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"Disappointing": Department for Transport drops out of All-Party meeting on Highway Code changes as publicity issue discussed

Some speakers said there were concerns around communication of changes that "many people don't even know about", while an AA survey suggested most drivers agreed with principles such as cyclists riding two abreast...

An All-Party Parliamentary Cycling and Walking Group meeting to discuss the impact of changes made to the Highway Code in the UK a year after they were brought in went ahead without a representative from the Department for Transport yesterday afternoon. Some influential figures concluded that although the changes were positive, more needed to be done to promote them and raise awareness, with Co-Chair Ruth Cadbury MP saying that the late dropout of Laura Hill from the DfT was "disappointing" because the Highway Code is "theirs to own and promote." 

> Most drivers still don't know Highway Code changes, poll shows

Guest speakers at the meeting, broadcast in full on YouTube, included the President of the AA Edmund King, Rachel Botterill of Leigh Day solicitors, Cycling UK's head of campaigns Duncan Dollimore and DCS Andy Cox, with the general consensus being that although the changes - such as advising cyclists to ride two abreast in some circumstances, introducing a hierarchy of road users and recommending the Dutch Reach technique to avoid dooring cyclists - were positive, communication and publicity had been largely ineffective. 

> Highway Code changes one year on: "Confusion in communication has created the perfect storm and done little to improve safety for cyclists"

Duncan Dollimore said: "Our concern is the resource that's been given to actually push these changes out. 

"It's not just enough to say "this is the change you must comply", it's also an exercise in explaining the rationale, and we haven't really got to that point. 

"Ministers and the Department for Transport [should be] actively supporting and talking about the rationale behind these changes... it has sometimes felt like it's fallen to representative bodies to justify the changes.

"It would be nice to see a bit of Government shouting about something they've actually achieved themselves, which they deserve credit for.

"We remain of the view that these changes are something which could have potentially huge benefits, but there does need to be greater communication, better understanding and better self-promotion." 

Edmund King explained how the AA were "very very supportive" of the changes initially, although clarification was sought on drivers giving way to pedestrians when turning left. 

King said: "In terms of hierarchy of road users... we even tried to educated the media, I think that was GB News... who were very very cynical about it and thought the AA would be up in arms, but we managed to put them right there."

He also praised the introduction of a new module in AA and BSM driving schools that educates learner drivers on the new Highway Code changes, and new questions about them that have been added to the driving theory test. 

King also noted how public perception of supposed 'controversial' guidance in the updated Code, such as the advice for cyclists to ride two abreast, is likely different to how it was portrayed in some parts of the media, making mention of error-strewn articles that appeared in publications such as the Daily Mail around the changes last year. 

aa survey screenshot

In the AA's survey of 12,545 drivers conducted in September 2022, 40% said they were more mindful of cyclists than they were a year ago, and 81% agreed with Rule 66, that mentions consideration to those cycling in groups and those riding two abreast for improved safety: "When it's actually explained, you are getting 80-odd per cent agreeing with that," added King. 

89% of the survey participants also agreed with leaving at least 1.5 metres when overtaking a cyclist, and more if overtaking at higher speeds. 

DCS Andy Cox, addressing if the changes had had any impact on reducing road crime, praised the improved clarity on the 1.5 metres minimum passing distance for drivers passing cyclists and the Dutch Reach, but said there needed to be "a broader look" at marketing the changes. 

"I don't really see an effective marketing campaign around it," he said. 

"From an enforcement perspective we don't really see a change. 

"When a cyclist does take the centre ground [of their lane] if the driver is not aware of the Highway Code change, or doesn't sign up to it or buy into it, it arguably creates more risk. 

"For me it still comes back to a fundamental culture challenge around the way we drive. There's too many people prepared to do an overtake which is far too dangerous, they then wait at a junction, wait at a red light, the cyclist catches them up, and it goes on and on and on. 

"Until we really fundamentally deal with that this will always be an issue."

Behavioural scientist Shaun Helman also reiterated the need for effective campaigning alongside any new legislation and guidance, showing how public attitudes to drink driving shifted and coincided with a large reduction (but not complete elimination) of serious or fatal drink driving-related incidents over three decades. 

Perhaps ironically, the one year anniversary of the Highway Code changes brought in to make cycling and walking safer have coincided with the Government slashing the budget for active travel schemes in England, with the meeting ending by requesting that the Department for Transport is questioned on the cuts.

The Walking & Cycling Alliance (WACA), has estimated that two thirds of previously promised funding will be lost, making it “impossible” to meet Net Zero and active travel targets.

Arriving at in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.  

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chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like wrote:

The Walking & Cycling Alliance (WACA), has estimated that two thirds of previously promised funding will be lost, making it “impossible” to meet Net Zero and active travel targets.

The cynic in me says that it would have been equally impossible to meet the targets with the funding - fundamentally there isn't the urgency, the understanding of what needs done and the cash required or frankly the interest from most of our rulers.

Some almost oppose this "taking us back to the stone age / just buy a car because that 'contributes to the economy' " and even those in favour probably see this as a "nice to have".  "Aren't the Green Party in favour of this sort of thing?  How many of them get elected?" they think.

As always I have a small measure of optimism due to the large number of positives to cycling, but it's a task of persuading people to make changes AND overcoming the head-turning power of the huge sums the motoring and energy lobby command.

eburtthebike | 1 year ago

Department for Cars doesn't turn up to a meeting about cycling and walking?  Gosh!

chrisonabike replied to eburtthebike | 1 year ago

Clearly they read about the "war on the motorist", or the "tribalism on the roads", or "camera vigilantes" - and were too terrified to attend with all these entitled, bullying, extremist active travel MPs there...

Alternatively maybe the road haulage association / Jaguar Land Rover / BP had arranged a nice dinner / complimentary tickets for an event that day?

eburtthebike replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like

You're almost as cynical as me!

Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
1 like

In fairness to Laura King it would be nice to know a reason before casting aspertions.

HoldingOn | 1 year ago

8% do not agree to leave at least 1.5m when overtaking a cyclist. In my experience, that would suggest a lot of drivers can not estimate 1.5m
When I was learning to drive, I was taught to treat cyclists like they were the size of cars. It's a little bit more than 1.5m, but much easier to estimate.

Steve K replied to HoldingOn | 1 year ago

Of course, what most of the rest mean is "I agree to leave 1.5m, unless there isn't room and then I'll just squeeze past.  You can't expect me to wait 30 seconds, can you?"

AltBren replied to HoldingOn | 1 year ago

1.5m! Wow that would be nice. I cycle in London, we get (and expect) around 15cm, you get used to it.. when I'm outside of the city I find it odd and uncomfortable when cars stay behind rather than close passing.. it's amazing the risks that you grow to accept as normal.

brooksby | 1 year ago

But does this actually surprise anyone?

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