Support road.cc

Like this site? Help us to make it better.

OPINION

Highway Code changes one year on: Confusion in communication has created the perfect storm and done little to improve safety for cyclists

Avatar
Stuart Snape, Managing Partner at Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors, thinks the Government communicated last year's Highway Code changes poorly, which if anything has increased tensions on the road

The communication of the purpose behind the Highway Code changes has been poorly communicated. Historically, there has been tension between cyclists and vehicle drivers and large amounts of that tension is a lack of understanding by both types of road users.

The purpose behind the changes in relation to cyclists was to improve cycle safety and reduce casualties by allowing cyclists to adopt positions that would encourage safer driving by other vehicles. A good example of this was in relation to the position a cyclist is expected to take on the road. Traditionally this was never included within the Highway Code, but drivers expected them to adopt a position alongside the kerb.

A combination of poor road surfaces and the desire to dissuade vehicles to overtake cyclists led to the Highway Code adopting the position that cyclists can in fact ride in the centre of the road/lane.

Crucially this was intended to apply on quieter roads and in slow-moving traffic, or on the approach to junctions.

Poor media representation

But a combination of poor communication and misreporting by the media led to headlines such as:

“Driver's fury as bike riders take to the middle of the road”: Daily Mail

“New Highway Code rule that tells cyclists to pedal in the middle of the lane takes effect today.”: The Sun

The fact that the Government had failed to adequately publicise the changes in the months leading up to the new Highway Code created the perfect storm.

In anything, our experience when handling Road Traffic Claims on behalf of both cyclists and other road users is that the tension between the various road users has been exacerbated.

The new hierarchy

The very nature of the content of the Highway Code has done nothing to assist this by referring to the “Hierarchy of Road Users.”

Disputes between the various road users have often led to claims that one or the other feel as though they own the road. The creation of a “hierarchy” underscores this tension by validating the principle that some road users are more important than others.

The principle behind the “hierarchy” is actually spot on. The more vulnerable the road user the more protection they need.

But in the same way, they failed to publicise the reasons for the changes and the important safety benefits of the changes. They have also failed to really educated road users on why some need greater protection.

I would argue a greater focus on publicising the urgent need to address the safety issues and the reasons behind the changes  - in particular a better briefing of the media – may have tempered some of the misconceptions that have only inflamed tensions on the road.

We haven’t noticed any significant change in the nature of the incidents we see. There is very little evidence to suggest the changes have been adopted by motorists, and whilst cyclists may feel more emboldened to adopt more dominant positions when using the road there is little evidence to suggest this is translating into fewer collisions.

The changes themselves are positive – but they must be followed up with clearer publicity. Even now more can be done to improve the understanding of the changes.

There are huge plans in place within many local councils to adopt longer-term transport strategies to encourage cycling within and around our towns and cities.

My view is that in comparison to structural changes in the way our road network operates the changes to the Highway Code are unlikely to be the catalyst for safer cycling.

But they offer a glimpse into a change in perspective when local authorities plan through transport strategy – with cycling and walking at the forefront of development. In that sense, motorists may be disgruntled to note that the hierarchy of road users is pivotal in those longer-term plans.

We are seeing the adoption of lower speed limits, and within those local transport strategies were are seeing purposeful moves to dissuade motoring in and around residential areas. 

Stuart Snape is a cycling safety expert and Managing Partner at Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors. 

Stuart Snape has more than 20 years’ experience in the legal sector, with extensive experience in all aspects of civil litigation. During this time, he has helped thousands of individuals to claim damages after suffering that was caused by the negligence of another party. His experience in cycling regulations has helped countless cyclists understand their rights and claim compensation for suffering injuries from road incidents.
 
His passion for helping people who are involved in civil litigation cases culminated in him being appointed as Managing Partner in 2011.

Add new comment

54 comments

Avatar
perce | 11 months ago
5 likes

Went for a bike ride earlier today. A mile from home, looked behind me, moved to the centre of the lane, stuck my arm out to turn right, got overtaken by a car.

Avatar
brooksby replied to perce | 11 months ago
1 like
perce wrote:

Went for a bike ride earlier today. A mile from home, looked behind me, moved to the centre of the lane, stuck my arm out to turn right, got overtaken by a car.

I had assumed that behaviour was taught in driving lessons nowadays.

Avatar
grOg | 11 months ago
0 likes

I've noticed the Highway Code says 'should,' not 'must', with a lot of these changes; no wonder there's confusion; either have a rule that can be enforced and don't bother with 'you really should be a bit more courteous'..

