What are the new Highway Code changes for cyclists?

Cyclist on road at night

By Diane Cooper, Head of Cycling Law Team at Digby Brown

Hopefully we will all now be aware that amendments to the Highway Code came into force on Saturday, 29 January, 2022.  

I welcome these long overdue changes to the Highway Code and the effect that this will have on the cycling community in particular.  

The Highway Code already recognised cyclists and pedestrians as vulnerable road users. The  new Highway Code changes have simply taken this one step further and established a clear hierarchy of road users to make roads safer. This serves to provide greater clarity of the responsibilities and vulnerabilities associated amongst all road users, highlighting that people cycling and walking are the most vulnerable.  

These changes provide specific guidance and rules that each category of road user must adhere to and sets the standard drivers and motorcyclists ought to adhere to when sharing the road with a cyclist.  

It emphasises that drivers and motorcyclists need to give way to cyclists when cyclists are approaching, passing or moving off from a junction, moving past or waiting alongside stationery or slower moving traffic and travelling around a roundabout.

Are cyclists expected to cycle in the centre of the road?

The Highway Code changes for cyclists also provides guidance as to the road position that should adopt whilst cycling upon a shared carriageway. 

There has been much discussion and “fake news” on social media and online surrounding the proposition that cyclists ought to ride in the centre of the carriageway in situations such as slower moving traffic, at the approach to junctions or road narrowings.  

This is by no means a novel change.  

There are a number of reasons why it is not and has never been the safest practice for a cyclist to cycle to the near side of the carriageways. 

Riding in the gutter can put a cyclist at risk from manhole covers and debris which can result in punctures and accidents. It also leaves the cyclist nowhere to go if a pothole appears in their path. In addition, a motorist may be tempted to overtake when it may not be safe to do so, for example a car may be travelling in the opposite direction or the cyclist could be approaching a traffic island where there would be insufficient space for a driver to safely overtake. 

In these situations it is often more appropriate for the cyclist to move their road position to the centre of the lane to prevent an unsafe overtaking manoeuvre. 

Safe gap when passing cyclist

The revised Highway Code rules now specifies that drivers and motorcyclists should now leave a minimum of 1.5 metres when overtaking a cyclist whilst travelling at a speed up to 30mph. It further advises that more space should be provided whilst overtaking at higher speeds. Again this is not a new concept and it has always been a generally accepted requirement that anything closer than 1.5 metres has been considered to be a close pass. In the past year many Police Authorities have participated in a covert police operation’ “Operation Close Pass.” 

This involved undercover police officers patrolling the roads on bicycles to identify driver behaviour. Drivers who were found to overtake without leaving a minimum distance of 1.5 metres were stopped and often subject to criminal sanctions. 

It became apparent that many motors were unaware of what constituted a safe overtaking distance and further education was required.  

Introduction of this into the Highway Code is a real positive step for cyclists and motorists alike. Not only does this serve to educate road users and thus protect the cyclist, it also serves to protect the car driver from criminal prosecution and protect them from unintentionally causing harm to the cyclist. 

Roundabouts 'hotspot' for cycling accidents

Roundabouts can be confusing for all road users. As a personal injury solicitor we know that roundabouts are accident “hotspots.” As a cyclist, a roundabout is a particular danger zone. 

The revised Highway Code integrates the hierarchy of road users into roundabout traffic control. It stipulates that motorists and motorcyclists now require to prioritise cyclists on a roundabout. 

No attempts should be made to overtake a cyclist within that cyclist’s lane and the motorist should give way to cyclists and allow them to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout.  

The Revised Code also permits the cyclist to stay in the nearside lane as they travels around the roundabout, however the cyclist must signal his/her attention to other vehicles. 

People cycling at junctions

Similarly, the Highway Code changes clarifies driver behaviour whilst approaching, passing through or moving off from a junction. 

Priority to cyclist going straight ahead at junctions, unless road signs or marking say otherwise. The changes, do not detract from the fact that every road user including the cyclist has a duty to use the road safely with consideration to other road users. Cyclists are asked to watch for drivers planning on turning across their path, as drivers ahead may not be able to see them. 

There is mention of special cycle facilities at certain junctions where smaller cycle traffic lights are at eye-level. These can allow people cycling to cycle separately from traffic, ore before them. Cyclists are being encouraged to use these if it is safer and easier. 

If there is no separate cycling lanes at junctions, it is recommended that cyclist position themselves in the centre of the lane where they feel it is safe to do so, ensuring they are as visible as possible and avoid being overtaken dangerously. 

Dangers of car doors opening

Another source of accident is with passing parked vehicles when a car door opens.  

The Highway Code now specifies that cyclists should leave a door’s width or one metre when passing a parked vehicle to avoid them being hit if a car door opens.  

Additionally, the new dutch reach method means that drivers and passengers must reach to open a car door using their hand on the opposite side of their body, forcing them to look over their shoulder for any passers by.

Cycling filtering

There has also been a misconception that cyclists are not entitled to filter, however the changes to the code reinstates that cyclists may pass slower moving or stationery traffic to either their right or left. It also places emphasises that the cyclist should proceed with caution and be aware that drivers of large good vehicles may not be able to see the cyclist at all times.  

Cycling in groups

Cyclists have always been permitted to cycle two a breast and indeed in many scenarios it is often safer to do so. This is particularly true when you have a large group of cyclists. It is safer for a motorist to cycle a small bunch than a strung out length of cyclist. 

The code does emphasise that in a similar vein, cyclists should show consideration to drivers and motorcyclists travelling behind them and allow them to overtake when it is safe for them to do so.

Give way to pedestrians

Another important consideration for the cyclist and the revised Highway Code is for the road cyclist to be aware that a pedestrian is deemed to be more vulnerable road user than a cyclists. 

Cyclists are now required to give way to pedestrians on a shared use pedestrian/cycle lane. Cyclists should not pass pedestrians closely or at speed.  

The code also specifies that cyclists are required to slow down when necessary to give way to pedestrians and also to let them know that they are there. When turning into or out of a side road, cyclists should give way to people walking or waiting to cross.  

It should also be remembered that pedestrians walking maybe deaf, blind or partially sighted.  

I hope these changes take a step forward for road safety as a whole, not just for cyclists. These rules encourage cyclists and other road users alike to be considerate of each other. Where possible, cyclists should allow others to overtake when it is safe to do so and make themselves as visible as possible to minimise any danger.