Highway Code proposals: a simple rule for junctions
With the Department for Transport consulting on proposed changes to Britain’s Highway Code (the Code) to make cycling and walking safer, I’ve ended up talking and writing about the safety of cyclists quite a bit in recent weeks. When you do this, there’s a risk that you feed the myth that cycling’s dangerous, when the reality is that the health benefits of riding a bike outweigh any risks by a factor of around twenty to one.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should be complacent about safety, which is why we’re asking for your support to make ten key changes to the Code, but as I’m writing about junctions today, where 73% of all cycle crashes occur either at or within 20 metres, I wanted to start by stressing that cycling’s good for you: it's estimated that, on average, those switching from a car to a bike are nine times better off, health-wise.
But if someone doesn’t cycle because it doesn’t look and feel safe, me quoting statistics is unlikely to re-assure them. So, instead, I’ll try to explain how a simple rule change on priority at junctions could make our junctions safer, and what you can do to help us make this and other proposed improvements to the Code happen.
One simple rule
At the moment, there are fourteen different Code rules which are meant to deter drivers from overtaking, cutting in and running into pedestrians and cyclists crossing side-road junctions. There is, however, no clear rule on giving way, which is one of the reasons why cycle lanes disappear at junctions (where cyclists need the most protection).
Whilst Britain has multiple rules leading to confusion, most European countries have what is often called a universal priority rule, where whoever is turning into a junction has to give priority to anyone going straight ahead.
We’ve tried to capture why this is important and how a simple priority rule would improve safety at junctions in this short film, but essentially, such a rule would mean that a driver turning left at a junction would have to give priority to anyone cycling or walking on their left. Similarly, a cyclist turning left would have to give priority to pedestrians, for example someone about to walk across the road at a side junction.
Highway Code proposal
Changes to rules 2 and 3 of the Code would introduce an underlying principle that vehicles turning at unsignalised junctions should give way to pedestrians or cyclists going straight ahead across their path, unless traffic signs, signals or markings say otherwise. The person going straight ahead would have right of way over the person turning left. This should reduce ‘left hook’ collisions and make it easier to maintain cycle track priority at junctions.
The current Code rules mean that most cycle paths alongside the main carriageway keep coming to a ‘give way’ stop at every side-road. This frequently makes them so much less convenient to use than the main road itself that many cyclists end up riding along the road next to ‘cycling infrastructure’, but not on it.
The new rule would help improve local highway authorities’ confidence to install continental-style cycle lanes and cycle paths that go across the mouths of side-roads, making cycle lanes and paths simpler, safer and more efficient for everyone, as is the case elsewhere in Europe.
This simple change to the Code would clarify the rules at junctions, would be a major step towards embedding a custom that could make a huge difference to cyclist and pedestrian safety in the UK, and would also give highway designers the confidence to design better cycling and walking infrastructure.
Big three changes
We’ve identified the proposed revision to junction priority rules as one of the most important changes for cyclists, two others being the introduction of a hierarchy or road users / responsibility and minimum safe overtaking distances when passing cyclists.
Is changing the Highway Code enough?
Changing the Code isn’t the only thing that’s needed to improve safety for existing and would-be cyclists, but it is important, and it is something you can influence now through the consultation.
There are, however, some problems with our road traffic laws and enforcement which can’t be fixed by changing the Code, which is why we’ve long called for a full review of road traffic offences and penalties with greater use of bans to tackle irresponsible driving.
Even if we change the legal framework and the Code, there still needs to be effective enforcement, which is why we’ve campaigned for roads policing to be given a much higher priority. Fortunately, there’s an opportunity to make sure this happens in England and Wales, as the DfT, Home Office and National Police Chief’s Council are conducting a review of roads policing, with a call for evidence to be submitted by 5 October. Cycling UK will be responding to this and engaging with members and supporters over the summer.
Do we still need changes to the Highway Code if we have better infrastructure?
Campaigning to transform our streets with better cycling infrastructure across the UK is an ongoing and core campaign for Cycling UK.
But, even if investment in active travel is doubled overnight in every nation within the UK, it will be many years before high-quality, fully connected networks of separated cycle lanes extend everywhere, beyond the largest urban areas. It's therefore important to address safety and user behaver on the road network we currently have, whilst pushing to improve that network with more separated lanes and better infrastructure. These things are not mutually exclusive.
Many of the changes to the Code also relate to cycling infrastructure, including changes to junction priority.
What can I do to make sure the new Highway Code is better for cyclists?
Cycling UK will be sending a detailed response to the consultation, and you might want to complete the entire online questionnaire responding to particular proposals (it’s a long form, though, and not a quick and easy process).
However, we also need to get a large number of people supporting some key changes to the Code, and we’ve made that really easy with this online action which you can use to email the DfT in support of some key proposals, adding a couple of your own from a drop-down list, and editing the template email with more information if you wish.
It’s been a long road to get this review, and draft rules that would improve cyclists’ and would-be cyclists’ safety.
Please help us get this over the line, so we have a new Code that better protects vulnerable road users, by emailing the DfT now to support our campaign.