Home > Insights > The UK Highway Code: everything you need to know about the road rules update

At the end of January 2022, a major overhaul of ‘The UK Highway Code’ came into force. Designed to improve road safety for cyclists and pedestrians. Nine sections were updated with fifty rules added or amended. Concerns have been aired that many road users, including commercial vehicle drivers, aren’t fully aware of the impact of the new guidance.

In this article, we outline all the changes that have been brought in and how they may affect road users. We explain why it is important to adhere to the code and the potential consequences of any breaches of the rules if involved in a motoring accident.

What you need to know:

Hierarchy of road users – reprioritisation

Those facing the greatest risk in the event of a collision, namely pedestrians and cyclists, are prioritised above motorists, who have the most responsibility to consider others.

Drivers of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of HGVs, LGVs, cars/taxis and motorcycles. Cyclists and horse riders likewise have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians.

Pedestrians at junctions – give way earlier

At a junction, drivers, motorcyclists, horse riders and cyclists should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which they are turning. They should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing (previously road users only had to give way if pedestrians were already on the crossing), and to pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing. This includes a cycle route alongside the black and white stripes.

Overtaking cyclists at junctions

Motorists should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles going ahead when they are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane. This applies whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and motorists should give way to them. Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist, horse rider or horse-drawn vehicle going straight ahead to stop or swerve. Drivers should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary.

Opening car doors – ‘Dutch Reach’ method

The updated code recommends a new technique when leaving vehicles called the ‘Dutch Reach’ method.

Where people driving or passengers in a vehicle can do so, they should open the door using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening. For example, using their left hand to open a door on their right-hand side.

This will make them turn their head to look over their shoulder behind them. They are then less likely to cause injury to people cycling or riding a motorcycle passing on the road or people on the pavement.

Roundabouts – protection for vulnerable

Motorists should give priority to people cycling on roundabouts. The new guidance states people driving and or riding a motorcycle should not attempt to overtake people cycling within that person’s lane and allow people cycling to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout.

The code already explained that people cycling, riding a horse and driving a horse-drawn vehicle may stay in the left-hand lane of a roundabout when they intend to continue across or around the roundabout.

Guidance has been added to explain that people driving should take extra care when entering a roundabout to make sure they do not cut across people cycling, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle who are continuing around the roundabout in the left-hand lane.

Overtaking – increased space

Drivers overtaking more vulnerable road users should leave at least 1.5 metres (5ft) when travelling at speeds of up to 30 mph and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds.

Motorists should allow at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space if passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph.

Drivers may cross a double-white line if necessary (provided the road is clear) to overtake someone cycling or riding a horse if they are travelling at 10 mph or less.

At least two metres distance should be left when passing people walking in the road, such as when there is no pavement.

Walking, cycling or riding in shared spaces

Cyclists should not overtake pedestrians or horse riders closely or at high speed in shared spaces.

They should try and alert others of their presence, for example, by ringing the bell, and anticipate people could be deaf, blind or partially sighted.

People walking should take care not to obstruct pathways.

Cyclist positioning – visibility

Cyclists should make themselves as visible as possible by riding in the centre of their lane on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and when approaching junctions.

The guidance suggests it can be safer to ride side by side, particularly when accompanying children or people with less experience.

Cyclists should be considerate of other road users, particularly when riding in groups.

The updated code explains they should exercise caution when passing parked vehicles, leaving around 1 metre to avoid being hit if a car door opens.

Charging electric vehicles

For the first time, the code includes guidance about using electric vehicle charging points.

Motorists should park as close as possible to public charging points to avoid creating a trip hazard from trailing cables, display a warning if possible and return charging cables and connectors neatly to minimise the danger to other people and avoid creating an obstacle for other road users.

Why follow ‘The UK Highway Code’?

The UK Highway Code is advisory so failing to comply will not result in a fine. However, failure to comply with the ‘advisory rules’ of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, ‘The UK Highway Code’ may be used in evidence in any court proceedings (under the Traffic Acts) to establish liability. This includes the rules which use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.

Enforcement of the law is a matter for the police who will decide, on the evidence of each individual case, whether an offence has been committed and the appropriate action to take.

While the online version of ‘The UK Highway Code’ has been updated, physical copies containing the new rules are not available until April 2022. To access the full online version click here

If you have any questions about the changes mentioned above, get in touch