Major changes to the Highway Code take effect on 29 January 2022

Major changes to the Highway Code take effect on 29 January 2022

26 January 2022 | Kate Kozlowska | 9 min read

Previously, we informed you that the Highway Code was being updated and explained what the proposed changes are. These changes are now being implemented, and fleet managers and drivers have been advised to prepare.  

Important Highway Code changes are set to take effect this Saturday (January 29, 2022)

In the United Kingdom, the Highway Code offers information, advice, guides, and mandatory rules for road users. Its objective is to promote road safety. Many of the code's rules are legal requirements, and the disobedience of these rules is a criminal offence.

“You may be fined, given penalty points on your licence or be disqualified from driving,” said Peter Lorence, one of Irwin Mitchell's serious injury lawyers.

“In the most serious cases, you may be sent to prison."

"Although failure to comply with the other rules of the code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted".

"The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts to establish liability. This includes rules which use advisory wording.”

The Highway Code has undergone extensive changes

As required by the Highway Code, all road users must act considerately toward each other. Until now, this principle was equally valid for all road users, but pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders have been identified as more vulnerable, and will now be protected by the new rules. The new hierarchy of road users places the greatest responsibility on those who can cause the greatest harm. 

According to the new rules, this hierarchy applies the most strongly to drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger vehicles, including vans, minibuses, cars, and motorcycles. In the same vein, cyclists, horse riders, and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles have an even greater responsibility to protect pedestrians.

“This is designed to protect the most vulnerable people on our roads,” explained Lorence.

Continuing, Lorence said: “One change that should be highlighted in particular is pedestrian priorities at junctions. Currently, road users should only give way to pedestrians who have started to cross the road into which they are turning.” The revised code stipulates that pedestrians waiting to cross the road will also receive priority in accordance with Rule H2. “Therefore, if you are looking to turn into a road and a pedestrian is waiting to cross, you are expected to give way,” Lorence added.

“We’re concerned that this significant change poses risks to pedestrians who may assert their rights under the new rules, yet drivers may not be aware of this change. It is therefore important for all road users to be aware of the new rules, to ensure everyone’s safety and understanding."

Rules for drivers and motorcyclists at junctions

"The number of deaths and life-changing injuries caused by vehicles cutting through cyclists at intersections is too high", says Lorence.

“Drivers may fail to check for the presence of cyclists before committing to their manoeuvre, even when cyclists have been alongside them when doing so,” he said.

"A new Rule H3 is intended to prevent this from happening. It sets out that when turning into or out of a junction, drivers should not cut across the path of any other road user,” added Lorence.

The guidance now stipulates not to cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles. This includes where there is a cycle lane at the nearside.

“Road users are expected to stop and wait for a safe gap before beginning their manoeuvre. Drivers are tasked with not turning at junctions if it would cause someone going straight ahead to stop or swerve.”

A safe passing distance

Close passing puts the most vulnerable road users at risk. “We’ve seen cases of people on bicycles being clipped by fast-moving traffic, resulting in catastrophic injuries,” continued Lorence.

“We’ve also seen those cycling in our city centres be dragged under the wheels of vehicles that have attempted to pass them but done so too closely. In addition, we have seen cases of horse riders and horses being hit by fast-moving traffic, resulting in deaths and serious injury. Due to horses being flight animals that can move incredibly quickly if startled, close passing at speed can also pose dangers to riders and horses, even without an actual collision.”

A new rule 163 sets safe passing distances for when overtaking cyclists, motorists, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles. When overtaking a cyclist at speeds up to 30mph, one should give at least 1.5 metres of space. When overtaking at speeds in excess of 30mph, more space should be given. Passing a pedestrian who is walking in the road, drivers must allow a minimum of two metres of space and maintain a low speed. In bad weather, drivers should exercise extra caution. Drivers are also instructed not to overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to keep the safe distance set in those new rules.

In addition to setting safe passing distances, the new Rule 72 ensures that cyclists remain visible by giving them the right to ride in the centre of their lane. Lorence explained: “Cyclists are only expected to move to the left to allow faster vehicles to overtake when it is safe to do so. At junctions or on narrow roads, cyclists can maintain their central position where it would be unsafe for a driver to overtake.”

Rule 213 has been changed to specify that on narrow roads, horse riders may ride in the middle of the lane and that drivers must allow them to do so for their own safety, to ensure they can see and be seen. 

Using the Dutch Reach and passing parked cars safely

A cyclist's path can be obstructed by the opening of parked vehicles' doors, which is a very real danger. Previously, the Highway Code solely warned cyclists to be alert to the doors opening.  According to the revised Rule 67, the cyclists now have to leave a distance of the door's width or at least 1 metre when passing a parked vehicle.

Rule 239 has also been updated to include what is commonly known as the Dutch Reach for those opening the doors of parked vehicles.

“When you are able to do so, you should open your vehicle door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening,” said Lorence. “For example, if you are in the right-hand seat, you would use your left hand to open the door. In doing so, this forces you to turn your body and your head, better enabling you to check over your shoulder and your blind spot. This better enables those in vehicles to check whether it is safe to open their door, reducing the chance of opening their door into someone’s path.” We shared a short video guide on Dutch Reach in our previous blog 'The Highway Code is changing: here is what you need to know.' 

Lorence continued: “These changes are largely very welcome, and we were proud to take part in the Government’s consultation. In preparing our consultation response, however, we reflected on our clients’ stories and how the life-changing incidents they suffered could have been easily avoided had these changes been made sooner. Nevertheless, we celebrate these changes which represent an important step towards eliminating deaths and serious injuries on our roads.”


Only days remain until the Highway Code changes go into effect, so we hope this article was helpful in preparing for them. Drive safely and don't hesitate to contact us with any questions.

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