Changes to the Highway Code came into effect at the end of January introducing a new hierarchy of responsibility for road users. In simple terms what this means is that the drivers of vehicles that have the higher capability of causing harm in the event of a crash also have a higher responsibility to ensure the safety of other road users.
In this new hierarchy the most vulnerable road users sit at the top with pedestrians being first followed by cyclists and horse riders. The lack of protective gear as well as the lower chance of causing serious harm to other road users is reflected in their positioning. Motorcyclists come next with car and van drivers straight after. Heavy duty vehicle drivers like bus and lorry drivers sit at the bottom of the hierarchy.
What do the new rules mean for motorcyclists?
Sitting right in the middle of the new road user hierarchy, motorcyclists have a lot of responsibility towards more vulnerable road users recognising that the capability of their engines in proportion to their weight enables them to develop very high speeds. However the new rules also recognise that their size makes them less visible than other motorised vehicles making them more vulnerable. Likewise, the fact that they are not surrounded by a metal case like other motor vehicles are means that when accidents happen motorcyclists are more exposed and therefore more likely to get seriously injured.
Motorcyclists have always had to comply with the same rules that apply to cars to protect pedestrians. That includes giving priority to pedestrians at zebra crossings as well as pedestrians and cyclists on parallel crossings. What is new is that motorcyclists now also need to stop to allow pedestrians crossing or intending to cross the road that a motorbike is about to turn into or out of. Bearing in mind that pedestrians do not need to wear high visibility clothing, that can get tricky especially when a road is busy or visibility is limited because of weather conditions / other vehicles blocking it.
The second big change is that now there are specific rules governing overtaking more vulnerable road users so cyclists and horse riders. When overtaking a bike, motorcyclists need to ensure they allow a minimum of 1.5 metres distance between themselves and the bike at speeds up to 30 mph with even more space required at higher speeds. When dealing with horses the distance is increased to a minimum of 2 metres and must drop their speed to no more than 10mph.
Safety Measures for Motorcyclists
The new overtaking rules place more responsibility on larger vehicle road users to protect motorcyclists with cars, vans, buses and lorries having to give more space when overtaking them.
Likewise drivers should no longer position their cars next to a motorbike when waiting at a junction or being stopped by traffic but rather wait behind them. That still applies even if the motorbike is positioned close to the road side allowing enough space for a car to comfortably occupy the space next to it.
Finally, the other main change involves the way drivers and passengers exit from cars and vans when their door is facing the road. The new rules introduce the “Dutch reach system” which requires people to use their opposite hand to open the door they are opening. For example, if someone is opening the right door they should use their left hand to do so. This means that they will have to turn and look over their shoulder and are more likely to notice oncoming traffic as well as slowing down the movement itself.
The aim of the Highway Code changes is to keep all road users safe and put more responsibility on all groups actively acknowledging the harm they can cause to each other. Stats published by the government show that in 2020, 285 motorcyclists were killed in Great Britain, whilst 4,429 were reported to be seriously injured. The effects of these injuries can be very significant and life changing.
About Major Trauma Group and the British Biker Relief Foundation
Major Trauma Group and the British Biker Relief Foundation (BBRF) provide specialist legal assistance and support for motorcyclists and their families across the UK after serious and life changing injuries sustained in a motorcycle collision.
BBRF support riders and loved ones who are living with the often devastating effects of such serious incidents and injuries. Together, we’re able to offer emotional support, financial assistance, and legal advice when people need it most.
With Major Trauma Group’s UK-wide network of specialist solicitors and BBRF’s support running across England, Scotland and Wales, we really can assist riders & families when it is needed most.
The Major Trauma Group is a not-for-profit community interest company, made up of leading law firms from across the country who, together with clinicians, have pooled their knowledge and experience to assist major trauma victims and their families through the provision of legal advice and ancillary services. Initial chats with our member solicitors, are free and without obligation.