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Highway Code changes: Department for Transport finally announces publicity campaign to increase awareness

In an online quiz on the new Highway Code revisions, a quarter of the respondents failed to answer half of the questions correctly

The Department for Transport has announced the launch of a £500,000 publicity campaign to raise awareness of the impending revisions to the Highway Code – three days before they are due to come into effect.

The communications drive, which will be operated by the government’s long-standing road safety campaign Think!, aims to raise awareness of the changes and ensure that “road-users across the country understand their responsibilities”. The government says the campaign will run across radio and social media, and will carry on through the summer.

The government has been strongly criticised in recent weeks for what many view as its inability to effectively communicate to the public the key changes being made to the Highway Code. Earlier this month a poll of more than 13,700 AA members found that one in three did not know that the Highway Code is being changed.

In an online quiz created by national law firm Irwin Mitchell and designed to test the public’s understanding of the new changes, a quarter of the 3,500 participants failed to answer half of the questions correctly, while only 10 percent scored full marks.  

> Public must be told about Highway Code changes, says Cycling UK

Labour MP Louise Haigh, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said last week that the changes to the Highway Code would be “totally meaningless” if people were not made aware of them.

Charity Cycling UK welcomed the government’s announcement, which it hopes will “herald the beginning of a long-term, well-funded awareness campaign”.

“The latest changes to the Highway Code are a hugely important start towards making the roads safer for everyone. We now need these to be communicated with simple, accurate, and memorable messaging,” said Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns.

“The AA put out startling figures about the amount of people who don’t know about the forthcoming changes. These changes will help save lives but people need to be informed – they can’t be expected to telepathically know about them. That defeats the purpose of the new rules.

“Over the past weeks there has been considerable confusion and some erroneous reporting about these changes. While the government is late to the party in correcting these, Cycling UK is pleased to see a financial commitment, at least in the short term, to communicating the changes.

“People didn’t change their attitude to wearing seat belts and drink driving overnight, and many won’t change their behaviour the next day simply because new Highway Code rules have been introduced. This THINK campaign must herald the beginning of a long-term well-funded awareness campaign to ensure the new rules and the reasons for them are understood and accepted.”

> Highway Code changes: ‘What about cyclists, or do the rules not apply to them?’

Judging by the government’s announcement today, the DfT’s campaign will focus on the new hierarchy of road users, advice for cyclists in different situations, and encouraging the adoption of the ‘Dutch Reach’ method of opening car doors.

“A hierarchy of road-users will be introduced this weekend,” the statement reads, “ensuring quicker or heavier modes of travel have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others on the road.

“Cyclists will also receive fresh guidance to ride in the centre of a lane on quieter roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions in order to make themselves as clearly visible as possible. They’ll also be reminded they can ride two abreast – as has always been the case and which can be safer in large groups or with children – but they must be aware of drivers behind them and allow them to overtake if it is safe to do so.

“Meanwhile motorists will be encouraged to adopt the so-called 'Dutch Reach', opening the door next to them with the opposite hand so they look over their shoulder, meaning they’re less likely to injure passing cyclists and pedestrians.”

Ryan joined 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.

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