Thursday, January 27, 2022

Differing Views on Highway Code Changes with Fears of More Rather Than Less Accidents

Ignorance of Changes and Stiffer Penalties May Endanger the Vulnerable More
Shipping News Feature

UK – In August last year when the government published its first response to its consultation on the future status of vulnerable road users via proposed changes to the existing Highway Code we wrote how the changes had been opposed by the road freight lobby which opined that compulsory training for professional drivers already ensured they were well versed in how to deal with such matters.

Now, with the changes to the Highway Code to become mandatory in just two days’ time, a study of 1,000 drivers by consumer legal services company, Slater and Gordon (S+G) has showed that 56% of respondents could not correctly identify what the new rules are, leaving them at significant risk of prosecution. With up to six penalty points added for each breach of the rules, this leaves those that drive for a living at serious risk of losing their license.

The changes fundamentally affect the status of such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders giving them priority over vehicle users for the first time. Under the latest changes, drivers will have to give priority to such vulnerable road users who are waiting to cross a road the driver wishes to turn into, which many experienced drivers will view as giving extra risk, particularly from vehicles behind them should they need to stop suddenly.

This is particularly problematical for the drivers of high sided lorries and vans, should they pull up suddenly having only spotted a potential ‘crosser’ whose presence might be obscured, no following driver will be aware of any risk. Under the new hierarchy of road users, pedestrians are placed at the top, followed by cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists and cars. Vans, HGVs and buses find themselves at the bottom of the list and, alarmingly, S+G research shows that only 44% of people are aware that the rules are changing.

For those aware of the changes, two in five drivers (39%) said they would turn into the road as they believe it is their right of way, meaning they would be liable in the event of an accident. Almost one in five (18%) believe that under the new rules, pedestrians are to be placed at the bottom of the hierarchy. This however comes as no surprise as 23% admit to not having looked at the Highway Code in at least a decade. Tracey Benson, Head of Serious Injury at Slater and Gordon, said:

“The changes to the Highway Code help to protect all road users by granting the most priority to the most vulnerable users. As pedestrians are more likely to suffer serious injury, they are now placed at the top. The changes together with the fines it is hoped will raise awareness and lead to a decrease in serious injuries and fatalities on our roads.

”The increased danger comes from a lack of awareness of these significant changes. It is crucial all road users educate themselves about the new hierarchy and how they now need to conduct themselves whilst using the road. Failure to do so could quickly result in a driving ban and significant fines, never mind injuries to other road users. It’s essential to stay up to date with the Highway Code, no matter how long you’ve been driving and not to be complacent.”

Accidents are rarely as clear cut as the rules suggest and many a professional driver will take issue with the S+G view believing that additional accidents may be caused and the danger will not so much come from ignorance of the rules, but rather by the inconsistencies they throw up. The use of in cab recorders will be even more important now as it may be the only evidence of who was exactly at fault in the case of a serious accident. The new additional rules include:

  • All traffic must stop for pedestrians waiting to cross
  • Cars indicating to turn left or right must give way to cyclists coming from behind and going straight on
  • Cyclists can ride wherever they feel safest, even if that is in the middle of the road
  • Drivers must wait for cyclists to pass and treat as if the cyclist is a motor vehicle
  • Poor driving decisions are more punishable with local authorities able to prosecute driving in box junctions and failure to give way