Changes to the Highway Code Are Coming – What Are They?
As anyone that has ever stumbled across my twitter feed, the majority of ‘likes’ can largely be categorised into two main topics. The first of those; a general frustration with public servants that have a sketchy relationship with the truth, has had plenty of airings these last few years. The second though is all bikes, bikes, bikes. From crashing out of the Tour, to a redemption in an Olympic TT, or a child learning to wobble along for the first time, it’s the stories that get me.
Out of all the horror of the Covid Pandemic, through the first lockdown road journeys by cyclists surged, reaching a high point of nearly 4 times the normal level. The Government provided funding for sprucing up old bikes and making them roadworthy again. National transport charity Sustrans reported that a ‘golden age of cycling’ could be created if the Government capitalised on the surge of interest. In turn, the Government stated that it had “ambitious plans to boost walking and cycling”.
And as someone who acts for cyclists that get knocked over and have their worlds turned upside down, what would really excite me is a day to day cycling revolution. One where it became the norm to go to the local shop on your bike rather than step into the smelly 10 tonne bit of steel for a journey of a couple of miles and do it safely. Anyone who has visited Holland or a cycling city like Copenhagen, or has read anything from the great Chris Boardman, knows that this is possible. No need for that super expensive Shimano groupset here.
So what is needed if not a Dura-Ace upgrade? Well as hard as it is for some drivers to accept, we need a rebalance of priority on our roads, and whisper it quietly, maybe, just maybe, that is coming.
One of the biggest barriers to cycling remains safety. One only needs to see some of the close passes on social media to know just how exposed you are on our roads. Pedestrians are even more vulnerable. That is why infrastructure is just so important.
We also need to change attitudes, and news this morning about a ‘hierarchy of responsibility’ is a potential game changer: Changes are to be made to the Highway Code in the Autumn that will give pedestrians and cyclists greater priority over cars at junctions and crossings.
The Department of Transport today said the new version of the Highway Code would include a “hierarchy of road users” that ensured those who could do the greatest harm, such as those in vehicles, had the “greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others”.
This is truly significant because, since its introduction in 1931, the Highway Code has always advised that road users have equal responsibility for safety, despite the fairly obvious disparity between, for example, a lorry and a pedestrian. In addition, the changes will seek to strengthen pedestrian priority when crossing the road and add guidance on safe passing distances, and speeds as well as ensuring that cyclists have priority at junctions when traveling straight ahead.
Two years ago, I made a Freedom of Information request to find out how much a London Borough had spent on protected cycle lanes at the same time as they were banning cyclists meeting in a private car park, because of the complaints of one neighbour. The amount spent on those lanes? Zero. Zip. Nothing. But they did find over £6,000 to spend on legal advice pursuing that failed injunction. Today, the Government has released a further £338 million to pay for more cycle lanes and improvements to the National Cycle Network. Others with more expertise than me can comment on whether that is anywhere near enough, but the real headline may well be a small, but radical change to a Code that seeks to change the way we use our roads forever.
Tim Ransley is a Partner at Bennett Griffin LLP and works as part of our Dispute Resolution team. To speak to Tim or one of our other team get in touch by calling 01903 229999 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org