IAM RoadSmart warns road users over confusion around Highway Code changes

Posted on 30/07/21 |

IAM RoadSmart the UK’s largest independent road safety charity, is warning all road users, to be patient and cautious when it comes to the Highway Code this summer. While changes are coming, they are not here yet, they were simply announced today, but are yet to be put into law. We therefore all need to be mindful of the current rules that will apply for the foreseeable future, and not confuse the proposed changes with the Summer of Cycling campaign which was also announced today.

The Summer of Cycling campaign, however, offers us a key prompt to brush up on the current rules to make sure the summer staycation can be as safe as possible, sharing the road with respect and courtesy for all.

Rebecca Ashton, Head of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart said: “The Department for Transport’s proposed changes announced today to the Highway Code have been designed to improve road safety for cyclists, pedestrians, and horse riders.  However, they need to be explained properly to get the desired outcome of increasing safety of the most vulnerable road users.  Without a well-funded education programme, we have concerns that the changes could instead increase conflict and potentially reduce the safety of the vulnerable road users the rule changes are intended to protect.”

In a recent survey, conducted by IAM RoadSmart, it was revealed that 71% 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%) thinking this will be a significant issue.

Almost three quarters (73%) 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% 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%) agree that this is the right way forward, but 26% are against and almost one in five (19%) 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% of IAM RoadSmart’s poll respondents believe this is a mistake.

However, some of the proposed changes were met with widespread support, with 63% 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% 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% 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%) 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.

Rebecca continued: “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 behaviour and safety of road users.”

IAM RoadSmart has recently published two pieces of advice on their website for road users to brush up on some of the facts, rules and dispel myths. Read both articles here: Part One: Highway Code Confusion (iamroadsmart.com) and Part Two: Highway Code Confusion (iamroadsmart.com)

For more information about IAM RoadSmart, which helps to improve driving and riding skills through courses and coaching, visit www.iamroadsmart.com.

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