Highway Code changes “only as good as a universal understanding of them”

09.00 | 29 January 2024 | | 4 comments

Half of drivers still feel unsure whether changes to the Highway Code – made two years ago – have made the roads safer for pedestrians, the findings of a new survey show.

At the heart of the changes, which came into effect on 29 January 2022, was the creation of a new hierarchy of road users. The hierarchy means drivers of quicker or heavier modes of travel have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose.

One of the most notable changes advises drivers turning into or out of a junction to give way to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders who are either crossing or are waiting to cross the road.

According to the survey, published as part of the RAC’s Report on Motoring, 51% feel unsure if the Highway Code changes have made any difference – while only a fifth (18%) of respondents believe the new rules have increased pedestrian safety.

Meanwhile a third (31%) think pedestrians face even greater danger at junctions since the measures were published.

The RAC believes the message ‘simply hasn’t got through to drivers’. While Highway Code Rule 170 states drivers should give way to pedestrians when turning in or out of junctions, less than a quarter (23%) of respondents said they always do. 

Nearly half (48%) say they give way most of the time but a fifth (19%) admit they don’t stop very often while 6% never do. 

When the same pool of respondents were asked if, as pedestrians, they notice other drivers stopping to give way, just 2% said they see others stop all the time, while two-thirds (65%) said drivers rarely or never stop for them. 

Rod Dennis, RAC road safety spokesperson, said: “When initially introduced, we welcomed the major Highway Code changes because they were set to make the roads much safer for the most vulnerable users. 

“However, two years on, it’s concerning to see there’s still so much uncertainty, with most drivers not stopping for people crossing when they should and therefore many pedestrians seeing no change to their safety at junctions. 

“The updates are only as good as a universal understanding of them. If a driver turns into a junction as a pedestrian is crossing, it’s already too late, because that’s when confusion could turn into a collision. 

“Part of the reason may be that drivers simply don’t know that the changes have been made, least of all the consequences of ignoring them. 

“Most drivers probably rarely refer to the Highway Code once they’ve passed their tests, and that’s where the problem could lie. We urge motorists to take another close look at the changes. We’d also urge the Government to make another concerted effort in communicating the changes to all road users.” 

The findings correlate with a report from the Government’s Public Accounts Committee which, in November 2023, declared that messaging around the changes had not been communicated effectively enough to encourage public participation.



Comment on this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Report a reader comment

Order by Latest first | Oldest first | Highest rated | Lowest rated

    The ‘H’ rules/priorities is what I presume this is all pointing towards. All these amendments etc, which most members of the public probably never read, or are even conscious of, may look good on paper and, for example, in a parliamentary debate. Who was it who came up with the term similar to, ‘logical parliamentary wittering’, meaning words sounding good in the chamber but impractical in reality. However, in practical terms how well do the HC changes work?

    Two points: The first is that space and time are key elements in being safe on the roads and that a) most drivers do not understand this and (b) neither it seems do most of those involved in road safety, so they bang the ‘H’ drum regardless. Which also means there is yet to be any road safety policy pivotal on SPACE and TIME. (I have done an article on it for those who may be interested, and you can obtain my email address from Ed – that is Ed who is simultaneously, the editor.) Indeed, how many know, or understand, that an amber light at traffic lights is firstly a stop light?
    I refer to a similar thread (about the ‘H’ rules) and a telephone conversation with a former advanced course police driving instructor taking the scenario that you are driving and plan to turn left ahead into a side road. Walking on the pavement, also in your direction and on your nearside is a pedestrian and it is likely that he or she will reach the junction about the same time as you might be turning into it. What action would you take? Remember the pedestrian is on the pavement short of the junction and the H rules do not apply at that moment. We spent ten full minutes exchanging thoughts on the scenario and ultimately came to a simple conclusion. What do you suppose it was?
    I will leave the esteemed reader to ponder the answer and I will respond accordingly.

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    As someone who has to update a minibus driver permit every couple of years it always amazes me that it’s assumed by Road Test Examiners that “people keep updated by buying a new Highway Code” They clearly don’t as my 95yr old father in law and my sister people I work with make clear.
    By nature of Minibus Driving at home and abroad I am alway conscious that I will be tested. I’ve discussed these 2022 updates aiming to inform so stopping when turning is very confusing for them as one thing all have said is as drivers getting back ended on busy junctions around here is a risk especially on some of the more blind turnings. Often they don’t see Pedestrians until they’re right on top of them comment being who thought that bit of stupidity up? One suggesting that she doesn’t exactly turn quickly or at speed so feels on some turns she would still have to brake hard.

    The comments relating to the rule on giving cyclist more clearance was a little shocking for me as a Cycle Coach as all agreed that they were not aware of having to give priority to slow bikers who should move over.
    Pointing out that firstly assuming Cyclists should ride inside white lines or drainage lines is incorrect as cyclists should always be assumed as likely to fall and have space each side. Now a minimum of 5ft should be given to offside of the cyclist and if not possible as drivers they should slow and wait until they have that space.

    The horrifying view was that they would unlikely do this as it’s ill thought out to expect them to give space for a slow cyclist especially on some of our narrow roads. Pointing out that the liability would fall on the driver would be the likely outcome had one person suggest I’m b****y mad. As if I made this up myself, one pointing out that “it’s against the law not to turn headlights on during low visibility but no one ever gets stopped, or mobile phone usage is rarely prosecuted unless the Law enforcers decide to have a purge! One even pointed out that what he has is low driving lights marked on his Dashboard but got penalties and a fine as the Police called them fog lights. He was not aware that penalties and fine was even a law for Foglights being on.

    It is OK bringing in new rules but broadcast and media posts should be key in the same way Clunk Click or Green Cross Code were continuously broadcast or postered. Unless Drivers get regular notified updates I can never see how this lax process works, it’s a poor version of things to state ignorance is no excuse when law makers do not drive that everyone should buy, read and take some form of confirmation test online. But then again who would test or monitor yet another freakish line of control obsession.

    Stewart Lindfield, Sompting, Adur
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    Regrettably the new Highway Code has created even more ambiguity at the most likely place for an incident to happen – junctions. They are complicated enough without having to consider this new layer of complex.

    When I am a pedestrian I will never assume it’s safe to step out, and often a motorist will see me and wait – a ‘doubke give way’, just like before.

    The biggest challenge with the ‘hierarchy of harm’ I see is some vulnerable road users have misunderstood the rules, assume ‘priority’ in a situation means ‘right of way’, and use the road in a way that suggests their safety on the road is someone else’s problem. This goes against every principle of driver and rider training I have been involved with over the last 30 years, and personally I have no interest at all in the Coroner confirming I had priority in a situation that went wrong.

    Ben Graham, Reading
    Agree (6) | Disagree (0)

    The outcome so far of this change to the Highway Code is not the slightest surprise to me. I recall several heated conversations between road safety and active travel people on this very subject. It is another good intention that has failed to take human nature into account.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (10) | Disagree (0)

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.