be on the right side of the Highway Code changes but in the back of an ambulance because of confusion on the part of a driver or any other road user.”
The Department for Transport recently announced the launch of a £500,000 publicity campaign to raise awareness of the revisions to the Highway Code and insists it will cover all forms of media, both on and offline.
One thing is for sure. If the motoring public, in general, doesn’t get to know about the Highway Code’s new rules, it will be a recipe for disaster. You can guarantee that a high percentage of cyclists already know the rules. If other motorists don’t know them and drive around in ignorance, there will be a significant increase in the number of injured cyclists putting in calls to personal injury solicitors to make cycling accidents claims.
Steve is a solicitor who qualified in 1998 and has over 30 years experience in representing clients throughout the UK who have suffered catastrophic, complex serious injuries including amputations; whole body burns, and long term disabling psychological conditions as a result of serious workplace and road traffic accidents, in particular, catastrophic injuries in the steelworks and factories of South Wales; Kent and the Midlands.
In addition he has been an advocate at inquests representing families of loved ones who have died as a result of accidents. Steve goes that extra mile for clients exhibiting excellent client care.
Posted in: Personal Injury