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Changes to The Highway Code in the United Kingdom which will affect cyclists and pedestrians are coming on 29 January 2022.
An interim review was launched by the government in October 2018 focussing on vulnerable groups within the framework of future transportation and how society alters existing views about their travel.
The result is an introduction of a hierarchy of road users. The aim is to compel users capable of causing most harm to reduce the threat or danger that their use poses.
Helpfully for the government and hopefully for anyone commuting, nearly four out of five people who were consulted agreed with the introduction.
Hierarchy of Road Users
The new Hierarchy of Road Users in the Highway Code ranks road users from the most vulnerable to the least vulnerable. Essentially, this puts pedestrians at the top, followed by cyclists, cars and then larger vehicles such as buses and lorries
The purpose of the Hierarchy, as part of the new H1 rule, is to ensure that “road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsbility to reduce the danger or threat they may post to other road users.”
One outcome is the clarification of existing rules on the priorities that pedestrians have on pavements and drivers and riders should be giving priority to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road.
Whilst these rules are almost universally adopted at zebra crossings as a cultural norm, the new rules take one of the largest strides that some may feel are necessary in the cultural shift in acceptance of cycling and walking as alternative modes of transport.
Do Cyclists Now Have Priority at Junctions?
Yes. Under the new Rule H3, drivers are required to give priority to cyclists when they are turning into or out of a junction. This means that drivers are not allowed to cut across cyclists when turninng in or out of a junction, or when changing lane or direction.
Specifically, the guidance states: “You should not cut across cyclists going ahead when turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle. This applies whether cyclists are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them.“
New Highway Code Rules for Cyclists in 2021
The biggest change states that the priority should be given to more vulnerable road users waiting to cross the road before turning into or out of junctions. We presume this includes t-junctions, cross-junctions and left and right turns into and out of side roads.
The Dutch philosophy towards cycling infrastructure is essentially around fifty years old so had the major benefit of being in play alongside the growth in motor vehicle use after the oil crisis of the 1970s.
Major cities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere are adapting their physical infrastructure to support safety and movement of cyclists and pedestrians but this change in the Highway Code will have critics and inevitable uncertainty over who is felt to have the right of way.
As well as increasing each user’s perception of risk if they feel that the Code supports them there is the inevitable reflection on how this affects blame and liability in the event of a collision.
Commuting needs to become a safer and more enjoyable pursuit. It’s important to note that cyclists will need to acknowledge the changes in the Code will make them responsible to pedestrians and we are a long way away from cycling lanes becoming the norm across the globe.
Cyclists will also be aware that they now have a position in the hierarchy. If this means reduced speeds at junctions, crossings and more stops at red lights the perception of cyclists as commuters will also improve.
Perception is crucial to the advancement of commuting within our societies as we all cherish (or fight to possess) our space of asphalt. Distractions are all around us, but so now are codified users who are more vulnerable.