Tips & advice

The Highway Code: What is it and how do I learn it?

What you need to know about the Highway Code, where to find it and how to use it to pass your driving test

Highway Code

The official Highway Code includes all the rules, regulations and guidelines every road user must follow to abide by the law and drive safely. This includes the Highway Code’s new rules, most recently introduced in 2022. The Code has been around a lot longer, being introduced in 1931, and receives regular updates to keep up with changes to the roads and cars we drive. 

The Highway Code is put together by the Driving Standards Agency and the Department for Transport. It’s an essential read for motorists, but all road users must understand the guidelines set out within it, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.  

If you’re learning to drive you should be familiar with the Highway Code – it plays a large role in the process of getting on the road, and you’ll find it very hard to pass your theory and practical tests without regularly consulting it.

Once you’ve passed, the book mustn’t be banished – every motorist has a responsibility to know the rules inside, and keeping a copy or buying a new one to consult every now and then is strongly recommended.

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What's in the Highway Code?

The Highway Code book is full of useful road-related advice for everyone in the UK, as well as the legal requirements and prohibited actions on Britain's highways. Here's a simple summary of the contents:

  1. Rules for pedestrians
  2. Rules for horse riders
  3. Rules for cyclists and motorcyclists
  4. Rules for car, van and lorry drivers
  5. General advice on topics such as weather, parking, motorways, road works and level crossings
  6. Road signs and markings, with their meanings
  7. Signals from authority figures and other road users
  8. Licence and riding/driving requirements
  9. The law and penalties for breaking it
  10. Vehicle maintenance, safety and first aid advice

While reading through the code, you'll see some items are marked by the phrase 'Must/Must not' - these are the laws of the roads, and will result in prosecution if not followed properly. Some rules use the terms 'should/should not' or 'do/do not', which will not by themselves result in prosecution - but they could be used has evidence in court to establish liability.

Highway Code new rules: 2022 

There were some significant rule changes introduced into the Highway Code on 29 January 2022. Called the ‘Hierarchy of Road Users’, perhaps most significantly, pedestrians have new priority when crossing road junctions, while cyclists have priority when passing a turning car.

Here’s a simplified version of the new rules:

  • Rule H1 - Drivers of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger to others. This applies most strongly to HGV drivers, LGVs, cars/taxis and motorcycles. Cyclists and horse riders also have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians.
  • Rule H2: At a junction, drivers, motorcyclists, horse riders and cyclists should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from you are turning. You should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing (currently you only have to give way if they’re already on the crossing), and to pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing.
  • Rule H3: You should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane. This applies whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them. Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist, horse rider or horse drawn vehicle going straight ahead to stop or swerve. You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary.

Learning the Highway Code: top tips

Learner drivers will be very familiar with the Highway Code, and it's certainly a massive help when taking the theory and practical driving tests - but it can be hard to remember all of those rules. Here are a few handy hints to help make learning the Highway Code easier.

  • Download the official Highway Code app, which includes the full contents, as well as quizzes and a learning tool that tracks your progress and tests your knowledge after each section.
  • Listen to the Highway Code audiobook - listening to the audio version on your headphones lets you get on with other tasks, and you can test yourself on what you've learned afterwards.
  • Follow the Highway Code on Twitter and Facebook to get frequent reminders of the most important advice in your social media feeds.
  • Find an online Highway Code quiz to test your knowledge - try reading through the book and taking a different quiz every day to make sure you've covered everything.
  • Get a friend to test you on specific subjects - like roundabouts, road markings or signs.

Where to read the Highway Code

It always used to be available just as a book, found in most bookshops - and that version is still available at a reasonable price, especially via online outlets. However the Highway Code is available in a huge variety of different formats these days, and many of them are free to look at.

Highway code

Here’s a summary of different ways to read the Highway Code:

  1. Buy the book, in English, Welsh or Irish - note that the Northern Irish version is slightly different. 
  2. Buy an eBook for your preferred eBook reader.
  3. Download the iOS or Android app.
  4. Listen to the audiobook version.
  5. Download the Highway Code pdf document for free.
  6. Visit the online version on the UK Government website.
  7. Print the Highway Code off at home.
  8. Visit your local library and borrow a physical copy.
  9. Buy the official CD-ROM version for your PC.
  10. Brush up by following the Highway Code on Twitter or Facebook.

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