Home
Mark Hambleton suggests four areas which could be updated in the Highway Code to improve safety for cyclists.

From a legal and cyclist’s perspective, the Highway Code has been due an overhaul for a while. Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements. As it stands, the Highway Code doesn’t send the right messages to those who might be considering taking up the activity and reinforces the sad belief of many motorists that pedestrians and cyclists are merely an inconvenience on our roads. 

An uptake in day-to-day cycling could do so much to improve our health, reducing the burden on the NHS for treatment of avoidable problems. Not only this, it would also reduce congestion and improve air quality in urban areas, and even increase productivity at work.

Our mindset should be of promoting walking and cycling rather than promoting the use of motor vehicles. Active travel should be made attractive and a viable option for many people for whom it would be a suitable replacement for motor vehicles. The 101 cycling deaths and 470 pedestrian deaths in 2017 is unacceptable. Proper strategy and investment is the key but we should also have a Highway Code that’s fit for purpose. 

With that in mind, is the current Highway Code  fit for purpose? And, if it needs updating to help keep cyclists safe, how should it be updated?

The Department for Transport’s recent recommendation is that the Highway Code should include the following updates:

The “Dutch Reach”

Motor vehicle occupants should use the “Dutch reach” to avoid car dooring passing cyclists i.e. a method of opening the car door by reaching across your body with the hand furthest from the door. This method forces the occupant of the car to turn and look behind them for cyclists before opening the door. 

Clearly, the responsibility should rest on the motorist to look out for cyclists before opening the door in the first place. This is a frighteningly simple cultural change that we’re all capable of doing to save lives. The alternative for cyclists is to continue cycling more than a car door’s width from parked cars to avoid being knocked off by a car door being flung open without looking. 

I’m sure we’ve all see the footage of transport secretary Chris Grayling knocking a cyclist off his bike in this way in 2016. I’m currently acting for a client who suffered a serious knee injury in similar circumstances and there have been tragic incidents where this type of inattention has caused people to lose their lives by knocking them into oncoming traffic. It’s a criminal offence and gives rise to a civil claim too. 

Addressing close passing

West Midlands Police have been followed by a number of other forces in clamping down on “close passes”. The recommendation for clearer guidance for motorists on passing cyclists considerately and safely is to be welcomed but the current guidance is pretty clear: Rule 163 says drivers should give “as much room as you would when overtaking a car”; however this is not practised by many drivers. The time might have come to specify the distance that should be given in terms of metres. 

A lot of close passes don’t cause an accident but they are very damaging to cycling. They frighten cyclists and discourage future journeys. Close passes also put off would be cyclists who think that it’s too great a risk to their own safety to start cycling. 

Addressing victim-blaming

Rule 59 recommending that cyclists should wear reflective or fluorescent clothing and helmets should also be removed from the Code. The clothing point gives motorists an easy cop out i.e. how many times have we read or heard motorists saying something like “I just didn’t see them, they weren’t wearing high-viz”. 

Motorists have a responsibility to drive in a manner that enables them to share the roads with vulnerable road users. The recommendation that helmets and special clothing is necessary does nothing to normalise cycling or send the important messages that cycling is a convenient and safe mode of transport for many. 


Addressing causative potency

Whilst the DFT's suggestions are welcome, the whole emphasis of the Code needs to change. We need to shift more responsibility onto motorists. 

Let’s not forget that cars, vans, and lorries are potentially lethal weapons. Over 99% of all pedestrian deaths on our roads last year were caused by motor vehicles. In addition to the issues flagged up above, the emphasis in the following examples from Rules 67, 74 and 77 prove this point:

