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Most drivers still don't know Highway Code changes, poll shows

Cycling UK has called on the government to commit funding to a long-term awareness campaign

A YouGov poll carried out on behalf of Cycling UK suggests that many British drivers are still unaware of last year's changes to the Highway Code, implemented to protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.

The research — undertaken this month to mark the one-year anniversary of the changes, which came into effect on 29 January last year — showed that a quarter of British adults (25 per cent) asked were unaware of the update to the Highway Code, while just 28 per cent of those who said they were aware could correctly answer a question about safe passing distances when overtaking cyclists.

Of those who were aware, 72 per cent incorrectly answered the question: 'how much space should a driver leave when overtaking people cycling at speeds of up to 30mph?'. Furthermore, only 30 per cent of people who said they drive at least once a week gave the correct answer of at least 1.5 metres. 

The concerning results prompted cycling charity Cycling UK to call on the government to commit investment in a long-term awareness campaign.

Upon the introduction of the changes, THINK, the government body responsible for promoting road safety, ran a short-lived awareness campaign which was well-received by road safety groups.

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Cycling UK believes this was a good first step, but argues these figures show how much more needs to be done to "change entrenched driving behaviour, and the necessity for a sustained well-funded awareness campaign of at least three years."

Sarah Mitchell, the charity's chief executive, said: "A year on since the Highway Code update, the lack of understanding and knowledge of the changes is alarming.

Highway Code (Department for Transport)

"If widely adopted, these changes can save lives and make the roads better for everyone – but if you've not passed your test in the last year, it's unclear how you would know about them.

"We need government commitment and investment in a long-term awareness campaign of at least three years to help change long-established driving behaviours.

"With more people looking for other ways to travel, whether for financial reasons, health or environmental, making our roads safer for its most vulnerable users is essential."

Highlighting government figures — which show there were 1,558 fatalities on Britain's roads in 2021, of which 111 were cyclists and 361 pedestrians — Mitchell notes the initial THINK campaign cost £500,000 and suggets "saving human lives is not something we should be scrimping and saving on".

Edmund King, AA president, also commented on the poll results: "It is vital both for cyclists and drivers that the well-intentioned changes highlighted in the new Highway Code one year ago are understood and respected by all road users.

> Highway Code: 61% of drivers HAVE NOT read new rules, AA survey suggests

"AA driving schools are doing this with new drivers but unfortunately this recent research seems to indicate that this is not the case amongst the general public, so more action is needed to promote these potentially life-saving changes.

"When the changes are spelt out to drivers, our surveys suggest that 89 per cent support the reasons for giving 1.5m space when overtaking."

Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter and patron of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling and Walking Group added: "It is not realistic for government to expect decades of entrenched driving behaviour to change overnight.

"It took years for attitudes and habits to change over seatbelts, but they did in part thanks to a long-term public awareness campaign. We need a similar campaign to communicate the changes to the Highway Code, if we're to make our roads safer and get more people cycling and walking."

Cycling UK's YouGov poll comes just days after a study found that just 18 per cent of cyclists believe that the Highway Code changes have made a positive difference to road safety.

Worse still, 12 per cent of cyclists believe conditions on the road have worsened in the past year, while only one in ten reckon the government takes cycle safety seriously enough.

Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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