Highway code changes: How new driving laws could soon give cyclists priority over motorists

Highway code changes: How new driving laws could soon give cyclists priority over motorists
Highway code changes: How new driving laws could soon give cyclists priority over motorists

Drivers may soon be required to always give way to cyclists and pedestrians when turning, thanks to a shake-up of the Highway Code.

The Department for Transport (DFT) is considering introducing the measure in an effort to increase protection of vulnerable road users who are going straight on at junctions.

Clearer road rules

Road safety campaigners claim the current rules are unclear about what drivers should do when turning, and have been campaigning for a change to the Highway Code.

Rule 170 of the code states that if pedestrians “have started to cross they have priority, so give way”, but it fails to explain what should happen when someone is about to step off a pavement at the same time a car arrives at a junction.

The government is set to review guidance on how road users should behave in relation to cyclists and pedestrians, as part of its ambition to drive down unnecessary deaths.

‘We need to protect vulnerable road users’

Transport Minister Jesse Norman announced the news of the new and improved Highway Code today, stating the changes will help to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe on the roads.

Mr Norman said: “Britain has some of the safest roads in the world, but we need them to be safer still for all – and particularly for cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

“Cycling and walking are increasingly being understood as crucial parts of an integrated approach to issues of health, obesity, air quality, and town and city planning.

The 'Dutch reach' is a method of opening a car door with the hand furthest from the handle, to force drivers to look over their shoulder for passing traffic (Photo: Shutterstock)
The ‘Dutch reach’ is a method of opening a car door with the hand furthest from the handle, to force drivers to look over their shoulder for passing traffic (Photo: Shutterstock)

“But this will only happen if people feel safe on the roads.

“These measures are part of a steady process of improvement and reform designed to achieve just that.”

Introducing the ‘Dutch reach’

The new Highway Code will highlight how to avoid the dangers of close passing, and encourage people to adopt the ‘Dutch reach’, a method of opening a car door with the hand furthest from the handle, to force drivers to look over their shoulder for passing traffic.

The review follows the recent publication of road casualty figures showing that 101 cyclists died in 2017 in road traffic collisions.

The government’s decision to consider changes to the Highway Code has already won praise from campaigners and charities, as well as automotive company RAC.

Nicholas Lyse, head of roads policy at RAC, commented: “With increasing numbers of cyclists and drivers on our roads, it is important the road space is shared safely to prevent collisions, injuries and even fatalities.

“We support the introduction of the ‘Dutch reach’ principle to the Highway Code, a small change every motorist can make when exiting their vehicle that can make a huge difference to the safety of passing cyclists.

“RAC research shows one-in-five drivers cycle relatively frequently and many cyclists likewise use a car, so it is also important that efforts are made to try and end the ‘us versus them’ narrative, whereby drivers are pitted against cyclists and vice-versa.

“The reality is that motorists and cyclists are simply road users trying to complete a journey safely.”

Safer roads for cyclists

The government launched a UK-wide initiative in June this year to help police crackdown on close passing, which leads to accidents and puts people off cycling.

The government also launched a new UK-wide initiative in June this year to help police crackdown on close passing (Photo: Shutterstock)
Anyone deemed to have driven dangerously close to a cyclist – can expect to be prosecuted and taken to court (Photo: Shutterstock)

West Midlands Police are offering drivers a road-side educational input on safe overtaking but repeat offenders – or anyone deemed to have driven dangerously close to a cyclist – can expect to be prosecuted and taken to court.

Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at charity Cycling UK, said: “Close overtakes and people opening car doors in front of cyclists are not only dangerous, they also put people off riding a bike.

“That’s why Cycling UK has been campaigning for changes to the Highway Code rules for many years, to make the requirements crystal clear to give enough space when overtaking a cyclist, wait if you can’t, and look before you open your car door.

“We’re delighted the Government has listened and we hope to contribute to the discussions regarding the amendments required to prioritise the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users.”

The Department for Transport is also publishing an updated National Standard for Cycling Training manual, now with the latest best practice on safe cycling.

Additionally, in August this year the Department launched a consultation to look into whether a new offence equivalent to causing death by careless or dangerous driving should be introduced for dangerous cyclists.

This consultation will close on 5 November 2018.

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