The Highway Code now endorses safe cycling practices that have been taught by instructors for years. Here’s what cyclists and drivers need to know.
A new version of the Highway Code was published last year with little fanfare. Some of the more reactionary tabloids ran stories about drivers being victimised and cyclists and pedestrians being given carte blanche to behave as they liked. Neither was true.
The changes mostly clarify advice that was in earlier versions of the Highway Code, with a view to improving road safety – especially for vulnerable road users. Some of the new advice mirrors what’s been part of the Government’s own National Standard for Cycle Training since the mid-2000s. Here are the key changes.
A hierarchy of responsibility
There are three new rules at the start of the Highway Code dealing with the concept “that places those road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy”.
Rule H1 spells this out: “those in charge 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 they pose to others.” Drivers of buses, HGVs and cars are enjoined to take special care around cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians; cyclists and horse riders are to take such care around pedestrians. “None of this,” the Code adds, “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.”
Rule H2 deals with priority at junctions without traffic signals. For example, cyclists and drivers turning into or out of a side road are to give way to pedestrians who are crossing.
Rule H3 says that drivers and motorcyclists “should not cut across cyclists… going ahead when you are 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.”
Advice for cyclists
Previously the Highway Code advised cyclists not to ride more than two abreast. Many drivers were unaware of or misinterpreted this advice so it’s been clarified. Rule 66 now says: “You can ride two abreast and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders. Be aware of drivers behind you and allow them to overtake… when you feel it is safe to let them do so.”
The advice on road positioning for cyclists now reflects what cycle instructors teach – the same advice you may have read on this website. The Highway Code doesn’t use the terms primary and secondary positions, nor does it use the exact phrase “take the lane”. But be in no doubt: that’s exactly what Rule 72 refers to. It begins by acknowledging that there are “two basic road positions” for cyclists. Here’s the first.
“Ride in the centre of your lane, to make yourself as clearly visible as possible, in the following situations
• on quiet roads or streets…
• in slower-moving traffic…
• at the approach to junctions or road narrowings where it would be unsafe for drivers to overtake you.”
It then describes the second basic road position. “When riding on busy roads, with vehicles moving faster than you, allow them to overtake where it is safe to do so whilst keeping at least 0.5 metres away, and further where it is safer, from the kerb edge.”
Advice for drivers
Let’s jump ahead to Rule 213. This explains to drivers why cyclists may choose to ride in the centre of their lane or two abreast, and why cyclists give parked cars such a wide berth. “Allow them to do so” the Highway Code instructs drivers.
When it comes to overtaking, Rule 163 used to tell drivers to give vulnerable road users at least as much room as they would when overtaking a car. This rule was widely ignored or simply misunderstood; many drivers passed cyclists dangerously close. Plenty still do, of course, but they can’t claim to have misunderstood the Highway Code any more. With its new wording, Rule 163 is unambiguous.
It says: “leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph, and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds”. It concludes with: “you should wait behind… and not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances.”
The new version of the Highway Code also goes into more detail about car-dooring and how to avoid it. Drivers already had a legal duty to avoid hitting anyone when opening a door. This remains. Rule 239 says: “you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists or other traffic by looking all around and using your mirrors.”
There then follows a description of what’s known among road-safety types as the Dutch reach, because it’s taught to Dutch drivers: “where you are able to do so, you should open the door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening; for example, use your left hand to open a door on your right-hand side. This will make you turn your head to look over your shoulder. You are then more likely to avoid causing injury to cyclists or motorcyclists passing you on the road, or to people on the pavement.”
Not a secret code
The changes to the Highway Code are good news; cycling campaign groups have been pushing for them for years. The problem is that not enough road users are aware of them. As a result, cyclists riding in the centre of their lane or two abreast still incur the misplaced wrath of some motorists.
While the Government arguably should have done more to raise awareness of the changes to the Highway Code, there is something you can do to help: share this web page with family, friends and co-workers. This isn’t some kind of culture war between road users. It’s about all of us being able to use the roads safely.