The Highway Code has been updated, and some people are getting in a tizz about it (or so we’re told). In terms of tangible consequences, very little has actually changed—if you’re already a considerate and responsible driver, that is. And even if you’re currently studying for the theory test, there’s no need to panic. That’s not to say you don’t need to be aware of the new rules; you do. But it’s all sensible stuff.
Here’s a myth-busting rundown of key changes you need to know, and how they apply to real-life driving.
But before we get stuck in, here’s a reminder of how to read and interpret the Highway Code straight from the horse’s mouth:
The Highway Code wording explained. pic.twitter.com/OesvoBDgK6
— The Highway Code (@HighwayCodeGB) February 1, 2015
Myth: Drivers are being vilified
Reality: Drivers are in a big, fast metal box and have a responsibility to watch out for at-risk road users
The new Highway Code rules focus on the risk of injury different road users face if they are involved in a collision. It places them in this order, most vulnerable to least:
→ Horse riders
→ Cars & Taxis
→ Vans & Minibuses
→ Large passenger vehicles & Heavy goods vehicles
We’re also reminded that children, older adults and disabled people—including those with invisible disabilities—are at greater risk.
The Highway Code asserts that those who could cause the most damage (ie. drivers of motorised vehicles):
have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they pose to others.
However, it also notes that “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.”
- You should take particular care of those on the roads more at-risk than yourself
- Pedestrians (including wheelchair and mobility scooter users) are the only ones who should use the pavement
- Speed matters: you should always drive at an appropriate speed for the conditions, so that pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders are not deterred from using the road
- Do not enter crossings (such as zebra crossings) if you’re unable to clear them, as you may obstruct pedestrians
Myth: Cyclists are going to take you for a ride
Reality: Cyclists are having their existing rights clarified so that they are less likely to be hit by cars
Forget the vitriol chucked at cyclists by certain members of society. Most of us are well aware of the health, environmental and traffic benefits that pedal bikes provide. The issue is that there are too many accidents involving cyclists—including around two deaths and over 80 serious injuries every single week on British roads. Since we’re in the business of producing excellent drivers who promote safety through a thorough understanding of the rules of the road, we’re fully on board with the guidelines that have been added.
Cyclists have long been advised to take actions to increase their visibility on the roads, and limit motorists passing them too closely where possible. In some cases, the best way to achieve this is to ride in the centre of their lane—or two abreast if they’re cycling with others. The Highway Code has now formalised this advice and aims to spread the word to drivers that these are important safety measures that need respecting.
Where necessary, cyclists are still advised to ride on the left and be conscious of vehicles trying to overtake them, so there’s no need to worry on that front. It’s just a matter of making sure everyone gets to their intended destination alive and in one piece.
- When in groups, it’s often safer for cyclists to ride two abreast
- On quiet or narrow roads, at road junctions and in slower-moving traffic, cyclists may position themselves in the centre of their lane to be more visible and prevent being overtaken in a dangerous manner
- At busier times and in fast-moving traffic, riders should usually keep to the left
- In slow traffic, cyclists may pass vehicles on their left or right—so drivers should remain alert to this
- You shouldn’t cut up cyclists; give way to them before changing lane or direction
- Stay behind cyclists and horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles when you’re approaching a roundabout—and on the roundabout, if they are in your lane
Myth: Pedestrians can do exactly what they want, when they want, and get away with it
Reality: You should stop at junctions to allow pedestrians to cross
In a battle of person vs vehicle, the former isn’t likely to fare too well. In the previous version of the Highway Code, it was said that anyone who has started crossing the road has the right of way, i.e. drivers must stop to allow them to reach the other side.
In the new rules, we’re told that when we’re entering or exiting a side road, we should stop for pedestrians who are looking to cross.
- Give pedestrians walking on the road a wide berth when overtaking them and reduce your speed as you do so
- Stop for pedestrians crossing at zebra crossings and cyclists crossing at parallel crossings, don’t flash your lights to encourage them across, and don’t rev or otherwise intimidate them in any way
- Let waiting pedestrians cross before turning in or out of a junction
- When driving in slow traffic, you should stop for pedestrians or cyclists who wish to cross in front of you
Myth: Even our smallest actions like opening a car door are being policed now!
Reality: You’re encouraged to take extra precautions to check that you’re not going to take someone out as you exit a vehicle
You’ve seen it in the YouTube clips: driver flings open car door; cyclist goes flying. Optional extras include other traffic being forced to swerve and total chaos ensuing. Well, it’s not just confined to slapstick or the odd case you see online. If you open your door without looking to make sure it’s clear, then it’s only logical that you might end up hitting another road user. And that’s illegal—and has been for quite some time.
The only difference now is that we’re told exactly how to avoid such needless calamity. ‘Turn your head and check your mirrors’, the Code instructs. Seems eminently sensible, as does the new provision that, where possible, we should all employ the Dutch Reach. This involves using the hand furthest from the door to open it (for example opening the door to your right with your left hand)—thereby forcing you to turn your shoulders and look around.
Nearly foolproof, and one little step that could prevent a whole series of unfortunate events.
If you’re struggling to picture the Dutch Reach in practice, head over to TikTok where we show you exactly how to go about it.
- Check all around you before opening a vehicle door
- Use the Dutch Reach when possible
Myth: Drivers are never going to be able to overtake
Reality: There are updated guidelines on safe speeds and passing distances
There is now a clear set of guidelines indicating how far away you should keep when passing at-risk road users like pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and those in horse-drawn vehicles. You should adjust your speed accordingly, wait behind them until it’s truly safe to overtake and if the weather is poor, allow even more room when driving past.
- Give cyclists at least 1.5 metres when you overtake them at under 30mph; more if driving faster
- Stay below 10mph and at least 2 metres away when passing horses
- Allow at least 2 metres when passing pedestrians walking in the road
- Never skimp on safe passing distances; if you don’t have enough space, don’t overtake
- Do not overtake at inappropriate times, such as on the approach to a crossing
Other changes to the Highway Code
We’ve covered the main new rules for car drivers above, but the 2022 changes to the Highway Code also include notable further guidance for:
→ Those charging electric cars
You can see all the updates in this table of changes.
What do you think of the new rules? Let us know in the comments below.