  • Cyclists should “look well ahead for obstructions in the road, such as drains, pot-holes and parked vehicles so that you do not have to swerve suddenly to avoid them” – not easy to see road defects in advance in busy areas where there are lots of other hazards to monitor.
  • Cyclists should “…watch out for doors being opened…” – how do you do that, it is often at the very last moment that you notice, when it is too late to do anything about it.
  • Cyclist should “be aware of traffic coming up behind you” – obviously the onus should be on the approaching vehicle.
  • “if you [cyclist] are turning right…it may be safer to wait on the left until there is a safe gap or to dismount and push your cycle across the road” – if that is the requirement then the road layout should be improved and motorists should drive in such a way that it is not dangerous for a vulnerable road user to make a simple turn. 
  • At roundabouts; you [cyclist] may feel safer walking your cycle round on the pavement or verge. If you decide to ride round keeping to the left-hand lane you should be aware that drivers may not easily see you, take extra care when cycling across exits. You may need to signal right to show you are not leaving the roundabout and watch out for vehicles crossing your path to leave or join the roundabout – what good does it do to be aware that drivers may not see you? We should all be safe to assume that other road users will see us, whatever our mode of transport. 

I’m in no way suggesting that a revamp of the Highway Code is going to improve our cycling experience in this country, our Government clearly have to implement more practical measures. However, at least it’s a start towards educating motorists as to what more can be done to reduce avoidable accidents. 

If we are ever going to achieve a culture of cycling in this country then the very least we should have is a fit-for-purpose Highway Code as the foundation for a better strategy towards encouraging active travel. 

After taking up cycling to commute between Bristol and Bath, Mark has seen all sorts of incidents and has become a keen advocate for cycling and protecting the rights of cyclists.

Mark is now lucky enough to combine his passion for cycling with his day job as a cycling solicitor at Royds Withy King.

13 comments

Avatar
hawkinspeter [2654 posts] 2 weeks ago
3 likes

Agreed!

Now, why is it taking so long for the government to figure this out?

Avatar
brooksby [3752 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes

I completely agree with this.

Particularly that section headed 'Addressing causative potency' and the simple statement that "Motorists have a responsibility to drive in a manner that enables them to share the roads with vulnerable road users."

Avatar
davel [2663 posts] 2 weeks ago
8 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

Agreed!

Now, why is it taking so long for the government to figure this out?

We have a transport secretary who thinks there's a 'war on motorists', and when he doored a cyclist, tried to suggest it was the cyclist's fault.

Avatar
brooksby [3752 posts] 2 weeks ago
1 like
davel wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

Agreed!

Now, why is it taking so long for the government to figure this out?

We have a transport secretary who thinks there's a 'war on motorists', and when he doored a cyclist, tried to suggest it was the cyclist's fault.

And who often forgets that "Transport in general" is actually part of his brief ("Problems on the trains?  Nuffink to do with me, guv!")

Avatar
StuInNorway [207 posts] 2 weeks ago
6 likes

Cyclists should “…watch out for doors being opened…” – So they think cyclists should have X-ray vision ?  How would someone cycling a distance behind a parked car, see a hand inside the metal box, preparing to pull a handle on the inside of that metal box, to swing a large metal lump into their path ?
Might as well say "Cyclists should be mind readers"

Avatar
vonhelmet [1326 posts] 2 weeks ago
6 likes
StuInNorway wrote:

Cyclists should “…watch out for doors being opened…” – So they think cyclists should have X-ray vision ?  How would someone cycling a distance behind a parked car, see a hand inside the metal box, preparing to pull a handle on the inside of that metal box, to swing a large metal lump into their path ?
Might as well say "Cyclists should be mind readers"

Classic victim blaming, that. The offence occurs when the driver opens the door into your path, not when you fail to predict it and ride into it.

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds [2492 posts] 2 weeks ago
4 likes

Motorists MUST 'Drive at a speed they can can stop well within the distance they can see to be clear', this IMO is one of the major aspects as to why we have such a wretched time of things on the roads and the criminals crash into stuff.

Also it should add, 'During limited visibility or after lighting up that maximum distance you can see to be clear is the visible distance lit by your headlights, you must not rely on other persons or objects being lit, for instance a pedestrian crossing or walking in the road when there is no footway, a broken down vehicle, an animal in the highway or fallen object such as a tree'.

'You MUST cede priority to pedestrians wishing to cross a minor road that you have turned into, ensure you have done your hazard perception/forward planning ... YOU ARE THE HAZARD!'

When approaching traffic lights, you MUST plan in advance so that when the lights change to amber this means stop if safe to do so, it does not mean put your foot down and press on regardless.