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to grOg | 11 months ago
0 likes
grOg wrote:

I've noticed the Highway Code says 'should,' not 'must', with a lot of these changes; no wonder there's confusion; either have a rule that can be enforced and don't bother with 'you really should be a bit more courteous'..

Don't often agree with you but yes. However as ShutTheFrontDawes points out, it's possible to have a lifetime's driving without ever seeing a copy of the Highway Code. It isn't "the rules" as in its just a summary of and commentary on the actual law, which is what counts.

But yes - if it's important make it law. If not important enough to actually enforce, will "encouragement" do anything?

Avatar
wtjs replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
2 likes

But yes - if it's important make it law. If not important enough to actually enforce, will "encouragement" do anything?

Unfortunately, it's the local police of varying degrees of uselessness, idleness and possibly bentness who make the law in the UK- if they decide to just ignore, say, traffic light law, then it's very difficult to do anything about it

https://upride.cc/incident/f2yny_rangerover_redlightcross/

https://upride.cc/incident/px68nhc_toyotatrailer_redlightcross/

https://upride.cc/incident/yd18knj_vwgolf_redlightcross/

http://upride.cc/incident/lc11vep_kiavenga_redlightcross/

https://upride.cc/incident/mf09hyk_chevroletaveo_redlightcross/

Avatar
Bungle_52 replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
3 likes

As I understand it the highway code "should"s will be used to determie liability in the case of civil action. Therefore if you pass a cyclist within 1.5m and knock them off when they change direction to avoid a pothole you would be liable for any damage caused. You MAY also be charged with careless driving which you could contest in court.

The "must"s are a summary of the law and if you do not follow those rules you are liable to prosecution whether an incident occured or not.

Have I got this right?

Avatar
giff77 replied to Bungle_52 | 11 months ago
1 like

Pretty much.

Avatar
giff77 replied to grOg | 11 months ago
2 likes

The confusion has arisen due to the cackhandidness of the government in highlighting the changes through PIFs etc. They left it to the press to go on a rant of war on motorists and thus spread misinformation. Even with there being a lot of should's,  a driver's failure to follow aspects of the HC can and will be used by a police officer as evidence in presenting their report to the CPS and ultimately the court. 

Avatar
wycombewheeler | 11 months ago
5 likes

amazing

some words have changed in a document that few people have read since the change, and surprisingly those words have not resulted in any change on the roads.

/sarcasm

 

Avatar
ShutTheFrontDawes replied to wycombewheeler | 11 months ago
4 likes
wycombewheeler wrote:

amazing

some words have changed in a document that few people have read since the change, and surprisingly those words have not resulted in any change on the roads.

/sarcasm

 

Just a minor but important edit.

Avatar
carlosdsanchez | 11 months ago
3 likes

As has been mentioned in previous comments, I've noticed that the "medium close" passes have decreased, they tend to be either decent or "fuck me, that was close". Another phenomenon that I have noticed is cars giving me plenty of room, but giving no fucks whatsoever about oncoming traffic, expecting it to brake or swerve out of their way.

As for giving way to pedestrians at junctions, not enough cars actually do it to give you enough confidence as a pedestrian to even think about stepping out in the road. I’ve been hooted at quite a few times on my bike or whilst driving because I’ve slowed or stopped to give way to pedestrians at a junction.

Avatar
quiff replied to carlosdsanchez | 11 months ago
6 likes
carlosdsanchez wrote:

I’ve been hooted at quite a few times on my bike or whilst driving because I’ve slowed or stopped to give way to pedestrians at a junction.

Usually, I find, while the pedestrian stares blankly at you wondering why you've stopped!

Avatar
IanMSpencer replied to quiff | 11 months ago
3 likes

But then you can have a friendly chat about the Highway Code changes.  1

Avatar
JustTryingToGet... replied to quiff | 11 months ago
3 likes
quiff wrote:
carlosdsanchez wrote:

I’ve been hooted at quite a few times on my bike or whilst driving because I’ve slowed or stopped to give way to pedestrians at a junction.

Usually, I find, while the pedestrian stares blankly at you wondering why you've stopped!

I saw a new version of this today. Car stopped at giveway on a mini roundabout blaring at an elderly gentleman until he crossed the road. Interesting thing about this junction is it us four way, the motorist is almost completely blind for the road to his left, and very poor visibility for the road to his right. Any pedestrian has to make sure all four are clear (which is what he was doing whilst Mr Impatient wanted to complete his 'good deed' quicker

Avatar
NOtotheEU replied to carlosdsanchez | 11 months ago
3 likes
carlosdsanchez wrote:

Another phenomenon that I have noticed is cars giving me plenty of room, but giving no fucks whatsoever about oncoming traffic, expecting it to brake or swerve out of their way.

