How the 2022 changes to the Highway Code will affect you

by James Foxall
10 January 2022 5 min read
How the 2022 changes to the Highway Code will affect you

It may be a handful of years since you passed your driving test and were last found with your nose buried in a copy of the Highway Code, or more likely several decades since you hit the road and left your quaint paper copy of the Highway Code gather dust on a bookshelf. Either way, the Highway Code is set to change at the end of January 2022.

Road safety groups, including the AA and Cycling UK, concerned that the changes aren’t being effectively communicated, are urging drivers to check how the new rules might affect them. To save you hunting for the updates, we’re summarising them below.

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In short, what are the changes?

The new rules are designed to address what the Department for Transport (DfT) sees as an imbalance between road users. It wants to ensure: “Those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.”

Who will benefit?

Quite rightly, more vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders are the beneficiaries. The main changes have been split into three: Rules H1, H2 and H3.

Rule H1: ‘Hierarchy of Road Users’

The rule makers are putting those most likely to be injured in any collision at the top of the hierarchy. These are pedestrians, especially children, older adults and disabled people. Cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists follow. It’s especially good news for motorcyclists, as they are particularly vulnerable, using all roads from minor to major motorways. At the bottom of the hierarchy are those road users likely to do the most damage and arguably the least likely to get hurt. That’s HGV drivers followed by car drivers.

What the rule change hopes to achieve

No one’s suggesting car and truck drivers aren’t considerate towards other road users. And this new hierarchy isn’t designed to give pedestrians and cyclists the opportunity to stick two fingers up at drivers. The DfT stresses: “The hierarchy does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly.”

And it adds: “The objective of the hierarchy is not to give priority to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders in every situation, but rather to ensure a more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use that benefits all users.”

Rule H2: clearer and stronger priorities for pedestrians

Drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and yes, even horse riders, should now give way to pedestrians at junctions. That means if you’re turning into or out of a road in your car (or on your bike, scooter or horse) and a pedestrian is waiting to cross, you have to let them go.

Drivers must also give way to pedestrians if they’re waiting at a zebra crossing. And they must yield if a cyclist or horse rider is waiting to use a parallel crossing (a zebra crossing combined with a cycle crossing). Cyclists have the priority over horse riders if the latter is approaching a parallel crossing.

Pedestrians have priority on zebra crossings, parallel crossings or at light-controlled signals when they have a green light.

How the law has changed

Previously, the rules stated that pedestrians only had right of way when they were actually on the crossing. But for plenty of drivers, stopping to allow pedestrians waiting at crossings to move from one side of the road to the other is common courtesy.

Rule H3: Rule for drivers and motorcyclists

This rule is to encourage drivers and motorbike riders to treat cyclists as they would another car when turning left. So drivers who are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles who’re going straight ahead.

This applies whether cyclists are using a cycle lane, cycle track or riding straight ahead on the road. It means cyclists have priority.

This is a rule not a law…

The wording of this is worth looking at. It says ‘should’ rather than ‘must’. The implication is that it’s advisory rather than an order that must be followed. But it’s a rule nonetheless and the police can stop drivers who break it.

They may even charge transgressors with careless or dangerous driving which can result in anywhere between three and 11 penalty points, an unlimited fine and possibly even disqualification from driving.

But it’s better than nothing

How the 2022 changes to the Highway Code will affect you

Speak to any regular cyclist, particularly those who ride around urban streets and they’ll probably have a story or two about cars passing them then turning immediately left in front of them. The reason is that until this law is put in place, there is no rule – other than common sense and decency ‑ to suggest drivers should let the cyclist get out of their way before turning.

Other amendments

Drivers will also be advised to give pedestrians, two-wheeled road users and horses a safe distance when passing. It recommends a minimum distance of 1.5 metres (4ft 11) at speeds lower than 30mph, and 2m (6ft 6) at more than 30mph and if driving large vehicles.

When passing horses, drivers are advised to slow down to a maximum 15mph. They should not rev their engine or sound their horn and when safe to do so, give at least 2m (6ft 6) of space.

And the Highway Code will advise drivers to wait behind other road users and pedestrians until they are able to overtake at a safe distance.

