New pecking orders

A new hierarchy of road users

The proposals for changes to the Highway Code were published yesterday. These may look like small tweaks but they point to something more significant.

Hierarchy of Road Users’ and new Rule H1 which ensures that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to other road users. The objective of the hierarchy is not to give priority to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders in every situation but rather to ensure a more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use that benefits all users.

new Rule H3 which places a requirement on drivers to give priority to cyclists when they are turning into or out of a junction, or changing direction or lane, just as they would to other motor vehicles


This is a move toward the approach in France, Netherlands etc of presumed liability where, in an accident involving a car and cyclist, the responsibility/liability lies with the car driver. It was seen in these countries as instrumental in reducing the number of accidents and culture shift toward cycling. However, the new change recognises “the need for everyone to behave responsibly”.

Worth noting that this places pedestrians above cyclists - so maybe stay off the footpaths at the coffee stop and take it easy through parks and pedestrianised areas.

Here’s the new normal

WALKERS –> CYCLISTS –> HORSE-RIDERS –> CARS (in that order, according to vulnerability).

Helmets & 2 abreast

If you cycle regularly you’ll be aware of the ambiguity around the effectiveness of helmets and where and when you can cycle 2 abreast.
Finally - we get some clear guidance - more specifically, drivers who like shouting out their windows get some clarification.

The code changes  from:
You should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulation
evidence suggests that wearing a cycle helmet will reduce your risk of sustaining a head injury in certain circumstances

This acknowledges that compulsory helmet wearing sends out a signal that cycling is dangerous - it’s not. It also acknowledges that they are ineffective in protecting users from dangerous driving. Helmet wearing is now an individual choice (events/clubs will have a separate policies).

The code changes from:
ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends
When riding in larger groups on narrow lanes, it is sometimes safer to ride two abreast

The enables cyclists - particularly in rural parts of the country - to prevent vehicles from passing where there is clearly no room to pass – and allowing them to pass when the road allows. It takes some confidence and experience to hold off a Land Rover pulling a horse box, but that's now encouraged.

All this has still to be confirmed and when it does a focused advertising campaign will be required to make all road users aware of the new pecking order.

Take away:

  • bikes have priority over cars;
  • cycle helmets aren’t compulsory;
  • riding 2 abreast is encouraged.

Also, worth noting that Northern Ireland "follows" the GB Highway Code - these new changes to the code have to be adopted into the NI code.

Image © Amelia Wells