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Majority of drivers unaware of Highway Code changes, new study suggests

A study of 2,000 UK-based motorists found more than 50 per cent were unable to identify a single new Highway Code rule

A new study suggests a concerningly high number of UK motorists are unaware of January's changes to the Highway Code, with more than 50 per cent unable to even name one new rule.

The study by Vertu Motors into the Highway Code knowledge of 2,000 drivers found that more than 50 per cent of UK motorists surveyed are unable to identify one of the changes to the Highway Code.

In addition, 68 per cent did not know that they should give way to pedestrians crossing side roads or waiting to cross a junction.

Research by the AA in the weeks leading up to the changes being implemented at the end of January found that two in three drivers were unaware of the forthcoming changes, suggesting the number has fallen slightly in the six months since.

However, it was not just knowledge of the new rules. Vertu Motors also questioned motorists on well-established Highway Code content too, finding only half of drivers surveyed were aware that the national speed limit on the motorway is 70mph, while 23 per cent admitted to exceeding this.

Furthermore, only 38 per cent said they knew to leave at least a two-second gap between their vehicle and the one in front.

These numbers are, of course, nothing new. Research two years ago by Admiral found that nine in 10 road users have not read the Highway Code in the past three years, while four in 10 have not looked at it for more than 20 years.

Commenting on the Vertu Motors research the CEO of RED Driving School, Seb Goldin, told Fleet World: "The government was very slow in advising drivers about these changes to the Highway Code and it seems the message is still not getting across."

Poor awareness of the changes was talked about widely during the run up to their introduction in January, with the government coming under heavy criticism for the little publicity the changes aimed at protecting vulnerable road users had received.

At the end of 2021, Cycling UK urged the government to launch a properly funded and ongoing awareness campaign to "right the misunderstanding on our roads".

Ultimately, the Department for Transport did announce the launch of a £500,000 publicity campaign to raise awareness (three days before the changes were due to come into effect).

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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23 comments

Avatar
muppetkeeper | 2 years ago
5 likes

Majority of pedestians either unaware or suspicious too.  I went out four times this morning, twice in my car, twice on my commuter bike. In total I stopped at junctions five times to allow pedestrians "straight on" priority, and they stared at me like I was insane.

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ChrisB200SX | 2 years ago
2 likes

Vertu Motors wrote:

only half of drivers surveyed were aware that the national speed limit on the motorway is 70mph.

Only 38 per cent said they knew to leave at least a two-second gap between their vehicle and the one in front.

I'm very aware that driving standards have been declining for decades, but, half of drivers not knowing the national speed limit, that's insane.
It's one thing to break rules, but for so many to not even have a clue about the rules when knowing them is a condition of their licence... It's no wonder KSI rates are as high as they are.

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chrisonabike replied to ChrisB200SX | 2 years ago
1 like

But I passed a test 50 years ago...

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Awavey replied to ChrisB200SX | 2 years ago
0 likes

half of drivers surveyed, its a big difference if even with all your attempts to make your sample group representative of the population, you happened to pick the group who knew least about driving standards and rules to begin with.

I mean how did they run the survey, traditional stop you in the street (do they even do that anymore) phone surveys, online forms, facebook surveys, twitter polls...which one would you trust the results as being the most representative ?

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carlosdsanchez | 2 years ago
5 likes

I've thought that anyone prosecuted for a driving offence should have to re take their driving theory test? Prove that you at least know the rules of the road, even if you don't follow them. Get a 3 month period in which to take the test, if you fail, you loose you licence until you pass.

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Cycloid | 2 years ago
7 likes

If you want a recipe for disaster on the roads it would be for half of the drivers to follow one set of rules and the other half to follow a different set.
It's not as bad as 50% driving on the left and 50% driving on the right, but it's not good.

My personal observation is that since the introduction of the hierarchy the situation has polarised. The good drivers continue to be good, and I think quite a few have changed their behaviour, but the bad drivers have become angrier at having their entitlement taken away.

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mdavidford replied to Cycloid | 2 years ago
1 like

Cycloid wrote:

If you want a recipe for disaster on the roads it would be for half of the drivers to follow one set of rules and the other half to follow a different set.

At least that would give some degree of predictability. I think it would be an advance on what we have at the moment, which is every driver following their own personalised, largely self-invented, set of rules.

