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The Commissioner discusses recent changes to the Highway Code

The Commissioner discusses recent changes to the Highway Code

As you may know, some pretty significant changes to the Highway Code have come into force recently and I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss them, particularly in light of some mixed media reports over the past few weeks.

Road safety is something that effects every single one of us.  Whether you’re a car driver, cyclist, pedestrian, biker, bus passenger or someone who drives for a living, ensuring our roads are safe benefits absolutely everyone.

As I’ve mentioned before, road safety is one of four central pillars to my police and crime plan for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. As part of this commitment, I am also chairman of the Vision Zero South West road safety partnership – which aims to half all serious collisions in Devon and Cornwall by 2030 - as well as the national APCC lead for roads policing and safety.

So, as someone with ‘skin in the game’, I welcome the recent changes to the Highway Code which provide some really clear guidance where once the rules were a bit woolly.

The most notable amendment is the introduction of a new hierarchy of road users which gives some much-needed, common sense clarity.  In short, those who have potential to cause the most harm – such as drivers of larger vehicles – now have more responsibility to reduce the threat they pose to more vulnerable road users.

Pedestrians, who are most likely to be injured in the event of a collision, sit at the top of the hierarchy. They are followed by cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists, cars, vans and large passenger or heavy goods vehicles. As a result, the law places more responsibility on drivers to watch out for pedestrians, cyclists or horseriders.

Other major changes to the code include clearer and stronger priorities for pedestrians. Aimed at motorists, horse riders and cyclists, the code now states that, at a junction, you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which you are turning. Previously, vehicles had priority at a junction.

Cyclists should give way to pedestrians on shared-use cycle tracks and are reminded that only pedestrians can use the pavement. Pedestrians are allowed to use cycle tracks unless there’s a road sign nearby that says doing so is prohibited.

The code also now states that drivers and motorcyclists should not cut across cyclists when turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane. This rule applies whether the cyclist ahead is using a cycle lane, a cycle track or simply riding on the road ahead.

Vision Zero South West has created a great quiz which helps explain some of the most notable changes. You can find the quiz on their website here https://visionzerosouthwest.co.uk/highway-code-changes-quiz/ or by visiting the Vision Zero South West Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. For details on more of the changes to the Highway Code visit www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code

I’ve been amazed by some of the responses I’ve seen to these changes – both in the national press and on social media. There seems to be a real animosity towards some of the changes, particularly those surrounding cyclists.

I want to take this opportunity to remind people that the roads are there for everyone - we need to share them and respect all other road users.

In Devon and Cornwall, 44 people were killed and 624 people were seriously injured in 2020 (the most recent official figures available). Of those killed or seriously injured, 196 were motorcyclists, 96 were pedestrians and 78 were cyclists.

As we move forward to a brighter, more sustainable future, walking and cycling will become increasingly popular and it’s vital that people have confidence to feel they are able to stay safe from harm.

Unfortunately, cyclists and pedestrians are also the most vulnerable to death or serious injury from drivers of motor vehicles. The new hierarchy sets out very clearly those who have most responsibility when it comes to reducing the risk of harm to these vulnerable road users.

Vision Zero South West’s entire purpose is to dramatically reduce all deaths and serious injuries on the roads of Devon and Cornwall by tackling the issue of road safety from all angles and with the help of all of our partners.

While we are doing everything within our power to work towards our ambitious target, we can only achieve our aims with the help of all our residents and communities.

There are some really simple things you can do to help keep everyone safe, including yourself.

Leave more time for journeys so if you do get held up, you won’t be late or feel agitated while driving. Be patient with other road users, everyone is just trying to get from A to B. And if you do overtake another road user, make sure you do it on a safe stretch of road where you can leave plenty of space between you and them – particularly if they are a cyclist of horserider.

For more information, visit www.visionzerosouthwest.co.uk