Drivers will have a greater responsibility to reduce the danger they pose on the road, compared to pedestrians and cyclists, under changes being made to the Highway Code.
A 'hierarchy of road users' is being drawn up as part of the update in an attempt to improve road safety for the most vulnerable - meaning that those who pose the greatest risk to others on the roads will now have a higher level of responsibility.
The Department for Transport has already consulted on the proposed changes, and they are expected to be implemented at the end of this month, with 'those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility' to underpin the alterations - placing a greater onus on the behaviour of motorists.
The Highway Code, while not legally binding, acts as a set of guidelines and advice for all road users in the UK, with its biggest role being to promote road safety.
However while its rules are not official road laws many of the principles are reflected in current traffic laws and its information and guidance could be used in court to establish liability in the event of an accident or incident.
There are eight new rules among the changes alongside almost 50 updates all expected to come into effect on January 29 having been agreed by Parliament.
Hierarchy of Road Users
The ‘Hierarchy of Road Users’ is perhaps the biggest sweeping change to the revamped Code - with cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders among those being defined as the most vulnerable and children, older adults or disabled people described as those more 'at risk' of serious injury.
Heavy goods vehicles, car drivers, taxis and motorcycles are now set out in black and white as posing the greatest danger on the road but in turn cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse drawn vehicles now have a responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to those on foot.
The rankings, while not removing the overriding need for everyone to behave responsibly, do place a greater responsibility on drivers to give way, make space and pay greater attention to those they share the road with and who fall below them in the hierarchy list.
For example, drivers will have to give way to pedestrians when they are crossing, motorists will no longer have priority at junctions if there are people waiting to cross the road and when in traffic or on a slow moving road pedestrians and cyclists should be able to cross in front of cars, HGVs, vans and other vehicles.
The new Highway Code explains: "‘At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning."
There is also clearer guidance on how drivers should now be over taking cyclists - giving them at least 1.5m of space - and fresh advice on how both drivers and passengers should prevent 'car dooring' cyclists who may be riding alongside parked cars on busy roads.
Changes for cyclists
The fresh changes to the Highway Code also means some changes for cyclists to both protect them further from the dangers posed by vehicles but also to help prevent them causing unnecessary harm in turn to pedestrians.
Those on two wheels are now being told to ride in the centre of a lane, rather than to the left, to make themselves 'clearly visible' when on quiet roads or streets, in slower moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowings where it would be unsafe for drivers to try and overtake.
And in terms of cyclists now taking greater responsibility for the dangers they pose to someone on two feet the amendments- or fresh rules - include asking riders not to approach from behind or pass anyone walking at speed, be considerate when sharing a space with pedestrians (particularly in relation to children, the elderly or disabled) and to slow down and then alert walkers they are nearby either by using a bell or by 'calling out politely' when close by.
Calls for greater awareness
The AA and charity Cycling UK are among those concerned that the government has not gone far enough in promoting the changes ahead of them being adopted laterr this month.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said more must be done to make sure all road users understand the new guidelines.
He explained: “In December, just a third of our members were aware of the upcoming changes to the Highway Code. We feel the Department for Transport haven’t done enough to highlight these changes ahead of their adoption later this month.
"While there are official plans to promote them in February, which we welcome, drivers and all road users shouldn’t wait. We encourage everyone to read the new rules before 29 January so we can help make our roads safer."
His comment reflect the views of Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns who says more must be done to communicate the upcoming changes.
He said: "Cycling UK is concerned the forthcoming improvements to road safety outlined in the latest revision of the Highway Code, which will benefit everyone, are not being communicated through official channels.
“Many people won’t have read the Highway Code for years, so it’s essential that the key changes are clearly explained, with simple, accurate and memorable messages. These changes have legal implications. Just as we saw with the introduction of other road safety measures like mandatory seat belts and stricter drink driving laws, the public needs to be accurately informed about the new rules. The hierarchy of responsibility and changes to junction priority need to be explained and communicated properly, regardless of whether or not everyone agrees with them.
“Once the public has been clearly informed about the update, there’s a requirement to bring people on a journey to understand and appreciate why these changes are necessary.”