new highway code rules

UK Government ‘far too silent’ in publicising new Highway Code

Learner drivers, charities and road organisations have been criticising the UK Government for not creating enough public awareness for the major changes to the Highway Code being implemented this weekend. 

The AA said the government had been “far too silent in promoting” the rules, expressing concern for all road users’ safety.  

Learner driver Emily Litchfield, 21, told CJS News: “It’s not really something I’ve heard about other than from my instructor, and even then he doesn’t seem entirely sure of all the new changes.”

new Highway Code rules

‘It’s unfair if we’re not told the new Highway Code rules’

Due to the pandemic, Ms Litchfield has been learning to drive for three years. In that time she’s taken her theory test twice, with her official driving test is booked in the next few months.

She says she only knows one of the new Highway Code rules – that drivers have to give way to pedestrians when turning into a junction.

“I feel like at the very least instructors should be told you need to make your students aware”, she said, “even if it’s just to tell you that you need to go and look at in your own time.” 

Driving instructors have also shared their frustrations, telling CJS News they are yet to be told by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) on whether they need to change what is taught in driving lessons, such as the ‘Dutch Reach’ method of opening doors.

Keith Willicombe, who runs his own driving lessons business called Bumps Drivin’s Cool in Cardiff, said he only found out about the new Highway Code changes from the media.  

He told CJS News how he’s had “no time” to implement the changes into his teaching, adding he believes road users’ safety has been compromised.

‘Bullies on the road’

Ken Barker, from Cardiff Cycling Campaign, likes some elements of the new Highway Code, including guidance for drivers on how to overtake cyclists.

However, he is unsure the regulations will make roads safer for bike users.

new Highway Code rules
Ken Barker

Mr Barker told CJS News: “The awareness of the Highway Code is not very good. New learners have to learn it, but a lot of drivers don’t know about the Highway Code.

“We’re talking now about a hierarchy of road users, where car drivers are not at the top. It’s going to take a while for people to understand this.

“There are people who still act as bullies on the road and don’t have regard for both pedestrians and cyclists.”

What are the new Highway Code rules?

There is a new hierarchy of road users, with those higher up in the chain expected to take on the most responsibility. Pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders are now categorised as most vulnerable.

Cyclists should ride in the middle of the lane in non-fast traffic to improve visibility. They should also ride two abreast if appropriate, and should drivers leave approximately 5ft between their car and a cyclist when overtaking.  

New laws will also be put in place, such as a £200 fine and six-points on your license if you are caught using your phone in any capacity – including changing songs on a playlist. 

Drivers can be fined up to £1,000 if they injure someone from not opening a door safely.  

‘Confusion and dangerous situations’

The AA polled 13,000 of their members and found at least two thirds did not know about the new changes, with four per cent admitting they don’t intend to look at the Highway Code. The motoring organisation has said the updated rules could lead to “confusion and dangerous situations”.  

Neil Greig, who is director of policy and research at road safety charity IAM RoadSmart agrees, telling The Sunday Times: “We’re talking about overturning the way people have been trained to drive for their whole lives, some have been driving for 30 or 40 years, so you’re talking about a fundamental change in priorities.” 

The UK Government’s response

A DVSA spokesperson told CJS News the messaging surrounding the new rules of the Highway Code has been published online, and that any issues regarding driving lessons fell to the responsibility of the Department of Transport.   

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The proposed upcoming changes to the Highway Code will improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders and were announced to national press. 

“The department has established a working group of key organisations to ensure that messages about the changes are as widespread as possible and our well-established Think! campaign will continue to ensure all road users are aware both when these changes come into effect and beyond.” 

The Department for Transport has been contacted for additional comment.