What you can do to improve the Highway Code

Thirteen years after it was last reviewed, the Government is now consulting on changes to the Highway Code to improve safety for vulnerable road users. Head of Campaigns Duncan Dollimore outlines the key changes which would benefit cyclists and would-be cyclists, why changing the Highway Code matters, and what you can do make sure this happens.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a cycling and walking plan for England. But I’m only going to talk about one aspect of it in this article, namely the bit that isn’t confined to England, but includes all of Britain: the consultation on changes to the Highway Code (the Code) to improve road safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.

Before doing so, I should point out that there’s a different Code in Northern Ireland (NI). You’d have to look hard to find the differences, however, and it’s likely (though not inevitable) that changes to the GB Code will be reflected in changes to the NI Code in due course.

We’ll also be reporting next week on the other positives within the Prime Minister’s vision for cycling and walking, including the new infrastructure design guidance for England and NI, and what’s missing – principally, long-term funding.

13 years of campaigning

While there have been small changes to the Highway Code in recent years on an ad hoc basis, the last major review was back in 2007. So, 13 years ago, Cycling UK ran a substantial campaign successfully influencing around 40 different rule changes and preventing others, including proposals to introduce a rule making it compulsory for cyclists to use cycle lanes, however badly designed or maintained!

I’m sometimes asked what we’re campaigning on, and in truth the answer partly depends on whether we’re talking just about public-facing campaigning or Cycling UK’s Policy Director Roger Geffen’s tireless lobbying and influencing work. Assuming it’s both, the reality is that we haven’t stopped trying to change the Highway Code since the last big review back in 2007, including in recent years through our Too Close for Comfort, Dutch Reach and Cycle safety: make it simple campaigns.

Cycle safety: make it simple – why wouldn’t you?

Changing the Code was a major plank of our Cycle safety: make it simple campaign in 2018 and, in our submissions to the Department for Transport (DfT) (pages 87 -97), we outlined why the Highway Code had to be changed to improve cyclists’ safety, including three specific recommendations that:

Thanks to over 10,000 members and supporters who wrote to the DfT in support of these changes, we managed to secure a government commitment in 2018 to review the Code to improve safety for vulnerable road users including junction priority and overtaking rules (pages 31-32).

Quiet lobbying

Since that announcement was made, the DfT has been consulting with various stakeholders about the exact proposals to include within the consultation launched this week, with Cycling UK's Roger Geffen, Joe Irving (former CEO of Living Streets) and highway design expert Phil Jones feeding into that process for over a year.

Whilst we haven’t been able to get every suggestion we made into the proposals, much of what we’ve pushed for has been included – at least in the consultation draft. But we need to make sure the good things remain in the final version and aren’t watered down.

That’s why we need people to respond to the consultation, so the DfT know that there’s public support for these changes.

Bozos, and an eye-sore on the community

Since announcements on cycling were made on Tuesday, I’ve been interviewed with a representative of the Alliance of British Drivers, objecting to pretty much everything, and the RAC has already questioned proposed changes to the rules on priority at junctions.

In short, there will be objections to some of these proposals. We’ll have people like TalkRadio host Mike Graham ranting about cyclists being bozos, an eye-sore on the entire country, and objecting to anything that might make cycling safer or enable more people to ride a bike. 

Of course, Cycling UK will be sending a detailed response to the consultation, and some of you might want to complete the entire online questionnaire responding to particular proposals (it’s a long form, however, and not a quick and easy process).

But we also need to get a large number of people supporting some key changes to the Highway Code, so we’ve made that really easy with this online action. You can use it to email the DfT in support of some key proposals, adding a couple of your own form a drop-down list, and editing the template email with more information if you wish..

You can do it in minutes, so please help us get these changes through.

Support changes to make the Highway Code safer

Key changes to the Highway Code – the big three

There’s numerous changes proposed to the Highway Code, and we’ll outline these in detail in the coming weeks on our campaign page, but there’s three which we think are crucially important for people who cycle – or might cycle if the roads looked and seemed safer to them.

These are changes to:

Rule 1 - Hierarchy of responsibility / user

This would introduce the concept of a 'hierarchy of user', putting road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top. That’s pedestrians, in particular children, older adults and disabled people, followed by cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists. It wouldn’t remove the need for all users to behave responsibly or give priority to pedestrians and cyclists in every situation, but it would ensure that their needs were considered first. 

It would mean that people in charge of the largest vehicles, with the potential to cause the most harm in a collision, bore the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. So, a lorry driver would have a greater responsibility to those driving a car or motorcycle, and likewise people cycling would have a greater responsibility than pedestrians.

Junction priority: Rules 2, 3 and 76

This 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. 

We’ve made a film that demonstrates why this is so important, and simple to fix.

The changes proposed reflect the concept of a hierarchy principle in rule 1, with cyclists also having to give way to pedestrians going straight ahead as they turn left. 

Overtaking rules: Rule 163 

The old rule advised drivers to give cyclists at least as much room as they would when overtaking a car, without further reference to what that was. The new rule advises that, as a guide, this would mean leaving: 

  1. a minimum distance of 1.5 metres at speeds under 30 mph
  2. a minimum distance of 2.0 metres at speeds over 30 mph
  3. for a large vehicle, a minimum distance of 2.0 metres in all conditions
  4. more space when overtaking in bad weather (including high winds) and at night.

Other key changes

In addition to the big three, we’ve identified seven other key proposals to change:

  • Rule 66 on group riding, explaining to drivers that cyclists can ride two abreast and that it might be safer for them to do so.
  • Rules 72 and 213 on road positioning, supporting cyclists taking the primary position to ‘take the lane’.
  • Rule 140, giving cyclists priority on cycle lanes and cycle tracks, with advice that cyclists don’t have to use them.
  • Rule 151, advising drivers to give way to filtering cyclists in slow moving traffic.
  • Rule 178, with clearer advice to drivers about stopping at advance stop lines and awareness of cyclists. 
  • Rule 186, advising drivers to give priority to cyclists at roundabouts.
  • Rule 239, advising people to use the Dutch Reach when opening care doors.

We’ve summarised all ten changes, and you can also see the exact rule changes alongside the existing rules.

Our online action allows you to email the DfT in minutes to support these key changes, highlighting particular rules that are important to you, and editing the template email if you wish.

Support changes to make the Highway Code safer


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 Highway Code that better protects vulnerable road users, by emailing the Department for Transport now to support our campaign.

Support changes to make the Highway Code safer