The new rules give cyclists priority on roundabouts with drivers instructed ‘not to attempt to overtake them within their lane’.

Ever heard of the ‘Dutch Reach’?

If the answer’s no, you’re not alone. When road safety charity IAM RoadSmart asked 10,000 drivers, 85% said they’d never heard of it. The ‘Dutch Reach’ is actually a method of opening your car door so that you don’t endanger runners, cyclists, scooter riders or those on a motorbike. Striking the corner of a car’s door frame at anything above walking speed is not something anyone that’s experienced it would ever wish to repeat.

The Dutch Reach involves using the hand that’s furthest away from the door handle (for most driver’s, that’s the left hand). This causes your body to twist and enables you to look over your shoulder to make sure there’s nothing coming. It’s especially important for back-seat passengers to be aware of this technique as they don’t have mirrors.

What do people think of the changes?

IAM RoadSmart polled drivers and found that the public were cynical about the updates. Giving pedestrians priority when turning into and out of junctions would increase conflict rather than reducing it according to nearly three in four (71 per cent) of the 3,600 people asked. And fewer than a quarter (23 per cent) of respondents believe cyclists should have the same rights as drivers.

IAM RoadSmart’s policy and research director Neil Greig said: “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.”

Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, added: “We’re concerned the forthcoming improvements to road safety are not being communicated through official channels. In a month’s time, our Highway Code should have changed for the better, but these changes will be of limited benefit if the public aren’t aware of them.”

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  • Brian Bremer says:

    As a long term car,minibus and Classic car driver, I have for many years been highly critical of cycling behaviour.
    Shortly after passing my driving test, way back in 1973, through no fault of my own I was involved in a major accident caused by e teenage cyclist behaving very inconsiderately which was verified by the other drivers witnessing the event and later confirmed by the Police. The lad sustained a broken leg, my father was traumatised by the cycle frame perforating the underside of the car floor next to his leg.
    The lad recovered only to do exactly the same thing once the plaster cast was removed from his leg. I was informed by a neighbour that this time he did not survive.
    Shortly after the accident I started to get regular flashbacks which I suffer with even to today. Whenever I am out driving, I regularly witness absolutely appalling behaviour from cyclists either to myself or other road users.
    It seems that with the last 18 months and the upsurge in leisure cycling, that cycle users seem to feel they now own the road. They are rude, abusive, and aggressive. Several time I have had my vehicle struck, even when it is clearly my right of way.
    Sadly I fear the rule changes to the Highway Code will only reinforce this behaviour by a group of road users who provide no funds towards using the highway, have zero insurance yet demand they are always right. Their equipment is subject to zero inspections while we as motorists are obliged to have stringent MOTs, carry full insurance and now take full responsibility for appalling behaviour.
    Until cyclists commit to showing equal respect there will continue to be a rift between groups of road users.
    Personally I welcome e changes which protect all road users, but in a changing World this needs to equalise by all

  • Sidney says:

    Cyclists consider themselves too cool for rules. Nothing can save them from themselves.

  • Gary Cremer says:

    Very well put Brian. Im sick n tired of cyclists one or two finger salute after ive passed them, leaving them plenty of space.

  • John Morrill says:

    One really good “rule” would be to make cyclists wear Hi Viz vests; most of the Lycra brigade seem to all wear black which puts them particularly at risk and motorists to blame when an accident occurs.

  • Peter Swindells says:

    It is time that cyclists should all have to hold accident insurance, as all drivers know if a cyclist scratches the side of your vehicle the cost of repair will have to be paid out by your own insurance company and that’s a NCD life lost or loss of vehicle value at sale if not repaired which can run into 4 figures

  • John DICKSON says:

    Apparently, the recommended speed passing a horse is not 15mph but 10mph!
    Please correct your data if you agree.

  • Colin Hughes says:

    The only issues I would add is the use of lights and appropriate and correct hand signals, both of which are rarely seen.
    I raised d all the matters when I completed the survey that I found on the internet. To my knowledge no car user groups were consulted about these proposals, but cyclist groups were. This may be the reason why some 90% were in favour of these proposals.
    Additionally, with these changes due for implementation in a few days, no communication has been issued via any media channel.

