HM Insights

Highway Hierarchy: The new Highway Code rules and the vulnerable road user

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is spearheading the revision of the Highway Code, due to receive parliamentary approval this autumn. The changes proposed by the Transport department shall see revisions made to 33 of the existing rules and 2 new ones being introduced; but what do these new rules actually mean for road users?

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Arguably the most notable addition to the Highway Code will be the introduction of a highway ‘hierarchy’. This hierarchy shall formalise what has previously been considered common road practice now creating a shift in responsibility. The hierarchy in order of priority will be:

  1. Pedestrians;
  2. Cyclists;
  3. Horse riders;
  4. Motorcyclists;
  5. Cars/taxis
  6. Vans/minibuses
  7. Large passenger and heavy goods vehicles

The main aim is for road users “who can do the greatest harm” to have the “greater responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.”

Stephen Edwards, interim chief executive at Living Streets, said: "The Highway Code currently treats children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people's safety. These changes will redress that balance.

"Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm should take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose."

This hierarchy in practice now means that if you find yourself driving next to a cyclist then there is a greater responsibility on you as a driver, to ensure the safety of the cyclist. This certainly does not mean that pedestrians and cyclists now have no responsibility for their own safety when on or navigating roads, but it does mean that the burden of responsibility shall be on the more ‘dangerous’ vehicle. This shall most likely result in tougher questions being asked of a driver if a collision were to happen and could result in significant ramifications in future litigation involving motorists and pedestrians or cyclists

Further revisions concern who has priority at junctions. Changes to rules again places greater onus on drivers as they now have to ensure that more vulnerable road users (essentially anyone above them in the hierarchy) are not crossing a junction; waiting to cross; or approaching and are likely to cross. If a driver notices any of the above, they must wait allow a safe crossing and then proceed in or out of the junction.

Whilst in theory this does not sound ground breaking, this could result in significant changes in contributory negligence arguments by creating the potential for pedestrians to have a blanket excuse of ‘the driver should have anticipated me’ if they were to walk out onto the road.

Cyclists shall now also have priority at junctions meaning motorists now have to wait until they have made their manoeuvre rather than driving alongside or in front and assuming they have the right of way. Cyclist passing distances have also been clarified to be 1.5 meters at speeds under 30mph and 2.0 meters at speeds over 30mph. This revision now offers clarity on what was previously defined as a ‘safe passing distance’.

Finally, with the use of electric vehicles on the rise, the Highway Code now includes guidance on parking as close as possible to charging spots to limit any charging cable tripping hazard to pedestrians. No doubt an evolving concern for motor vehicle insurers in determining who’s responsibility it shall be if a pedestrian is injured tripping on a charger.

It is anticipated that a new Highway Code guide shall be issued by the end of the year but all proposed changes can be found online at www.GOV.UK

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