Days before revisions to the Highway Code aimed at protecting vulnerable road users come into force, the mainstream media is highlighting the new rules to motorists – but in some cases the forthcoming changes are being misrepresented in the press, which Cycling UK says underlines the need for the government to launch a public awareness campaign.
The changes to the Highway Code, which outlines not only the laws that road users are required to follow but also contains advice aimed at improving safety, include the recommendation to motorists that they use the ‘Dutch Reach’ technique to reduce the chances of dooring a cyclist.
It is already an offence to open a car door, or cause or permit it to be opened, so as to cause injury, punishable by a maximum fine of £1,000.
But two major press outlets have this weekend headlined their coverage of the advice that will be contained in the new version of the Highway Code by suggesting incorrectly that motorists not using the Dutch Reach technique - face being fined, asserting that it is a new law.
“New Highway Code rule will fine drivers £1,000 for opening door with wrong hand” is the misleading headline to an article published yesterday by the London Evening Standard, while the Express ran with, “POLL: Do you support new fine for opening car with wrong hand as cyclists given priority?”
Other outlets have focused with similar lack of accuracy on different changes due to come into force on Thursday, with Mail Online, for example, saying that one new rule “tells cyclists to pedal in the middle of the road” when in fact it provides advice about road positioning in certain situations such as on quiet roads or in slow-moving traffic, and riding in primary position has been encouraged by cycling instructors for decades.
As we reported yesterday, road safety campaigners have warned that without a public awareness campaign from the government, people will not be aware of the forthcoming changes, and the inaccurate reporting of the new rules particularly in headlines means not only that many will be misinformed, but may also make roads less safe for cyclists, warns Cycling UK.
Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at the national cycling charity, told road.cc: “A government led public awareness campaign should have started by now, with simple, accurate and memorable messages.
“Instead, less than a week before major Highway Code changes are being introduced, too many people are hearing about them through inaccurate news reports like this from the Evening Standard.
“Endangering or injuring anyone when you open your car door has been a criminal offence for many years, and the current highway code rule already reflects that. New rule 239 adds much needed advice, reminding people to look around and use their mirrors before opening their door, with additional guidance outlining the safety benefits of the Dutch Reach technique, but it doesn’t create a new offence.
“The inability of some in the media to understand the difference between a legal requirement, a ‘must’ or ‘must not’ in the code, and something which is advisory, such as using the Dutch Reach, is deeply disappointing.
“Telling people they’ll be fined if they use the wrong hand not only breaches the accuracy provisions of IPSO’s Code of Practice, it’s also damaging in road safety terms, as people read that headline and switch off from the substance and reality of much needed and beneficial highway code reforms.
“Sadly, Cycling UK has already had to contact other media outlets in recent days to point out inaccuracies in their reporting of the forthcoming changes, so the Evening Standard aren’t the only culprit, and we’d urge all editors to check, review, and where necessary correct their content on this issue before it becomes an issue for press regulators,” he added.
Cycling UK has campaigned for a number of years for an offence of causing death or serious injury by car-dooring to be introduced, including after Leicester teacher Sam Boulting was killed in 2016 when a taxi passenger opened a door in his path outside the city’s railway station, throwing him into the path of a van.
The passenger, Mandy Chapple, was fined £80 after admitting opening a car door, or causing or permitting it to be opened, so as to cause injury, while private hire driver Farook Yusuf Bhikhu was fined £300 plus costs for the same offence.
The van driver, Nigel Ingram, received a suspended prison sentence after admitting failure to stop and driving while over the legal limit for alcohol.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.