When there are advanced cycle lanes at traffic lights, they MUST NOT to be entered. Plan your approach to a set of traffic lights and if the way ahead is not clear to exit then you MUST wait behind the first solid white line, do NOT wait in the ASL. If the lights have been green for some time then anticipate that they might change, you MUST NOT race the lights, if you can safely brake in time then do so before the first solid white line, NOT the ASL.

When overtaking a cyclist, equestrian, pedestrian or other vulnerable road user, you MUST slow down, you MUST use MSMM (Mirror, signal, mirror, maneouvre) and give them enough space so as to not induce fear of harm (which is a common assault by definition) and also to take into account that they may need to move from their position due to road conditions, weather conditions or other external influence or if they make a minor error in judgement. You MUST also be aware that a cyclist may not signal yet wish to turn, you MUST NOT overtake at a junction. It is incumbent upon you to overtake safely, not fpr the person in front to change their position for your convenience.

These are just a few where we can redress the balance, the responsibility needs to be pushed back onto motorists and the victim blaming bullshit along with the letting motorists off the hook at all avenues, because it's only a little bit naughty/careless.

Avatar
vonhelmet [1326 posts] 2 weeks ago
5 likes
Mungecrundle wrote:
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Also it should add, 'During limited visibility or after lighting up that maximum distance you can see to be clear is the visible distance lit by your headlights, you must not rely on other persons or objects being lit, for instance a pedestrian crossing or walking in the road when there is no footway, a broken down vehicle, an animal in the highway or fallen object such as a tree'.

 

How would this work on a cold dark stormy winters night when a driver is waiting to emerge from a side road? Headlights are pointing forwards, as they do, and a non lit, ninja cyclist is approaching from left or right at maybe 30mph with a decent following gust.

You pull out really fucking slowly.

Avatar
Mungecrundle [1126 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Also it should add, 'During limited visibility or after lighting up that maximum distance you can see to be clear is the visible distance lit by your headlights, you must not rely on other persons or objects being lit, for instance a pedestrian crossing or walking in the road when there is no footway, a broken down vehicle, an animal in the highway or fallen object such as a tree'.

 

How would this work on a cold dark stormy winters night when a driver is waiting to emerge from a side road? Headlights are pointing forwards, as they do, and a non lit, ninja cyclist is approaching from left or right at maybe 30mph with a decent following gust.

 

EDIT - BTW I'd sign up to everything else in your agenda in a heartbeat. But road users, all road users need effective lighting after dark.

Avatar
brooksby [3752 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes
Mungecrundle wrote:
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Also it should add, 'During limited visibility or after lighting up that maximum distance you can see to be clear is the visible distance lit by your headlights, you must not rely on other persons or objects being lit, for instance a pedestrian crossing or walking in the road when there is no footway, a broken down vehicle, an animal in the highway or fallen object such as a tree'.

How would this work on a cold dark stormy winters night when a driver is waiting to emerge from a side road? Headlights are pointing forwards, as they do, and a non lit, ninja cyclist is approaching from left or right at maybe 30mph with a decent following gust.

EDIT - BTW I'd sign up to everything else in your agenda in a heartbeat. But road users, all road users need effective lighting after dark.

I'm not sure that BTBS was saying cyclists don't need lights.

I read it as them saying that "Well, they had no lights!" isn't a valid 'get out of jail free' card and that the onus is on the road user (any road user) to make sure that the road is clear before they manoeuvre...

(@BTBS - care to elaborate?)

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds [2492 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes
Mungecrundle wrote:
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Also it should add, 'During limited visibility or after lighting up that maximum distance you can see to be clear is the visible distance lit by your headlights, you must not rely on other persons or objects being lit, for instance a pedestrian crossing or walking in the road when there is no footway, a broken down vehicle, an animal in the highway or fallen object such as a tree'.

 

How would this work on a cold dark stormy winters night when a driver is waiting to emerge from a side road? Headlights are pointing forwards, as they do, and a non lit, ninja cyclist is approaching from left or right at maybe 30mph with a decent following gust.

 

EDIT - BTW I'd sign up to everything else in your agenda in a heartbeat. But road users, all road users need effective lighting after dark.

