The Highway Code, first published in 1931, is something that all road users, not just drivers, should have a working knowledge of as it applies to all equally.

Some of the rules are legal requirements, meaning that you are committing a criminal offence if you do not follow them. A breach of these rules can mean that you face criminal charges and can be used as evidence of negligence in civil proceedings. Some rules are merely advisory.

Ultimately you need to know the Code and implement it whether you are a pedestrian or HGV driver or somewhere in between. Ignorance of the changes to the Code will be no defence.

As an RTA lawyer, I often review the Highway Code when considering a claim’s prospects of success and, in particular, when considering the issues of causative potency and contributory negligence but I imagine a large number of drivers have not looked at the Code since they say their theory test.

There have been a number of updates to the Code over the years, but the changes set to come in on 29th January 2022 are significant for a number of reasons. The amendment will introduce a number of new rules, H1, H2 and H3 – all of which fall into the advisory category of the Code.

Rule H1: New Hierarchy of Road Users (left)

Drivers of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of HGVs, LGVs, cars/taxis and motorcycles. Cyclists and horse riders likewise have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians.

It has long been established that the Courts accept that a driver of a car has greater responsibility on the roads due to posing a significant risk of danger and injury to other road users way above that posed by a cyclist or pedestrian. In Eagle v Chambers [2003] EWCA Lord Reed comments that [t]he court had consistently imposed a high burden upon the drivers of cars, to reflect the potentially dangerous nature of driving.

Lawyers are therefore well used to the concept of the hierarchy of road users from a legal perspective and no doubt the majority of road users would not be surprised by the principle that those road users that pose the greatest risk also shoulder the greater responsibility. Having the hierarchy clearly set out in the Code is extremely helpful but what may shock the majority of road users is the effect the implementation of the hierarchy will have on the way we use the roads, in particular which road user has priority in certain circumstances, particularly at junctions. The Code now expressly puts more responsibility on the drivers of vehicles to take more care for the safety of more vulnerable road users.

Rule H2: New priority for pedestrians at junctions

At a junction, drivers, motorcyclists, horse riders and cyclists should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning. You should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing (currently you only have to give way if they’re already on the crossing), and to pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing.

Rule H3: New priority for cyclists when cars are turning

You should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane. This applies whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them. Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist, horse rider or horse-drawn vehicle going straight ahead to stop or swerve. You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary.

The ultimate aim of the Code is to improve the safety of all road users and reduce road casualties. Any changes to the Code, therefore, that further protect the most vulnerable road users are welcomed. However, the key changes to the Code need to be widely and clearly published so that all road users are aware of the changes to ensure the changes do not have the opposite effect. It will also be interesting to see if the changes to Code alter the legal landscape at all. One to watch.