New Highway Code puts pedestrians and cyclists at top of ‘road user hierarchy’

A road sign with images of pedestrians and a bike

Who do you think should have right of way on the roads?

New changes to the Highway Code are to give those on foot and bike priority over cars at junctions and crossings, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

Highway Code revamp

The updated Code – due to be published in the autumn – will strengthen pedestrian priority on pavements and when crossing or waiting to cross the road.

It will also ensure cyclists have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead, as well as establish guidance on safe passing distances and speeds for drivers overtaking them.

Under the current Code, traffic does not have to give way at a zebra crossing until a pedestrian actually steps on to the crossing. However, pedestrians are also told they should not start to cross until vehicles on the road have stopped.

A new “hierarchy of road users” will be introduced to make sure those who are capable of causing the greatest harm have the most responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they might pose to others, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).

The move comes as part of the government’s £338 million package to boost cycling and walking, which will help to maintain the rise in active travel experienced during the pandemic. 

Grant Shapps said: “Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment.

“As we build back greener from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone.”

He added that the funding will enable more people to make “sustainable travel choices” that make our “air cleaner and cities greener”.

It will also go towards infrastructure upgrades, which includes building hundreds of miles of “high-quality cycle lanes”, and walking schemes.

The new Highway Code will affect England, Scotland, and Wales. Northern Ireland has its own version.

Who benefits?

The changes have been welcomed by Living Streets, a charity for everyday walking that campaigns to “achieve a better walking environment and inspire people to walk more”.

Stephen Edwards, interim chief executive at Living Streets, said: “The Highway Code currently treats children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people’s safety.

“These changes will redress that balance. People walking cause the least road danger but are often left paying the price.

“Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm should take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose.

“Whether we choose to also drive or cycle, we are all pedestrians. These proposed revisions will benefit us all.” If you want to help keep road users free of danger, check out our guide on how to safely overtake pedestrians and cyclists.

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