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Greater priority given to cyclists and walkers with new changes to Highway Code

There are upcoming changes to the Highway Code which will give cyclists and walkers greater priority over vehicles on the road. The changes were announced by the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on 29th July, and are expected to receive parliamentary approval this autumn.

The changes have been brought about by the 2018 Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) safety review, which was created to evaluate the safety of our roads. In doing so, the review identified that there should be an effort from the government to update the Highway Code in order to ‘reflect the safety needs of the most vulnerable road user groups.

In response, the government has announced a number of new changes on the road. The key features of these changes include:

  • A new ‘hierarchy of road users’ will place pedestrians at the top and motorists at the bottom.
  • Greater priority given to pedestrians at junctions and crossings (they currently only have priority at zebra crossings).
  • Priority given to cyclists at junctions if they are travelling straight ahead.

Introducing the hierarchy of responsibility

According to the government website, the new hierarchy will mean that ‘road users who can do the greatest harm [will now] have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.’

In short, this means that motorists will have a greater responsibility for road safety than walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

The upcoming changes have been met with support from groups such as Living Streets, the ‘UK charity for everyday walking’. Stephen Edwards, Interim CEO of Living Streets, has praised the move to place pedestrians at the top of the new hierarchy of road users:

‘The Highway Code currently treats children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people’s safety. These changes will redress that balance. People walking cause the least road danger but are often left paying the price, with pedestrians accounting for over a quarter of road deaths. Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm should take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose.’

Concerns over the new changes

However, there has been some concern over the new Highway Code changes. Organisations such as the Road Haulage Association (RHA) have stated that ‘making a driver (motorist or commercial vehicle driver) who has no control over how a cyclist is trained to use the roads responsible for the safety of others is inherently unjust.

‘The rules around pedestrian priority make sense, the change for cyclists increases road danger and collision risk. The hierarchy of risk created by the operation of cars, vans, coaches, buses and lorries is already reflected in the additional ongoing training undertaken by lorry and coach drivers.’

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