New rules came in to force on 29th January 2022 – we debunk the myths and answer your questions

If you regularly take to the road, chances are you’ll be aware that some changes have been made to the Highway Code recently. If you regularly read the news, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these changes are a massive inconvenience for drivers - most notably due to the introduction of heavily campaigned for "Hierarchy of Road Users" (we'll get to that shortly).

However, the arrival of the Highway Code's revised rules isn’t the huge shake up that some would have us believe. More a formalization of previously ‘suggested’ practices that, in all honesty, just amount to common sense and good manners. 

Unless you have recently passed your test or are a driving instructor, you probably haven’t familiarized yourself with the intimate details of the Highway Code in a while. So we have summarized the main changes and how they could affect your daily commute below.

Hierarchy of Road Users

1. Introducing the Hierarchy of Road Users

The Hierarchy of Road Users is a conclusive ranking of road users who are most at risk in the event of an accident, and those who hold greater responsibility. Namely, the bigger the vehicle, the bigger the danger you cause. The smaller the vehicle (if any) the smaller the danger posed and the greater vulnerability inherent in travelling.

HGVs and vans are considered greater danger than cars, for example. Similarly, cars are considered greater risk than cyclists or pedestrians. 

Under this new guidance, responsibility of an incident will be attributed based on this hierarchy unless there are distinguishable mitigating factors.

 Importantly, it does not mitigate the need for everyone to behave responsibly.


2. Drivers no longer have priority at junctions.

Prior to January, drivers turning into a junction had priority unless another road user was already halfway across the road. Now, motorists are expected to give way to any road users waiting to cross at a junction.

If an incident occurs, the responsibility will automatically lie with the party who is able to cause the most harm unless unequivocally proven otherwise. Depending on the severity of the incident, penalties could include changes in your insurance, fines, penalty points, court costs and even jail time in the most severe cases.


3. All traffic MUST stop at crossings designed for pedestrians.

Previously it was considered a courtesy for drivers to stop for pedestrians waiting at any crossing and an obligation for them to stop had the pedestrian already started to cross.

Now, pedestrians have priority and drivers MUST give way even if the pedestrian is waiting to cross. In addition, there is an advisory for motorists to slow down when approaching a crossing in anticipation of someone waiting to cross.

The rule is designed to protect the most vulnerable pedestrians such as children and the elderly and if contravened can result in penalty points and a fine if reported to the police.

Cyclists can ride wherever they feel most visible

4. Cyclists can ride wherever they feel most visible.

In years gone by, cyclists were advised to keep to the left so as not to be riding against the flow of traffic. This is still advised but now cyclist must ride no less than half a metre from the verge or kerb and further when it is safer to do so. It is the motorist’s responsibility to leave a space of at least 1.5m when passing a cyclist at speeds of up to 30mph and a greater distance at higher speeds.

Additionally, cyclists are not obliged to use the growing network of cycle lanes available. It is strongly suggested that they exercise good judgement and use the designated lanes if it is safer, but they are not obliged to. Cyclists will now be required to leave a door's width or 1 metre of space when passing parked cars to avoid obstruction by an opening car door.

Perhaps one of the biggest bugbears for drivers is encountering a group of cyclists riding two or more abreast. In actual fact this has never been a contravention of the highway code. The revised rules consolidate this by specifically stating that if it is safer to do so, cyclists should ride side by side. This is designed with inexperienced riders and children in mind, affording them greater protection from passing vehicles.

Drivers should treat cyclists as if they are other vehicles

5. Drivers should treat cyclists as if they are other vehicles.

This seems a bit of an obvious one and most drivers practice this as a matter of course. However, the new Highway Code specifically cites that caution must be exercised by drivers wanting to make a turn, stating that they must wait for an appropriate gap in the flow of cyclists as opposed to cutting across them.

Closing of the mobile phone loophole

6. Closing of the mobile phone loophole.

Given the horrific stats on accidents as a result of mobile phone use, this one couldn’t have come quickly enough. Making calls or sending texts whilst in your car has been banned since 2003 but alarmingly, the law didn’t cover things like taking photos and videos, playing games or scrolling through playlists on a handheld device.

Now, using your device for anything within a vehicle, even if you aren’t moving, is strictly forbidden. The only exceptions are for making hands free calls, payment at toll roads or booths and for satellite navigation. However, in these instances, the device must be securely fixed.

Failure to adhere to the rule changes carry an on the spot £200 fine and a whopping 6 penalty points on your license.

Poor driving decisions are now punishable

7. Poor driving decisions are now punishable.

Picture the scene: rush hour, nose to tail traffic and some clever driver decides to enter a box junction. The lights change, the flow of traffic is blocked and many profanities are exchanged. Up until now, Rule 174 of the Highway Code explicitly stated that drivers must not enter a box junction unless the exit was clear – but there were no sanctions for anyone not complying with this rule. Unless, that is, there happened to be a police vehicle there to witness the contravention.

The government have now granted power to local authorities to penalise drivers who make bad decisions such as this. Other punishable offences include failing to give way to oncoming traffic and making a u-turn in a prohibited area.

Anyone caught doing so in the flesh or retrospectively on cameras will be liable to a fine of up to £70 outside of London, a figure which rises to £130 in the capital city.

Practice the Dutch Reach

8. Practice the Dutch Reach.

No, it’s not a complex dance move or secret handshake. The Dutch Reach is a method of exiting your vehicle that ensures the best possible chance of being fully aware of other road users. Prior to January, drivers were able to get out of their cars however they wished. The new rules encourage you to use your hand furthest from the door to open it.

The thinking behind this is that in using the opposite hand, the driver is forced to swivel their body therefore widening their field of vision and raising awareness of oncoming traffic, vulnerable road users passing on the road, or people on the pavement.

The Highway Code

The Highway Code is a staple when we are learning to drive but, for many of us, evades conscious attention as our time behind the wheel grows. As the Highway Code defines and explains the rules that govern our use of public roads, many of which are legal requirements, it should have greater prominence regardless of our experience levels. It is also updated regularly, which makes it all the more important that drivers take the time to refresh their memories.

If you are so inclined, strap yourself in and take a gander at the complete Highway Code.

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Charlotte Birchall

Charlotte Birchall

Charlotte is a marketing specialist and a writing genius. She has a distinct and hilarious way with words and a fine eye for the best topics to cover. In Charlotte's hands we know you'll be both entertained and informed.