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Highway Code changes: ‘What about cyclists, or do the rules not apply to them?’

Our recent article on the new version prompted an inbox full of whataboutery ... so here are the answers

Our recent article on changes to the Highway Code due to come into effect next month and aimed at protecting vulnerable road users prompted a number of emails from people asking, in effect, when would cyclists be subject to similar rules as motorists?

> Highway Code changes aimed at protecting cyclists to become law next month

It’s true that much of the discussion to the forthcoming revisions has focused on issues such as the introduction of a Hierarchy of Road Users in favour of the most vulnerable, plus recommending that drivers leave a minimum passing distance of 1.5 metres when overtaking a cyclist.

Today, however, we’re answering some of the most common ‘What about … ’ questions we’ve received in our mailbox by looking at some of the changes that are directed at you, as a cyclist, and how they differ from the existing version.

(As a side note, one thing that is clear from those emails is that there are a lot of people who are entirely unfamiliar with the Highway Code as it stands right now, and even less so with the changes being made to it).

> A lot of motorists really aren't happy about impending changes to the Highway Code 

Rules for cyclists will continue to form Rules 59 to 82 of the Highway Code when the new version, laid before Parliament a fortnight ago, comes into force in January.

However, some of those rules and advice to riders have been combined, some new ones have been introduced, and there is a lot of rephrasing and rewriting in between – often, simply to provide extra clarity, but also in certain cases going much farther.

Let‘s start with one question typically raised about cyclists using the road quite lawfully, but perhaps the most misunderstood issue by many motorists.

"Why are cyclists riding two abreast when they have to ride single file?"

Currently, Rule 66 says, amongst other things, that cyclists

… should … never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends …

That has been extensively reworded, thanks in part to the input of cycling campaigners during the consultation phase, and makes it clear that riding two abreast is permitted and can, in fact be safer for riders. Here’s the new version:

Be considerate of the needs of other road users when riding in groups. You can ride two abreast and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders. Be aware of drivers behind you and allow them to overtake (for example, by moving into single file or stopping) when you feel it is safe to let them do so.

"Cyclists should be made to wear hi-vis clothing and banned from riding in dark clothes"

The current version of the Highway Code says that cyclists

… should wear … light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light

That has now been toned down to read:

Light-coloured or fluorescent clothing can help other road users to see you in daylight and poor light, while reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) can increase your visibility in the dark.

"Cyclists are a danger to pedestrians"

The Hierarchy of Road Users introduced in the new version is aimed at ensuring that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others – meaning that in terms of interactions between cyclists and pedestrians, the onus is on cyclists.

There are a couple of rules in the new version that explicitly address situations in which cyclists are sharing space with pedestrians. Rule 62, for example, says in part that on

… shared use routes, you should always take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older adults or disabled people, and allow them plenty of room. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary.

Meanwhile, new Rule 63 says:

Sharing space with pedestrians, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles.
When riding in places where sharing with pedestrians, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles is permitted, take care when passing pedestrians and horse riders, especially children, older adults or disabled people. Slow down when necessary and let them know you are there; for example, by ringing your bell (it is recommended that a bell is fitted to your bike), or by calling out politely.
Remember that pedestrians may be deaf, blind or partially sighted and that this may not be obvious.
Do not pass pedestrians, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles closely or at high speed, particularly from behind. You should not pass a horse on their left. Remember that horses can be startled if passed without warning. Always be prepared to slow down and stop when necessary.

And on a similar point, and again in line with the Hierarchy of Road Users, part of Rule 74 makes clear that pedestrians have priority at junctions:

When turning into or out of a side road, you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross.

"Cyclists should be banned from riding in the middle of the road"

Among the new rules being introduced are two which aim to give cyclists clearer guidance and advice on road positioning and at junctions, the first of which makes clear that primary position is preferable for safety reasons in a number of specific situations.

New Rule 72 Road positioning.
When riding on the roads, there are two basic road positions you should adopt, depending on the situation.
1. Ride in the centre of your lane, to make yourself as clearly visible as possible, in the following situations:
• on quiet roads or streets – if a faster vehicle comes up behind you, move to the left to enable them to overtake, if you can do so safely
• in slower-moving traffic - when the traffic around you starts to flow more freely, move over to the left if you can do so safely so that faster vehicles behind you can overtake
• at the approach to junctions or road narrowings where it would be unsafe for drivers to overtake you
2. When riding on busy roads, with vehicles moving faster than you, allow them to overtake where it is safe to do so whilst keeping at least 0.5 metres away, and further where it is safer, from the kerb edge. Remember that traffic on most dual carriageways moves quickly. Take extra care crossing slip roads.

New Rule 73 Junctions.
Some junctions, particularly those with traffic lights, have special cycle facilities, including small cycle traffic lights at eye-level height, which may allow you to move or cross separately from or ahead of other traffic. Use these facilities where they make your journey safer and easier.
At junctions with no separate cyclist facilities, it is recommended that you proceed as if you were driving a motor vehicle (see Rules 170 to 190). Position yourself in the centre of your chosen lane, where you feel able to do this safely, to make yourself as visible as possible and to avoid being overtaken where this would be dangerous. If you do not feel safe to proceed in this way, you may prefer to dismount and wheel your bike across the junction.

Finally, a number of other correspondents said that the Highway Code should make clear that cyclists should stop at red lights, and we’re very happy to help clarify that one. Rule 69, which remains unchanged, states:

You MUST obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals.

Full details of the forthcoming changes to the Highway Code can be found in a document published by the Department for Transport (DfT) entitled Table of Changes to the Highway Code, and we would strongly recommend reading through the old and new wordings of Rules 59-82.

The document shows before and after versions of the rules, side-by-side. The existing wording is in the left-hand column with deletions highlighted in yellow, while the new version is in the right-hand column with additions highlighted in grey.

And while this article has focused on some of the new and existing rules for cyclists, it is worth bearing in mind that the prime reason for the changes is to provide additional protection to vulnerable road users, as the DfT points out in its document laid before Parliament under the title Explanatory Memorandum to the Revision of the Highway Code Introduction and Rules to Improve Road Safety for Cyclists, Pedestrians and Horse Riders.

In that Explanatory Memorandum, the DfT says:

The alterations seek to improve road safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders who are the most at risk when using the road and provide clarity, particularly on driver responsibility, on existing guidance.

It adds:

The proposed alterations to The Code improve the guidance provided on many aspects of driver interaction with those most at risk on the road, tackling the safety issues that the most vulnerable groups face, or perceive to face, when travelling on our roads.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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