Revised UK Highway Code rules give cyclists and pedestrians priority over drivers

A cyclist with a red jacket out of focus, cycling next to a parked car and a telephone box
(Image credit: Unsplash)

As of Saturday 29 January, new revisions to the UK Highway Code will come into effect, which prioritizes the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. While the changes are widely being welcomed by cyclists and cycling activists, a recent AA poll suggests that very few drivers are aware of the changes. Even more troubling, the poll suggested that a small percentage (one in 25) motorists have ‘no intention’ of looking up the revisions.

The revisions to the Highway Code make it very clear that cyclists and pedestrians will have right of way, and also provides instructions for cyclists to ride defensively on the roads. Drivers will take on more responsibility to be aware of cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders, while cyclists will have more responsibility to be aware of pedestrians.

A cyclist on a BMX carrying a plastic shopping bag and cycling on the inside of a queue of London black cabs

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Key Highway Code revisions coming into effect on Saturday 29 January

Mandatory 1.5m 

According to the updated Highway Code, drivers must leave at least 1.5 meters of space when overtaking cyclists.

Riding two abreast

While cycling abreast has always been legal, previously the Highway Code only stipulated that “you should never ride more than two abreast”. With the upcoming revisions, it will now be made clearer that cycling two abreast “can be safer”.

Taking the lane
Cyclists will now be actively encouraged to ride defensively, taking the middle of the lane when in slow-moving traffic, on quiet streets, when approaching junctions, and where the road narrows “where it would be unsafe for drivers to overtake them”. It also advises that cyclists move over to the left “if a faster vehicle comes up behind them, but only if they can do so safely”.

A female cyclist wearing a hijab, cycling in a quiet, pedestrianised area with pedestrians in the foreground

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Priority at junctions

Motorists will now have to give way to pedestrians crossing at junctions before turning in. In addition to this they are clearly told not to cut across cyclists and horse riders to turn into or out of a junction. They must also give cyclists priority when using roundabouts.

Dutch Reach technique

Drivers are recommended to use the Dutch Reach technique when opening car doors, something that, as the name suggests, is common practice in Holland where cycling is much more normalized and widespread as a mode of transport. 

The technique consists of using the hand furthest from the door to open it, which results in turning the body to look over the shoulder, and increases the chance of seeing an oncoming cyclist before opening the door.

A female cyclist waiting in the middle of a road to turn right into a full lane of traffic

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Government ‘too silent’ in promoting the changes

With the changes due to take effect in less than a week, the UK Government has been accused of not promoting them widely enough. With a recent poll of 13,700 motorists conducted for the AA, one third claimed to not know that the Highway Code was being updated, and a further 4 percent stated they had ‘no intention’ of looking up the changes.

Jack Cousens, AA Head of Roads Policy, said “While the government formally announced these changes last summer, they have been far too silent in promoting them”.

Meanwhile, Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns at Cycling UK, said “The changes to the Highway Code will happen overnight, so it is frustrating official communications come only after their introduction.

“That helps no one - neither the walkers and cyclists the rules are meant to protect, nor the drivers who are somehow meant to telepathically know about them.

“These are fundamental changes about the way we use our roads, it's essential we have a long-term well-funded public awareness campaign to make that change happen”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport insists that the revisions “were announced to national press”, but there is no mention of them on the department’s website, or the social media accounts of the Think! road safety campaign.

Mildred Locke
Freelance writer

Mildred previously worked as a review writer for Bike Perfect. She enjoys everything from road cycling to mountain biking, but is a utilitarian cyclist at heart. Determined to do everything on two wheels, she's even moved house by bike, and can regularly be found pedaling around Bristol and its surrounding areas. She’s spent over four years volunteering as a mechanic and workshop coordinator at the Bristol Bike Project, and now sits on its board of directors. Her expertise comes from previously working in a bike shop and learning the ins and outs of the industry, and she's previously written for a variety of cycling publications, including Bikeradar, Cycling Plus, Singletrack, Red Bull, Cycling UK and Total Women's Cycling. At home on slicks and knobblies alike, her ideal ride covers long distances through remote countryside, on mixed terrain that offers a bit of crunch, followed by a gourmet campfire meal and an overnight bivvy beneath the stars.

Rides: Stayer Groadinger UG, Triban RC520 Women's Disc, Genesis Flyer, Marin Larkspur, Cotic BFe 26, Clandestine custom bike

Height: 156cm (5'2")

Weight: 75kg