The new version of the Highway Code, to be published in the autumn, underpins the concept of a ‘hierarchy’ of road users that deems those with the potential to cause the most danger to others to have greater responsibility to those who are more vulnerable than them. These changes are set to apply to our roads in the near future.
But let’s just review this change. Is it the right move for our roads? Or should we be taking another route, one with even footing for all road users?
The first proposed change, Rule H1 of The Highway Code, establishes a hierarchy of road users which ensures that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to other road users.
Who is affected?
The hierarchy places vulnerable road users before motorised vehicles so the top of the hierarchy would therefore be:
- Pedestrians, in particular children, older adults and disabled people
- Horse riders
The official statement from the DfT is that the objective of Rule H1 is not to give priority to pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders in every situation, but rather to ensure a more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use that benefits all users. This does not detract from the requirement for everyone to behave responsibly.
Drivers of large vehicles such as lorries or buses will be held more accountable for the safety of car occupants, for example, who will likewise be viewed as having more responsible for those further down the scale, such as cyclists, followed by pedestrians.
The response of the Road Haulage Association echoes that of many of us in the industry: that creating a “hierarchy” of road users undermines the simple principal that we are all responsible for the safety of ourselves and others when using roads.
The guilty party?
Lorry drivers can already be forgiven for feeling that they are automatically portrayed as the guilty party whenever there is a collision between lorries and other road users. The proposal to introduce a hierarchy of road users into the Rules of the Highway Code seems to codify that presumption of guilt, instead of emphasising the fact that all road users should bear equal responsibility to take care of themselves, whilst not doing anything that is likely to cause harm to their fellow road users.
None of this is a good starting point for lorry drivers, who find themselves facing prosecution for a driving offence relating to a road traffic collision. You might ask, what happened to the presumption of being innocent until proven guilty?
The changes, finalised following a consultation to which stakeholders including the RHA responded, also see cyclists given priority at junctions when travelling straight on, and provide clarification of safe overtaking distances.
They were supported by road safety campaigners, with the RAC’s head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, saying: “These proposals should make cycling and walking safer, and this is to be welcomed.”
However, the RHA maintains that the revisions to the Highway Code are unfair and unsafe and could put vulnerable road users at risk. Now that the greater responsibility is on everybody else, responsibility for themselves could fly out of the window.
The hierarchy of risk created by the operation of cars, vans, coaches, buses, and lorries is already reflected in the additional ongoing training undertaken by lorry and coach drivers. The amount of training hauliers are put through is to ensure their safety as well as every other road users. We don’t undertake such training for fun or for free!
The RHA said it also objects to giving cyclists priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead, highlighting concerns that it may put riders in the blind spot of left-turning drivers, and calling for the change to be scrapped. The proposal to give cyclists a special rule that gives them a right of way to pass a turning vehicle is dangerous, it simply defies logic to promote a manoeuvre that puts cyclist in the dangerous and vulnerable position on the road.