  • Arthur Heaton says:

    Somebody ought to remind cyclists that they subject to the same rules as everybody else.They include Traffic Lights,Give ways,and signalling.As for riding on the pavement…..and don’t get me started about E scooters….

  • Malcolm Davis says:

    Absolutely agree Arthur. The E scooters seem to have slipped under the radar. I have seen some very dangerous behaviour by under aged E scooter riders.

  • Pierre Noir says:

    I’m both a cyclist and a driver – in fact, most cyclists these days are.

    The image of a tree-hugging lefty liberal wearing a CND badge and pootling along on a basketed 3-speed with a devil-may-care attitude is from a bygone age. The modern interpretation seems to be one of some entitled MAMIL (middle-aged man in Lycra) on an overpriced carbon contraption or a reckless yoof on an ill-maintained mountain bike.

    Reading the comments sections on most mainstream sites that are reporting these changes, it seems everyone has a story to tell involving one of these caricatures – I expected my fellow Hagerty readers/commenters to eschew such simple distillations and tribalism. Sadly, I was wrong.

    If I – with my cyclist’s hat on (better yet, my helmet 🙂 ) – was to reduce the entire class of drivers to mere MGIF’s (must get in front) and SMIDSY’s (sorry mate, I didn’t see you), I would rightly be berated for an absence of nuance.

    Shock, horror! There are ar$eholes in every class. Tarring everyone with the same brush helps no-one.

    And let’s face it, us drivers castigating cyclists for bad behaviour on Britain’s roads is very much the proverbial pot calling the kettle. Arthur Heaton above exemplifies my point perfectly when he mentions ‘Traffic Lights,Give ways,and signalling’ – how often have we all driven behind those with twitchy feet who can’t resist an amber gamble? Or who have over-eagerly pulled out in front of us when they ought to have waited? Or who haven’t bothered to use their indicator before a turn, leaving those of us waiting to exit a junction frustrated? Don’t get me started on hoon-igans, either.

    If you deny a deterioration in UK driving skill over the last 10-20 years, you’re only lying to yourself. Remember that, the next time you pass a fellow driver at night, only to see the glow of their mobile phone on their face as they split their attention between the road and the latest Instagram post or WhatsApp message.

    All of which is to say: well done Hagerty. A *balanced* report, no ‘Us versus Them’. That’s why I enjoy consuming your content as both a cyclist and a driver. Well, that and Revelations with Jason Cammisa 😉 …

  • Chris Martin says:

    I suspect there will be an increase in rear end shunts accuring at junctions Country wide, as the driver turning left into a “T” junction has to stop to allow a pedestrian to cross. Okay, the poor hapless driver that sails into the rear of the car turning left should be paying attention and anticipate the situation as it develops, however that driver may have his view obscured by parked cars or other roadside furniture. Just a thought, but since pedestrian’s will now have the right to walk straight onto the road from the pavement, (regardless if a vehicle is approaching or not) should all pedestrian’s be wearing high visibility vests and paying insurance also!

  • Paul C says:

    When will I be officially informed of the major changes to the Highway Code? So far I have seen nothing except speculation and misinformation on a few web sites, nothing official. DVLA have my address and email address but so far not a squeak out of them. Apparently I am supposed to keep abreast of Highway Code changes. Am I supposed to check it daily? Weekly? Or what? Wouldn’t it be courteous of DVLA to at least tip off the 30+ million non-clairvoyant drivers in this country if they actually want the new rules to be followed? Don’t they have a duty of care?

    It appears the rule will be that if I am turning from one road onto another, eg at a junction, or coming onto or off a roundabout, I am supposed to stop for pedestrians who are not obliged to look as they walk out across my path. One of my local roundabouts has a 40 mph limit. Another has a 70 mph limit. If I am coming off a roundabout with a 70 mph limit onto a slip road leading onto a motorway, am I supposed to creep round at just a few mph in case someone steps out? Has anyone involved in making the changes ever considered such situations?

    Even if such situations are excluded from the new rules, will pedestrians know? Do pedestrians read the Highway Code? And if they aren’t excluded, why does one of the above roundabouts I mentioned have a de-restriction (ie 70 mph) sign just before it, upping from the 40 mph limit of the approach road? Is a pedestrian going to notice that and be more careful?

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