I was born and raised in a city that had very high numbers of utility/commuter cycling, even by the mid 80s this was over 22%, many had lights that still were nothing more than the legal limit, that being four candela on the rear, some didn't have lights at all. Race forward 30+ years and do you know what, so called ninja cyclists are actually not that difficult to see IF you are actually looking and you are operating your killing machine in a manner that takes into account multiple factors/situations and your responsibility to others to ensure they are not harmed or put in fear of harm. 

This March on one of my visits back to the homeland we were driving across the city to go watch the rugby at around 6:30pm, mater was driving as I go up on the train nowadays, we came to a junction from the bankside of the river, both she and I looked to the right (as you do) and lo and behold with no street lights asdie from the ones much further down the street (backside of an old mostly pre war industrial area not known for great street lights anyway) we both managed to see three people riding bikes three abreast, with not even a lit cig to light their way. No reflectives, nada, but even with her 68 year old eyes she managed to see them.

Sure they weren't doing 30 mph but we saw them non the less. As it happens a cyclist doing 30mph in the hours of darkness with no street lights would have to have a front light, because unles you have some form of special vision no-one else has they'll not be able to do that, not even 20mph in fact. So it's simply not possible for your scenario to occur.

Every urban area has street lights, there's virtually no need for lights if you're looking and driving at a sensible speed, how many times has one beeped or flashed a light at an unlit motorist, funny how we manage to see them doing 30mph with no hi vis/reflectives and no lights. Even in totally unlit pitch black situations which are rare because even in the countryside with no moon at all there is a certain amount of ambient light we can see a certain distance and a cyclist that could do around 10mph (maybe) with no front light you could see in your headlight beam to the side, again , if you are looking.

There was a very good reason why the then CTC objected vehemently to compulsary rear lights for cyclists, the rest they say is history were now even with blue and red flashy lights plus reflectives etc motorists will still regularly crash into stuff.

 

Avatar
BehindTheBikesheds [2492 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes
brooksby wrote:
Mungecrundle wrote:
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Also it should add, 'During limited visibility or after lighting up that maximum distance you can see to be clear is the visible distance lit by your headlights, you must not rely on other persons or objects being lit, for instance a pedestrian crossing or walking in the road when there is no footway, a broken down vehicle, an animal in the highway or fallen object such as a tree'.

How would this work on a cold dark stormy winters night when a driver is waiting to emerge from a side road? Headlights are pointing forwards, as they do, and a non lit, ninja cyclist is approaching from left or right at maybe 30mph with a decent following gust.

EDIT - BTW I'd sign up to everything else in your agenda in a heartbeat. But road users, all road users need effective lighting after dark.

I'm not sure that BTBS was saying cyclists don't need lights.

I read it as them saying that "Well, they had no lights!" isn't a valid 'get out of jail free' card and that the onus is on the road user (any road user) to make sure that the road is clear before they manoeuvre...

(@BTBS - care to elaborate?)

Firstly we need a front light to see ahead at night, as I said above, the scenario painted is impossible, I've tried to see how fast i could go totally unlit on the back lane just the other side of the trees from my house, if I was being brave and only because I knew the road I could hit 12mph.

That said, rear lights have only allowed motorists to become more reckless, drive faster and pay less attention and for victim blaming to occur even when lit. I've read reports where the police stated that the legal rear light was 'not very bright' as part of their absolving of a motorist from seriously injuring a cyclist.

Avatar
madcarew [858 posts] 2 weeks ago
7 likes
vonhelmet wrote:
Mungecrundle wrote:
BehindTheBikesheds wrote:

Also it should add, 'During limited visibility or after lighting up that maximum distance you can see to be clear is the visible distance lit by your headlights, you must not rely on other persons or objects being lit, for instance a pedestrian crossing or walking in the road when there is no footway, a broken down vehicle, an animal in the highway or fallen object such as a tree'.

 

How would this work on a cold dark stormy winters night when a driver is waiting to emerge from a side road? Headlights are pointing forwards, as they do, and a non lit, ninja cyclist is approaching from left or right at maybe 30mph with a decent following gust.

You pull out really fucking slowly.

That doesn't avoid accidents. Tried it. Got 3 kids now....