UK drivers and motorcyclists unconvinced by proposed new Highway Code fearing more conflict with cyclists and pedestrians

Posted on 03/11/20 |

A recent survey has discovered that the majority of road users aren’t in favour of many of the Department for Transport’s proposed changes to the Highway Code which have been designed to improve road safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders, believing that the changes will instead increase conflict and potentially reduce the safety of the vulnerable road users they are intended to protect.

In the survey, conducted by the UK’s largest road safety charity IAM RoadSmart, 71 per cent of drivers and motorcyclists believe the new proposal to give pedestrians priority when turning into and out of junctions, for example, will increase conflict rather than reducing it, with more than half (57 per cent) thinking this will be a significant issue.

Of the 3,600 web poll respondents, 74 per cent believe that children should be allowed to cycle on the pavement, but only 23 per cent feel that cyclists in general should have the same rights.

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) think that the new Highway Code should make it compulsory for cyclists to wear a helmet, in contrast to the proposed Code itself which, while restating the evidence that wearing a cycle helmet reduces the risk of sustaining a head injury in certain circumstances, stops short of making them compulsory.

Meanwhile, 71 per cent of people agree with the general concept that drivers and riders should give motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians walking in the road at least as much room as they would when overtaking a car.

On the new Code’s most controversial suggestions - to establish a hierarchy of road users, where those in charge of the vehicles that can cause the greatest harm should bear the greatest responsibility to take care – the majority (56 per cent) agree that this is the right way forward, but 26 per cent are against and almost one in five (19 per cent) are still to be convinced either way. 

The new Code doesn’t suggest any obligation on cyclists to use cycle lanes or tracks when they are present, and a resounding 80 per cent of IAM RoadSmart’s poll respondents believe this is a mistake.

However, some of the proposed changes were met with widespread support, with 63 per cent of those surveyed agreeing with the new advice that when riding a bike on busy roads, when vehicles are moving faster than them, cyclists should move over and allow traffic to overtake them. There is also strong support for every proposal that contains clear guidelines on passing distances, with 78 per cent in favour of the one and a half-metre gap between cyclist and vehicle travelling below 30mph, with a two-metre gap when above 30mph.

And 90 per cent agree with the new Code’s advice that drivers and motorcyclists should give horse riders at least two metres’ space and pass at speeds under 15 mph.

Finally, just over half (57 per cent) agree with the new proposal to include the ‘Dutch Reach’ in the Highway Code. This is a technique which advises motorists leaving their vehicles to do so by using their left hand to operate the door handle, allowing the driver to naturally twist their body, making it easier to look over their shoulder and check for cyclists or other road users approaching.

Neil Greig, Policy and Research Director at IAM RoadSmart, said: “Regardless of what changes are introduced, it is clear there will be a need for a huge education campaign to ensure any amendments to the Highway Code are understood and fully adopted by the millions of existing UK drivers, motorcyclists and road users. At IAM RoadSmart we believe an online resource to help with this re-education in an engaging way would be helpful.

“The simple truth is that most of us don’t read the Highway Code unless we drive or ride professionally, or are about to take a test. The Department for Transport needs to be realistic about the impact simply changing a seldom read document will have on the behavior and safety of road users.”