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IanMK | 2 years ago
6 likes

I'm not sure that I agree with this survey. I still think that when the changes were in the news the majority of drivers understood and gave more space when overtaking. The trouble is that things have gone back to how they were before the changes.
I think the reasons are three fold.
1. the police failed to back up the changes by not prosecuting close passes.
2.the MSM convinced drivers that cyclists weren't 'entitled' to be protected on the roads.
3. Many drivers have a pitiful short memory and have forgotten the messages. Let's be honest many forget the HC the moment they pass.
I was even told by a driver that the HC said that overtaking distance was 'up to' 1.5m. I nearly burst out laughing at that concept. So I guess we can't rule out simple stupidity.

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Awavey replied to IanMK | 2 years ago
2 likes

Im still feeling the changes have resulted in those that were going to give space, give even more space, those that werent still havent cottoned on yet and probably wont no matter how many ad campaigns are run.

So overall it doesnt feel like alot of change, really the only difference Im seeing on my commutes is there are fewer cars still, its still as stupidly hairy and closs pass central stress creating as it was 2 years ago.

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ktache replied to Awavey | 2 years ago
3 likes

I'm getting a fair bit more other lane overtakes at the moment.

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Mungecrundle | 2 years ago
12 likes

Whilst it would be great if all road users were familiar with the Highway Code, I'd settle for observance of "Don't drive like a twat."

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chrisonabike replied to Mungecrundle | 2 years ago
4 likes

That would work fine but there's always someone worse people can point to. "...falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver..." - remember?  I'm above average, not like all those others.

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morgoth985 replied to Mungecrundle | 2 years ago
4 likes

I would probably settle for that too, but really in which other context would it be perfectly acceptable for someone in charge of a ton or two of dangerous machinery not to know the latest safety regulations?

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carlosdsanchez replied to Mungecrundle | 2 years ago
4 likes

Problem is, everyone has their own definition of what "driving like a twat" is.

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belugabob | 2 years ago
7 likes

Given motorist's knowledge/understanding of the highway code (particularly cyclist related rules) seemed to be pretty poor, before the changes, the results of this survey are hardly surprising.

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IanMSpencer | 2 years ago
5 likes

Having been severely tailgated through the 20mph limit that has been in place though Knowle since September, and then tailgated down the next 30 section, I took the opportunity to avail myself of the chance to irritate the following driver further by slowing carefully and halting early for the pedestrian waiting to cross at the roundabout. As I clearly should have stopped 5 metres further up the road, it didn't half give the driver a surprise. 

I'd say though that generally, behaviour with pedestrians at junctions and with cyclists has improved, even if it is following the herd for the 50%.

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jacknorell replied to IanMSpencer | 2 years ago
1 like

I take great pleasure in gradually slowing when tailgated...

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eburtthebike | 2 years ago
15 likes

Given the incredible ignorance of the rules of the road from people who drive killing machines, the case for further tests after you've passed the initial one would appear to be compelling.

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nappe | 2 years ago
4 likes

The changes were highlighted in the media in the weeks leading up to the changes. They were reported especially by the right wing press, mainly to deride the new rules.

Social media was full of it, if only so that people could do some cyclist bashing in the comments.

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Clem Fandango | 2 years ago
4 likes

In other news today:

Bear sh*ts in woods, grass found to be green, and scientists discover that the Pope is Catholic

 

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wtjs | 2 years ago
5 likes

Commenting on the Vertu Motors research the CEO of RED Driving School, Seb Goldin, told Fleet World..

It hardly matters what dodgy geezer's driving school RED says, as they're the ones advising students: you won't get points unless you hit the b****** cyclist no matter how close you go. While this is true as far as the majority of police officers are concerned, it is a cyclist-hostile way to train future cyclist-killers in Audis and BMWs (nutter drivers are available in other marques)

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brooksby | 2 years ago
5 likes

Quote:

Ultimately, the Department for Transport did announce the launch of a £500,000 publicity campaign to raise awareness (three days before the changes were due to come into effect).

And appear to have done sod all since then...

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mattsccm replied to brooksby | 2 years ago
2 likes

Slow news day?

If I wan't a cyclist I wouldn't have known any changes were being made. Just asked my wife who didn't know.

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