Highway code changes and RTA liability

Article by Naomh Gibson

From Saturday 29 January 2022, the Highway Code is changing. All road users must be aware of these changes and abide by them moving forward.

For the uninitiated, the Highway Code is a set of rules, guidance and some mandatory rules for road users in the UK.

While its contents aren’t ‘law’, if you are proven to have broken that Code then this can be used against you in road traffic accident cases, or as Section 38(7) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 puts it [emphasis added]:-

“A failure on the part of a person to observe a provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal, and including proceedings for an offence under the Traffic Acts, the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 or sections 18 to 23 of the Transport Act 1985) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings.”

So to be better prepared to consider liability in road traffic accident cases, we all need to be familiar with these updates.

The biggest (and most controversial change) to the Highway Code is the creation of a ‘Hierarchy of Road Users’. 

The idea is the road users who pose more of a threat than others must do more to reduce the danger or threat they pose, e.g. HGV drivers will need to be more considerate of cars and smaller vehicles => Car drivers will need to be more considerate of cyclists => cyclists will need to be more considerate of pedestrians.

Some practical examples of how this looks:-

  • Drivers should not cut across cyclists going ahead when turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane
  • Drivers at a junction should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road that they’re turning into (this means drivers must be more aware of the behaviour of pedestrians on footpaths)
  • Horse riders should also give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing
  • Drivers should also not turn at a junction if doing so would cause a cyclist to swerve or stop
  • Cyclists should give way to pedestrians that are using shared-use cycle tracks
  • Cyclists must ride in the centre of the lane to make themselves more visible (note: NOT the middle of the road)
  • Cyclists are not obliged to use cycle paths
  • Drivers must leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph

While no doubt there were only good intentions when formulating the updated Highway Code, there may be some unintended negative consequences. For example, now that a car must give way to a pedestrian at a junction, this means a car approaching a 90 degree turn left on to a side road from a main road must considerably slow approaching this turn and taking the corner, or perhaps even stop. This will have the effect of a car on the main road slowing or stopping abruptly, which may see an increase in ‘rear end’ shunt’ type RTA cases.

It isn’t all bad news for drivers, however. Rule 1 (Pavements) for pedestrians now requires pedestrians to ‘always remain aware of your environment and avoid unnecessary distractions.’ This may prove useful to drivers who find themselves confronted with a pedestrian who has effectively stepped out in front of their car in a short distance or while pre-occupied with a mobile phone.

Whatever your views on the new Highway Code, it is sure to provide interesting challenges in road traffic cases where liability is disputed. If you or anyone you know is facing such a claim, we can help. Halcyon Chambers has a dedicated Credit Hire & Personal Injury team and Motoring Offences team who provide specialist advice and representation in all aspects of road traffic matters. Please contact our clerks on 0121 237 6035 or clerks@halcyonchambers.com for further information.

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