Or doing the really responsible thing and passing a cyclist on the wrong side of a KEEP LEFT sign on a pedestrian island!

https://upride.cc/incident/manby-rd-keep-left-signs-are-for-losers/

Avatar
ktache replied to NOtotheEU | 11 months ago
3 likes

That really needed some montage music.

Had one in the past week.

They fill me full of fear. You hear the engine revs rising, more tyre noise, the overtake is happening no matter what road position you have adopted, but there's the pinch point at the completely ineffectual "pedestrian refuge". Are they going to sideswipe you, drive up your arse, at speed. No they drive on the wrong side of the traffic island, luckily nothing was coming the other way, this time...

Avatar
NOtotheEU replied to ktache | 11 months ago
1 like
ktache wrote:

That really needed some montage music.

Good point. Circus clown music, The Muppets theme or Mahna Mahna or maybe the Benny Hill theme?

Or maybe Beyonce's Irreplaceable? ("to the left, to the left").

Avatar
mctrials23 | 11 months ago
6 likes

Its generally been a slight positive but the issue was never that the rules made it dangerous. The issue was that drivers are not punished for giving zero ****s when they drive and far too many people hate cyclists. Rules are not going to make cyclist hate any better and when someone will get a joke punishment for using their car as a weapon, what message are we sending to them?

Avatar
Awavey | 11 months ago
3 likes

from my experiences, I dont really think much has changed, the drivers who used to give you room, seem to give you a little bit extra.

the rest, and I think Ive used this analogy before, Im not going to get to a set of red traffic lights after theyve close passed me, and find myself debating the HC says only as much room as youd give a car vs rule 163s updated 1.5metre guidance with them.

They arent on those pages at all, their attitude is very much if they fit through the gap its fine if they dont hit you, and Ive certainly had those conversations with drivers, whilst theres still that percentage who Im sure dont care if they hit you or not.

Avatar
grOg replied to Awavey | 11 months ago
1 like

Having a 'conversation' with a driver that close passes is a waste of time at best and at worst, will result in someone getting out of the car to give the cyclist a beating; I saw a video showing just that from another cyclist camera; the cyclist got up off the ground and onto his bike, doing a u-turn, maybe back home for a lie down..

Avatar
Awavey replied to grOg | 11 months ago
1 like

absolutely, I dont seek them out to give them my two penneth as you might as well talk to concrete wall for the sense you get out of most of these cretins, but invariably you end up alongside each other again quickly, and theyre always quick to want to talk to you as most of them operate on hair trigger of perma rage.

Avatar
TeaBasedOrganism | 11 months ago
8 likes

I think the changes have been an overall net positive, but at the same time I don't think that's the whole picture. The 'reasonable' drivers, who weren't much of a problem to begin with, seem to behave even better than they did before. Whereas the small percentage of drivers who are absolute unrepentant sociopaths the second they get behind the wheel, now behave even worse than before.

For example, a phenomenon which I've only encoutered since the changes, and their associated publicity, is occasionally drivers coming the other direction shouting at me. This happens every so often whether in a group of by myself. Seemingly this has riled some people up so much that they are so incensed by my very existence, despite not interacting with me on the road at all, that they feel the need to vocalise that. This has never happened to me before the changes. 

It's made for a strange experience with passing where there seems to be almost no 'in-between' passes, the kind where you think "that was a bit close", but aren't inches away making you briefly fear for your life. I'm either passed really responsibly, almost entirely in the other lane, or given barely inches. 

Like I said, better, but not good enough that I'm not still keeping an eye on the camera market, ready for such time an camera with good enough resolution and long enough battery life for long training rides (that isn't cycliq) finally materialises. 

Avatar
NOtotheEU | 11 months ago
11 likes

I have made less police reports of close passes since the changes. This could be partly due to the HC changes and partly due to resenting spending hours watching and editing videos and making reports. Commuting at the same time every day probably helps too as some of the safe passes might be from drivers I've previously reported.

Sadly dangerous driving still seems to be as popular as ever and red light jumping is becoming an epidemic with a couple of recent instances of me waiting at green lights while multiple cars jump their red and one Merc overtaking cars already stopped at a red.

https://upride.cc/incident/mercedes-overtakes-stopped-cars-to-jump-a-red...

For my part I have made a cencerted effort to stop for peds waiting to cross at junctions (unless I'm being dangerously tailgated) and surprisingly have had no negative reaction from any drivers I've held up while doing so.

