Revisions to the Highway Code aimed at protecting vulnerable road users came into force this weekend – and some news outlets have marked the occasion by calling for the changes to be scrapped and declaring a ‘battle of the Highway Code’ on Britain’s roads.
The updated Highway Code includes not only the laws that road users are required to follow but also contains advice aimed at improving safety. A new hierarchy of road users has been introduced, where the most dangerous road users carry the greatest responsibility for the safety of the most vulnerable, with pedestrians at the top of this hierarchy followed by cyclists.
Other updates include advice for cyclists in certain situations (such as riding in the middle of their lane to increase visibility on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic, and when approaching junctions), giving priority to pedestrians at junctions, and encouraging the adoption of the ‘Dutch Reach’ method of opening car doors.
Despite the new Highway Code’s focus on the safety of all road users, some media outlets and commentators predicted “carnage” under the new rules.
This stance has not softened since the changes were introduced on Saturday. In two articles titled “The day cyclists took over the roads” and “Battle of the Highway Code”, the Mail Online claimed that since the new rules were brought in, cyclists have been “deliberately hogging the centre of the road, causing pile-ups of traffic behind them”.
The Mail again misleadingly referred to cyclists “taking to the middle of the road and riding two-abreast” with drivers “powerless to stop them under the new Highway Code”. This claim has been rebuffed by groups such as Cycling UK, who emphasise that bike riders are asked to ride in the centre of their lane in certain situations, not the middle of the road.
The site also prominently shared a tweet which claimed that a group of cyclists “refused to let cars past for eight miles looking back and laughing”.
As we reported on Friday, the Times responded to the incoming revisions by calling for cyclists to be licensed and insured, almost 10 years to the day since the newspaper launched an award-winning campaign to make Britain’s roads safer for people on bikes. The paper also appealed for a new offence of death by dangerous cycling to be introduced, under the headline "Killer cyclists may be classed like motorists".
Beyond the written press, the changes were featured on a particularly embarrassing segment on GB News yesterday, hosted by conservative political commentator Darren Grimes.
Grimes said that the new hierarchy featured “pedestrians and cyclists at the very top” before adding “I don’t need to tell you where motorists end up” (the presenter, hosting his first show on the channel, neglected to mention that van and lorry drivers bear more responsibility for car drivers and motorcyclists under the updated guidance).
He also criticised what he said was the overt emphasis on dangerous drivers under the new rules, claiming that in London “you’re lucky if you get away with your life with cyclists storming down the road so fast”, despite cyclists being involved in four of the 346 incidents which resulted in the death of a pedestrian in 2020.
Grimes was joined on the programme by Fair Fuel UK’s Howard Cox, a prominent opponent of the new Highway Code, who described the changes as “a cyclist’s charter” and said that the updates permitted bike riders “to cycle in any way they wish, no matter how dangerous, without fear of prosecution.”
Cox continued: “They have been given the right to pass all the blame to other road users. They are innocent no matter what they do, and this can’t be right. I believe this Highway Code will actually lead to more injuries and more deaths.”
Despite Cox’s criticism of the changes, he called for the updates to “be sent to every household in this country”.
“This Highway Code assumes all drivers are homicidal maniacs, and that is completely and utterly unjust,” he said.
While Cox adamantly defended the “law-abided majority” of motorists, one TikTok user was criticised over the weekend for claiming that the new rules meant that she was inevitably “going to hurt people”.
Chantelle Bradd, a model from Bristol, posted a video on the social media platform in which she argued that the new Highway Code was part of the government’s attempt “to de-populate us”.
Give up your licence. pic.twitter.com/mBV9pkCWWu
— put it in the bin (@photogog) January 30, 2022
In the video (which contains copious amounts of swearing), she said: “I’m a new driver, so I don’t know how I’m even going to deal with driving through the centre of Bristol, because bikes now can be on either side of you, and you have to give way to them.
“They don’t have to use the cycle lanes, which our councils have spent maybe millions of pounds on. They can opt to be in the centre of the road instead, they can ride two-abreast in the middle of the road, so they’re definitely going to be making you late for work in the morning. Why have you done this?
“People are going to get hurt,” she continued. “I am going to hurt people. I’m going to be responsible for hitting Maisie with her little helmet going to school. I’m going to t**t her off her bike in the morning because of this. Why?”
Yesterday, Cycling UK called for a long-term public awareness campaign from the government to help produce a “mindset shift” on British roads and to counteract misleading reports in the media. The charity says it will take years to fully enforce the revisions and change “entrenched driving behaviour”.
“The latest changes to the Highway Code are a hugely important start towards a mindset shift that will make the roads safer for everyone – not just for people who choose to cycle or walk,” Cycling UK’s head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore said.
“The changes in our driving behaviour, however, will only happen if the government commits to communicating them with simple, accurate, and memorable messaging in the long term.
“We’ve seen the public’s attitude shift on seat belt use and drink driving. This shows entrenched driving behaviour can change. The new Highway Code requires a similar shift, and it can happen again but not overnight.
“To make our roads safer for everyone, the government must be looking in terms of years not months to communicate and eventually enforce these changes.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.