A new hierarchy of road user
4 February 2022
Anyone following the news of late will have seen that on 29 of January 2022, new Highway Code changes were introduced, bringing about a litany of complaints from drivers.
The changes attempt to ameliorate dangers posed to vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders. 2020 saw a 46% increase in pedal cyclists on the road compared with the previous year although of course, the excellent weather and the pandemic will likely have had an effect on this figure. Tragically, in the same year, 141 of those cyclists were killed.
A new hierarchy of road users
The most controversial talking point introduced by the changes is the new hierarchy of road users. The rationale behind the hierarchy is that the users with the potential to do the most harm should bear the greatest responsibility to reduce any danger they may pose to others. The Code puts pedestrians at top of hierarchy, meaning that cyclists and horse riders will be required to give way to pedestrians on shared paths and even goes as far as to specify that drivers turning into or out of a road should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross. Car drivers will have a greater responsibility than cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians and in turn, HGV’s and LGV drivers will be required to take the greatest care.
This shift in power between road users, whilst clearly having reduction in casualties as its core aim, also seems to serve a wider environmental agenda. If individuals have a sense that their safety has been prioritised, they may feel incentivised to dust off the pushbike for that morning commute. On the face of it, this could only have positive consequences for health and the environment.
Communicating the changes
However, changing long-established behaviour will surely be a challenge. Many road-tax payers are less than enthused by the shift in their road-rights. The Department for Transport has reportedly established a working group to decide how the changes should be communicated to the public. There is talk of an advertising campaign to be released in February 2022 but hard copies of the new version of the Code will not be available until the spring.
The danger, if the changes are not adequately communicated to the public is that road users will not appreciate that their behaviours need to be modified until they find themselves the subject of a prosecution. Many driving offences in particular are ‘strict liability’ meaning that a driver will not be able to argue that they were unaware of their duty to, for example give way to another road user in order to avoid prosecution. The concern is that the changes will ultimately lead to a greater number of prosecutions for drivers of vehicles. You can read in detail about the eight changes on the Government website.
Alternatively, if you would like any advice in relation to driving offence matters, or on how best to communicate these changes to your driver-workforce, please contact Francesca Reason in our Regulatory and Corporate Defence Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at February 2022.