Avatar
festina replied to NOtotheEU | 11 months ago
6 likes
NOtotheEU wrote:

For my part I have made a cencerted effort to stop for peds waiting to cross at junctions (unless I'm being dangerously tailgated) and surprisingly have had no negative reaction from any drivers I've held up while doing so.

I tried this at things like roundabouts only to be overtaken by cars with pedestrians not knowing what to do. Although I think we are endangered by car drivers Peds get it as bad too.

Avatar
JustTryingToGet... replied to festina | 11 months ago
6 likes
festina wrote:
NOtotheEU wrote:

For my part I have made a cencerted effort to stop for peds waiting to cross at junctions (unless I'm being dangerously tailgated) and surprisingly have had no negative reaction from any drivers I've held up while doing so.

I tried this at things like roundabouts only to be overtaken by cars with pedestrians not knowing what to do. Although I think we are endangered by car drivers Peds get it as bad too.

I've been doing this as well if I can make eye contact with the ped in good time. I'll check behind me first and occasionally use a slow down hand signal though the amount of drivers that appear to not know that is shocking.

I have noticed more cars giving way to me as a pedestrian, especially when I'm with the kids so I think changes are filtering through. It's just gonna be a long haul for the wilfully ignorant.

In terms of passing, I've seen an improvement in good passes. The proportion of bad passes are about the same and the small number of deliberately murderous fuckers may have even got worse.

One thing I have noticed, and I'd be interested in the views of others, is non-confident drivers being fearful of making a pass. They sit on my arse for ages when a pass is possible. I've occasionally pulled in to let them go because I feel safer with them in front rather than behind.

Avatar
HoarseMann replied to JustTryingToGetFromAtoB | 11 months ago
8 likes
JustTryingToGetFromAtoB wrote:

One thing I have noticed, and I'd be interested in the views of others, is non-confident drivers being fearful of making a pass. They sit on my arse for ages when a pass is possible. I've occasionally pulled in to let them go because I feel safer with them in front rather than behind.

I've noticed this too. Better this way than the other though!

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to JustTryingToGetFromAtoB | 11 months ago
4 likes
JustTryingToGetFromAtoB wrote:

In terms of passing, I've seen an improvement in good passes. The proportion of bad passes are about the same and the small number of deliberately murderous fuckers may have even got worse.

One thing I have noticed, and I'd be interested in the views of others, is non-confident drivers being fearful of making a pass. They sit on my arse for ages when a pass is possible. I've occasionally pulled in to let them go because I feel safer with them in front rather than behind.

Agree with all that. I suspect that the number of "wait- behind" drivers hasn't really increased but maybe those that do are a little more cautious? Or I'm just noticing that more?

The "do not cut across in front of cyclists or pedestrians going straight on at side roads" rule is *definitely* not universally followed. I've had quite a few cautious pedestrians who just didn't want to cross when I slowed and waved them across. Not informed or maybe they'd met drivers who weren't?

Avatar
pockstone replied to JustTryingToGetFromAtoB | 11 months ago
3 likes

Hand signals...apart from the obvious turning left/right (sometimes)...you might as well be casting runes or waving Incan quipus at most drivers for all the comprehension they have. I know that 'stay back...I can see oncoming traffic that you can't' isn't in the highway code but when I try to convey that with a fairly obvious signal it is routinely ignored by MGIFs.

Avatar
NOtotheEU replied to festina | 11 months ago
2 likes
festina wrote:
NOtotheEU wrote:

For my part I have made a cencerted effort to stop for peds waiting to cross at junctions (unless I'm being dangerously tailgated) and surprisingly have had no negative reaction from any drivers I've held up while doing so.

I tried this at things like roundabouts only to be overtaken by cars with pedestrians not knowing what to do. Although I think we are endangered by car drivers Peds get it as bad too.

Agreed. I've only had to do it on left turns as the roundabouts I use have proper crossings or underpasses but I can see why you'd have to decide if following the rules is actually endangering the peds in some circumstances.

I've been overtaken plenty of times when stopping at zebra crossings over the years (even on a motorbike) but never since I've been recording. I think I've become much more confident about taking the lane as I've got older.

Avatar
grOg replied to festina | 11 months ago
0 likes

In Australia, vehicles are not required to give way to pedestrians at roundabouts, unless the pedestrian is using a pedestrian crossing obvs.

I can't imagine the UK would be stupid enough to require vehicles to give way to pedestrians at roundabouts.. oh wait.

Pages

Latest Comments