What Are the Main Changes to The Highway Code?

The three biggest updates to The Highway Code affect who has right of way and who’s responsible for safety in various situations. They’re known as Rules H1, H2 and H3:
• Rule H1 sets a hierarchy of responsibility for various types of road user
• Rule H2 expands and clarifies right of way for pedestrians
• Rule H3 gives cyclists more similar rights to vehicle drivers
Rule H1: New hierarchy of road users
The biggest change to The Highway Code sets a hierarchy of responsibility for different road users. Heavier, potentially more dangerous vehicles now have greater responsibility to control the risk they pose.
The new hierarchy of road users is:
1. Pedestrians
2. Cyclists
3. Horse riders
4. Motorcyclists
5. Car and taxi drivers
6. Van and minibus drivers
7. Large passenger vehicles and HGV drivers
Lighter or more vulnerable road users still have to be aware of any danger they might represent. Not even pedestrians are fully exempt from responsibility under the new rules.
Rule H2: Priority for pedestrians at junctions
The 2022 Highway Code changes implement the new hierarchy of road users by clarifying the right of way in various situations:
• Pedestrians waiting to cross at junctions now have right of way over vehicles. Under the old rules, drivers took priority
• Pedestrians also now have right of way at zebra crossings
• Both pedestrians and cyclists now have right of way over vehicles at parallel crossings
• Pedestrians have right of way over cyclists on shared-use cycle tracks
• Only pedestrians can use the pavement, not cyclists (this rule isn’t new but it’s stressed as a reminder)
• Pedestrians are free to walk on cycle tracks unless there’s clear signage saying they can’t
Rule H3: Priority for cyclists in some conditions
The new rules give cyclists right of way over vehicles lower down the hierarchy if they are:
• Passing slow-moving or stationary traffic
• Waiting in slow-moving or stationary traffic
• Approaching, passing, or coming off a junction
• Using a roundabout
If a driver is turning into or out of a junction, changing direction or changing lane, they now shouldn’t cut across cyclists or horse riders who are travelling straight ahead. Drivers also shouldn’t turn into a junction if doing so would cause a cyclist or horse rider to stop or swerve. They should wait for a safe gap.
If that all sounds familiar, it’s because the new rules give cyclists the same rights as all other road vehicles in these situations.
What other changes are being made to the Highway Code?
The 2022 updates to The Highway Code include eight brand-new rules and 49 amendments to existing rules. Some of these are relatively minor updates. Other than rules H1, H2 and H3, you’re most likely to hear about:
• Opening car doors using the Dutch reach
• Wider passing distances for at-risk road users
• Guidelines for where cyclists ride on the road
Using the Dutch reach to open car doors
Car drivers and passengers should now open doors using the hand that’s farthest from the door; drivers use their left hand and passengers use their right. This so-called ‘Dutch reach’ makes you look over your shoulder so you’re more likely to see any cyclists behind you.
Hundreds of cyclists are injured each year when they hit a car door that was opened by someone who didn’t see them coming. You don’t want to be that someone, so learn to love the Dutch reach.
Expanded passing distances for vulnerable road users
Cyclists, motorcyclists, horse riders, and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles are now entitled to as much space as all other road users when being overtaken:
• Drivers should leave at least 1.5m when travelling under 30mph and 2m when they’re going over 30
• Large vehicles should always leave at least 2m of space
• Horses should always be overtaken at less than 15mph with at least 2m of space
• Pedestrians walking on unpaved roads should be overtaken at low speed with 2m of space
Clearer guidelines for cyclists on the road
Cyclists don’t have it all their own way under the new rules. They have to be mindful of updated guidelines for where they position themselves in the road. They should ride in single file if drivers want to overtake but otherwise ride two abreast in groups on narrow lanes.
Cyclists should ride on the left, 0.5m from the curb on busier roads. However, to make themselves safer and more visible, they’re advised to ride in the centre of the lane if:
• The road is quiet or empty
• Traffic is moving slowly
• They’re approaching junctions or narrowing roads
Why has The Highway Code been changed?
The UK Dept for Transport is changing The Highway Code to encourage people to walk and cycle more often. Safety and perception of safety on the road is a big barrier to people who would otherwise opt for healthier, greener modes of transport.
These changes place more emphasis on heavier road users looking out for those who are more vulnerable. They also add clarity for how cyclists should position themselves on the road and expand right of way for pedestrians.
The combination of these changes should give people the confidence to walk or cycle safely for shorter journeys.
What happens if you break The Highway Code?
Not everything in The Highway Code is legally enforceable. A lot of it is guidelines and best practice for how to behave on the road. Despite the new changes to the Code, nothing has changed in UK law.
If a point in the Code says you must or must not do something, it’s generally backed up by a law. If it says you should or should not do something, it’s a good idea to listen but you won’t break the law if you don’t.
But remember, any part of the Code could be cited to make you liable if you end up in an accident or collision. Wherever possible, you want to be following its guidelines as closely as you can.