Highway Code changes put onus on HGV drivers for cyclists' safety

Aug 06 | 2021

Changes to the Highway Code that will create a hierarchy of responsibility for road users are expected to be ratified by the UK government later this year. ​

The proposals, which are intended to make the roads safer for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists, follow a 12-week consultation in 2020 that received almost 21,000 responses from a wide range of respondents.

The consultation document posed a series of proposals which covered the following three subjects:

  • Introducing a hierarchy of road users to ensure those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.
  • Clarifying existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements and that drivers and riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road.
  • Establishing guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists or horse riders and ensuring they have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead.

The proposed hierarchy places pedestrians at the top of the list and the heaviest and potentially most lethal road users at the bottom.

The hierarchy would be:

  • Pedestrians;
  • Cyclists;
  • Horse riders;
  • Motorcyclists;
  • Cars/taxis;
  • Vans/minibusses;
  • Large passenger vehicles/HGVs.

The hierarchy was widely supported with 79% agreeing with its introduction. There were concerns raised, particularly from road haulage and freight companies, that larger vehicles would automatically be held liable in the event of a road collision with a road user higher up the hierarchy. However, the Department for Transport said the introduction of the rule does not detract from the requirements for everyone to behave responsibly.

There were concerns raised that the changes could lead to cyclists and pedestrians taking greater risks when using the roads, believing that the onus for their safety rests with others.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) is extremely concerned about the proposed changes.  

RHA Chief Executive Richard Burnett said, “As far as we can see, there is little, if any, justification for these changes.”

“The new priority rules for cycling are wrong. We have been campaigning for years to make cyclists aware of the dangers of undertaking turning HGVs but it now appears that they have right of way.  This will encourage a known unsafe manoeuvre by cyclists who are then absolved of responsibility for their actions towards motorists.”

Richard continued, “Making a driver (motorist or commercial vehicle driver) who has no control over how a cyclist is trained to use the roads responsible for the safety of others is inherently unjust. The rules around pedestrian priority make sense, the change for cyclists increases road danger and collision risk.”

“The hierarchy of risk created by the operation of cars, vans, coaches, buses and lorries is already reflected in the additional ongoing training undertaken by lorry and coach drivers,” said Richard.

The new rules will apply in England, Scotland and Wales and are expected to come into effect in the autumn.  However, as most drivers never read the Highway Code after passing their driving test, communicating the message will be crucial to its successful implementation. A nationwide government PR campaign and inclusion in Driver CPC training are possible options. 

In a country struggling to find HGV drivers the new rules are likely to be a further disincentive to anyone thinking of joining the profession.