Significant changes to the Highway Code came into force earlier this year, giving walkers and cyclists priority over drivers. A new ‘hierarchy of road users’ aims to clarify guidance already in the Highway Code, and build on the concept in a way road users can more easily understand and follow.
Our recent poll found that 15% of drivers weren’t aware of the changes yet, meaning they could end up falling foul of the new rules.
85% said they were aware, but some wanted more information to fully understand the changes.
Is the Highway Code legally enforceable?
The Highway Code itself isn’t a legal document – it’s a code of conduct for road users in the UK, that shares best practice. However, some of its guidance is backed up by law, and some of the rules detailed in the Highway Code are legal requirements, for example around careless driving.
If the Highway Code says ‘MUST/MUST NOT’, that’s a clear indicator that this particular rule has legal backing. And while the ‘shoulds’ might not be legally enforceable from the Code itself, the Code can be cited as evidence in court proceedings under the Traffic Acts.
How has the Highway Code changed?
The essential change is the introduction of a ‘hierarchy of responsibility’ for road users, which means that ‘road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others’.
On top of this, pedestrians now have right of way on a crossing when a driver, motorcyclist, horse rider or cyclist is turning into or out of a road.
The changes have also clarified cycling rules, suggesting that cyclists should ride in the centre of the lane to make themselves more visible at times, for example when approaching junctions or when traffic is moving slowly.
Can you get fined for breaking the Highway Code?
You can be fined for breaking the Highway Code, if you break a rule that is also backed up in law. For example, if you fail to stop after an accident, are caught driving under the influence, or without insurance – some of these carry not just fines but the risk of prison time.
Where does the Highway Code apply?
You may not know that the Great Britain Highway Code does not actually apply to Northern Ireland – just England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland has its own version of the Highway Code that anyone driving in NI ought to check.
Read more about the Highway Code changes here.
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