2022 Highway Code changes: cars must give way to cyclists when turning

We asked the DfT to explain new 2022 Highway Code rules, and how they’ll be enforced

The Highway Code is set to undergo a major shake-up in the New Year, giving overtaking - or undertaking - cyclists going straight on a right of way over drivers turning into junctions.

The Highway Code revisions also include a new Hierarchy of Road Users, which implies automatic culpability for drivers in accidents with more vulnerable road users (cyclists or pedestrians), while another change states drivers should stop and give way to pedestrians waiting to cross the road before turning into or out of junctions. The final major change will be establishing guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists or horse riders.

A statutory instrument has been laid before Parliament that means the updated Highway Code will come into effect on 29 January 2022, but there’s no official plan to communicate the changes until they actually come into force. Indeed, the Department for Transport (DfT) says some of the new Highway Code wording still needs to be finalised. However, the DfT is pressing on with a programme started in 2020, when it invited cycling lobby groups to propose new rules, and a subsequent 12-week public consultation on their proposals. “The majority of respondents to the consultation were in favour of all the changes proposed, believing that they would improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders,” the DfT claims. However, pro-motoring groups have cast doubt on the consultation, with IAM RoadSmart Policy Chief Neil Greig calling it “skewed and biased”. On its website, campaign group Cycling UK boasts of mobilising 16,500 of the 21,000 total responses to the government consultation, lending weight to Grieg’s bias claim.

In order to understand the implications of the changes, and pending publication of the revised Highway Code itself, we asked the Department for Transport for answers which you can read below. First though, here is an outline of what we think are the most significant revisions

What are the 2022 Highway Code changes as proposed?

Rule H1: New Hierarchy of Road Users (left) Drivers of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of HGVs, LGVs, cars/taxis and motorcycles. Cyclists and horse riders likewise have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians.

Rule H2: New priority for pedestrians at junctions 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 which 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: New priority for cyclists when cars are turning 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.

DfT responses to Auto Express questions on forthcoming 2022 Highway Code revisions

AE: Can you confirm the effect of the Statutory Instrument is that the Highway Code changes outlined - especially those pertaining to new right of way rules for cyclists - will become law on 29 Jan 2022? (And can thus be legally enforced?)

DfT: The proposed alterations to The Highway Code will be implemented at the very end of January 2022 if approved by Parliament. The proposed changes to The Highway Code are advisory only and not underpinned by law.

AE: What are the penalties for drivers failing to give way to cyclists per the new rules?

DfT: The new rule to give priority to cyclists going straight ahead does not seek to change the law but rather to ensure a more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use that benefits all users. You should not cut across a cyclist just like you would not cut across another motorist. 

Although failure to comply with the ‘advisory 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) to establish liability. This includes the rules which use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.  

Enforcement of the law is a matter for the police who will decide, on the evidence of each individual case, whether an offence has been committed and the appropriate action to take. 

AE: Do the new priorities apply to cyclists only, or do they also apply to electric cycles, e-scooters, mopeds, motorcycles, etc?DfT: The new rules apply to all road users. For example, motorists should give way to cyclists and cyclists should give way to pedestrians. It remains illegal to ride a privately owned scooter on public land.

AE: How does the DfT respond to the charge that the consultation results are in fact extremely heavily skewed in favour of the activist cycling lobby? (Who provided 75 per cent of responses.)

DfT: We are unable to comment on the Cycling UK claims. However, our consultation analysis indicates that over 60% of respondents identified themselves as a motorist.

AE: What is the plan to communicate these wide-ranging changes to drivers, given the time frame to implementation is so short. Will there be nationwide TV or social media ad campaigns, for example? 

DfT: We agree that for the changes to have the desired impact, it will be important that they are supported by targeted awareness raising and behaviour change communications.

Our well-established THINK! campaign will be developing a communications campaign to support implementation of the changes, both at launch and beyond, timed seasonally to support times of increased active travel.

Responses to the Highway Code changes:

“Nearly three-quarters of crashes involving cyclists take place at junctions and there are fourteen Highway Code rules meant to deter drivers from overtaking, cutting in and running into pedestrians and cyclists crossing side-road junctions.

“Multiple rules leads to confusion, whereas, most European countries have a universal priority rule, where whoever is turning into a junction has to give priority to anyone going straight ahead.

“This simple change clarifies the rules at junctions, and is a major step towards embedding a custom that could make a huge difference to cyclist and pedestrian safety. It would also give highway designers the confidence to design better cycling and walking infrastructure such as cycle lanes and cycle paths that go across the mouths of side-roads, making them simpler, safer and more efficient for everyone.” Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK Head of Campaigns

“IAM RoadSmart are concerned the new Highway Code will increase conflict on the road rather than reduce it.  Informing every road user in the UK about the new rules will be a huge task particularly when most drivers think they are competent and don’t need to refresh their skills.

Getting the communications right will be critical when some cyclists start exercising their new rights to undertake traffic and put themselves at risk. 

Vulnerable road users deserve the highest  protection from motorised vehicles but simply changing a book no one reads is unlikely to deliver the impact hoped for. In our view investment in segregated facilities remains the best way to encourage people to consider active travel as a real alternative.” Neil Greig, Policy Director, IAM RoadSmart.

“The upcoming changes to the Highway Code are a reminder that all road users have a responsibility to look after one another, in particular the most vulnerable ones: pedestrian, cyclists, other two-wheeled transport and horse riders.

“The encouragement of more ‘active travel’ and a boom in deliveries by people on bicycles has transformed road use to some extent, and the Highway Code needed to be updated to reflect that.

“As most people do not read the Highway Code once they have passed their test, all drivers will need to ensure they read and understand the new rules before they become live in January.” Edmund King, AA president.

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