Part One: Highway Code Confusion

Blog post posted on 29/07/21 |

Changes to the Highway Code are imminent and one of the changes is to promote Walking and Cycling but how familiar are you with the existing rules and guidance?

IAM RoadSmart has taken part in the inaugural meeting of a new publicity committee dedicated to clear communications for all road users of the new ‘hierarchical’ changes.

The consultation outcome should be published soon, followed by legal changes laid before parliament and then, following approval by MPs, these should all become law early in 2022.

What’s important now – forgotten parts of the Highway Code

Before we focus on changes, let’s look at what you know now about the Highway Code. When was the last time you looked at it and if you don’t know the rules how can you stick to them when driving? Whether you passed your test 12 months ago or 24 or more years ago you need to remain current with the rules. Breaking them will lead to penalties but also potential accidents which could be avoided if you knew the rules.

While you may not remember the introduction of the Road Traffic Act of 1930 you can familiarise yourself with the full history of road safety and the driving tests here.

A key date was 1st July 1996 when a separate theory test was introduced. This replaced ‘random’ questions that were asked to test the knowledge of the student. The new theory test is designed to be more thorough, but is it? Test your knowledge below.

Why does it exist and who is it for?

Richard Gladman, Head of Driving & Riding Standards & Product Development for IAM RoadSmart states: “The Highway Code was designed to keep all road users, passengers, and pedestrians safe. Do you know that the front page is a blended view from behind the wheel or handlebars of a driver and rider? Check it out! It applies to all road users, including the most vulnerable: pedestrians, older and younger people (including children) or disabled people, cyclists, motorcyclists, drivers, and horse riders. All road users should we aware of the highway code and make decisions considering each other. Most people would like to think that they have relatively safe driving habits, but evidence suggests this isn’t quite as true as it could be.

Legal requirements

Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence. You may be fined, given penalty points on your licence, or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases you may be sent to prison. Such rules are identified using the words ‘MUST/MUST NOT’.

Although failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts (see The road user and the law) to establish liability. This includes rules which use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.

Knowing and applying the rules contained in The Highway Code could significantly reduce road casualties. Cutting the number of deaths and injuries that occur on our roads every day is a responsibility we all share. The Highway Code can help us discharge that responsibility. Further information on driving/riding techniques can also be found in ‘The Official DVSA Guide to Driving - the essential skills’ and ‘The Official DVSA Guide to Riding - the essential skills’.

At the bottom of this article we’ve included some of the most important rules of all. Check for yourself if you were aware, always obey or need to do some re-education.

Facts on the Highway Code:

  • Each year 2.1 million people study and are tested on driving theory, which requires a thorough knowledge of the Highway Code, Know Your Traffic Signs and Driving – The Essential Skills.
  • 84% of the 16-24 years olds in 2019 confirmed they had read the Highway Code as part of their study according to a survey by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
  • 1,313,438 official publications of the Highway Code as a book, app or download have been recorded as sales or downloads in the past 5 years. These might also have been shared increasing the number or views.
  • 3,673,515 driving theory product sales and downloads were recorded in the same 5-year period.
  • 18,189,854-page views were recorded educating people in the Highway Code and the other official sources. Analytics for the Highway Code on show.
  • There are currently 307 rules contained within the Highway Code.

If you have any doubts about the Highway Code, look it up, don’t get caught out as that could involve penalties or worse consequences. You really have very little excuse it’s available for free online.

The most important rules of all:

  1. Never drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication. IAM RoadSmart recommends ‘None for the Road’ for good reason.
  2. Always drive at a safe speed for the conditions at the time - and only up to maximum speed limits.
  3. Make every effort to be aware of your surroundings on a 360-basis, monitoring for other road users, pedestrians, cyclists, and hazards.
  4. Always keep a gap of at least 2 seconds between your car and the vehicle in front, or more when travelling at speed and in poor weather conditions extend this gap even further.
  5. Understand that loud music and other distractions while driving can take your attention away from the road ahead.
  6. Drive with extra care in built up areas where children, elderly people, animals, or obstacles may appear in front of you at any time.
  7. Ensure that all satellite navigation systems, audio systems and general electronics are set up and activated before you set off - never while your vehicle is in motion.
  8. Switch your mobile phone to silent and place out of sight or set to travel mode before setting off and under no circumstances use any mobile devices while driving. However, it's legal to use your phone as a sat nav, if it has secure, hands-free access and it does not block your view of the road or traffic ahead. According to the UK laws, hands-free access can include Bluetooth headsets, voice command features, a built-in sat navigation or a safely mounted device. No driving aid should ever be a distraction or block your view, this includes dash cameras. It's extremely important that your dash cam cannot in any way be deemed to be obstructing your field of vision while driving. If the police decide it's positioned unsafely, you could be fined, and footage recorded on it might not be rendered inadmissible in court.


  9. Always ensure that the clothing and footwear you drive in is appropriate and enables you to operate your vehicle’s controls properly. Rule 97)
  10. Carry out a series of basic checks and adjustments (seat position, mirrors,and of course your vehicle checks including tyre pressures etc.) before taking to the roads.
  11. It is against the law to take even the shortest of journeys without wearing your seatbelt unless you have a medical exemption certificate.
  12. Avoid the temptation to drive aggressively or excessively fast by allowing plenty of extra time to reach your destination.
  13. It’s actually encouraged, where possible, to avoid driving during peak hours when roads are at their busiest and the chance of a collision is at its highest.
  14. Do not drive if you feel tired or lethargic, as you may fall asleep behind the wheel and cause an accident. We have recently released statistics that claim 4 million people have fallen asleep at the wheel. It’s easy to push yourself too hard, ignore warning signs and cause serious accidents with devastating effects.
  15. Take regular breaks during long journeys, stopping every couple of hours at least for a short walk, a coffee (remember this will only have a temporary effect), or a nap in a safe place.
  16. Exercise patience and restraint at all times, as road rage is one of the leading causes of accidents and dangerous incidents on the roads.

Some of these hints and tips are covered in our recent survey’s on bad habits developed over Covid-19 and Top 10 Driving Stresses and how to combat them.

Read part two here.