From the 29th of January, the UK Government will be implementing three major changes to the Highway Code amongst other minor changes, to reflect the shifting use and dynamic of the roads in Britain.
Most importantly, a hierarchy of road users will be implemented, with emphasis on pedestrian priority on pavements and crossings, and safe passing distances and speeds being established. While I hope that future updates will consider the rise in e-scooter use to further protect all road users, the rule changes regarding cyclist safety and mobile phone use will be interesting to monitor going forward.
Rule H3 – Priority to cyclists
The biggest major trauma related priority is the positive impact that Rule H3 should hopefully have on cyclists.
This rule places a requirement on drivers to give priority to cyclists when they are turning into or out of a junction, or changing direction or lane, just as they would to other motor vehicles. This new rule means drivers in traffic planning to turn either left or right into side-roads, must give way to cyclists overtaking them on either side.
In recent years I have seen a vast number of incidents in which cyclists have been clipped either on a roundabout or by a vehicle turning left at a junction, so it will be interesting to see if this new rule goes far enough to prevent these avoidable collisions occurring. Only time will tell if these changes lead to increased criminal prosecution and harsher sentencing.
Rule H1 – Hierarchical responsibility to reduce danger
Rule H1 introduces a hierarchy of road users to ensure that those who can do the greatest harm have the responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.
Additionally, this rule should also drive positive change regarding more vulnerable road users as those with the power to cause the most harm will be more considerate.
For example, I have recently settled a case which saw a car driver hit from behind by a van driver on a dual carriageway – and when the two parties pulled into the hard shoulder to exchange details, a HGV driver under the influence of drugs veered into the parked van and killed both men.
As a large goods vehicle, the new ruling would in theory see harsher prosecution for this HGV driver in future. I will be keeping in touch with the final court ruling on similar cases in the coming months, as if executed properly these changes have the potential to drive a lasting shift in mindset for all road users.
Legal safe passing speeds
On a similar note, the inclusion of extra ruling around the legal safe passing speeds and distances is crucial to cyclist safety. Drivers will have to leave a distance of 1.5 metres if going at speeds of up to 30 mph and 2 metres for speeds above 30 mph.
Tragically, a close friend lost his life whilst out cycling when he was hit from behind by a car doing 60 mph. It was very quiet as it was just after the first lockdown and the road was long, clear and straight, but the driver said he simply did not see him.
It is to be hoped that this sort of legal safe passing speed and distance rule will make drivers much more aware of the need to look out for cyclists and give them space, particularly as road use returns to normal. We must now see harsher sentencing as this is a matter of life and death.
Mobile phone use whilst driving
Another rule update that I was shocked not to have seen sooner is that motorists will now face an automatic fine when taking pictures and videos, scrolling through playlists or playing games on their mobile phone while driving. Although there have been similar rules in place prior to this update, it has often been argued that mobile phone use is a difficult issue to monitor, given drivers are still permitted to use their mobile phone for directions, and can use a hands-free device when driving such as a voice-controlled sat-nav. However, the challenge of monitoring phone use should not prevent us from making changes to rules that attempt to make our roads safer and the new widened scope of the Highway Code is encouraging to see.
The rule changes improves safety on the roads
Overall, the Major Trauma Group welcomes Government action to improve the safety of all road users and prioritise that of those who are the most vulnerable. I urge the courts to use this as an opportunity to ensure that sentencing for road traffic incidents considers the detrimental impact that these types of incidents can have. All road users should read the updated Highway Code to familiarise themselves with the new and long-standing rules of the road and help keep themselves and others safe.
If you have been involved in a road traffic collision your Major Trauma Group specialist solicitor will keep you updated every step of the way.
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