Cyclox member Andy Chivers examines the implications of changes to the Highway Code for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians.
The Highway Code changes today.
These changes are going to affect everyone because they include a new rule ( H1) which states that those road users with the greatest risk of causing harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to others.
Prior to today the code expected all road users to be equally considerate to others, so children walking to school had the same responsibility as lorry drivers for their safety. In fairness, such hierarchy was always there but implied and understated.
And it is important to emphasise that the changes below don’t remove the absolute need for all road users to behave responsibly and with due consideration for others.
So, what are the changes?
The Highway Code now stipulates that drivers and cyclists turning into a side road must give way to pedestrians crossing the side road and to cyclists going straight on.
It also specifically mentions the situation, common in Oxford, where there may be a cycle lane with a stream of cyclists going straight on. The driver turning left is required to wait until there is a gap. The new cycle lanes along Botley Road have had to be amended because of this problem.
Drivers turning into the Seacourt shopping area sweep over what seems to be a cycle priority lane, and something similar happens to outbound traffic near Wickes. To support these changes, transport engineers must create raised crossings or sharp angles on the corners so drivers have to slow down. Waltham Forest has altered many side roads to create a continuous raised pavement across the junction.
Encouragingly, the new code also requires car drivers to give priority to cyclists on roundabouts, though it doesn’t yet expect drivers to give way to pedestrians crossing the approach roads.
The next important change for cyclists is to outlaw close pass overtaking, something which is unpleasant, threatening and often dangerous.
More than anything this puts off many would be cyclists from riding on the road.
Previous advice was ambiguous but now it is clearly stated that under 30mph drivers should leave at least 1.5m gap when overtaking, and if travelling faster at least 2m. Large vehicles should always leave 2m.
In contrast, bicycle riders are permitted to make their way through stationary or slow moving traffic but are advised to exercise caution when doing so. This is where the dangers of HGVs turning left cannot be over emphasised, and something that all cyclists should be aware of in such situations. Bike riders are also reminded that on shared cycle paths they should respect pedestrians, especially elderly, vulnerable and children.
The Highway Code now describes when a bike rider should ‘take the lane’, adopting the more central position so that they are more visible and giving a clear indication that cars should stay behind.
This is good practice but takes a while to learn. It is important when turning right and to keep away from parked cars.
The code now advises drivers to use the left hand to open their doors which makes it easier to look back and see approaching cyclists.
These changes to the Highway Code are to be welcomed if we are serious as a nation that we want to encourage walking and cycling and reduce our car dependency.
But importantly, how will they be publicised? The best rules and advice are no use if people are ignorant of them.
Active travel supporters are pressing the government to run a major advertising campaign.
Oxfordshire County Council, as the highways authority, should endorse and imaginatively publicise these Highways Code changes, for example by including a quote from them in communications to all road users.
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