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Thoughts on the 2022 Highway Code Changes

Earlier this month we met with representatives of the Department for Infrastructure to discuss Driver Training and the implementation of the latest changes to the Highway Code which were adopted in Great Britain in January 2022. DfI are currently reviewing those changes with a view to making a recommendation to Minister John O'Dowd to modify the Northern Ireland Highway Code (which is different to the rest of the UK on account of differing topography) later this year.

We were asked to provide some feedback on those changes. Here it is. I would suggest you click on the first link prior to reading the rest of this blog to familiarise yourself with the changes.

1. Hierarchy of road users

This is quite critical: it places the onus for taking care of vulnerable road users on the bigger vehicles in the pecking order but it does not remove the need for vulnerable road users to be observant.

Rule H1: OK

Rule H2: This could cause a number of accidents when turning off a main road into a side road because following drivers might not expect a turning car to come to a complete stop because of a pedestrian waiting to cross the side road.

Rule H3 must be drilled into drivers: stop cutting up cyclists as you turn right!

2. People crossing the road at junctions

See comment on rule H2 above: Car drivers should yield to pedestrians already on the road but pedestrians also must be mindful of traffic flow.

We would note that pedestrian priority at Zebra crossings must be more strictly enforced.

3. Walking, cycling or riding in shared spaces

Users of shared paths must be made aware that compromise and tolerance from all users are required: "People cycling, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle should respect the safety of people walking in these spaces, but people walking should also take care not to obstruct or endanger them."

Tolerance works both ways!

4. Positioning in the road when cycling

This important point needs to be explained in detail to the public as many drivers have no understanding of the issues cyclists face (potholes, drain covers, white lines - all of which can become lethal in the wet, parked cars, blind bends like in the photo etc).

Cyclists riding in groups need to be aware of following traffic bunching up behind them and periodically should allow following traffic to pass, just like tractors or slow-moving caravans.

5. Overtaking when driving or cycling

The distances given are OK in theory, not so in practice as drivers will only remember "1.5m", not the "at speeds up to 30mph" qualifier, nor the subclause "giving them more space when overtaking at higher speeds."

We would prefer this to be modified to read, "Give cyclists at least one car width of space when passing, and as much as possible at higher speeds."

This photo illustrates our point well: the driver could easily have moved over another foot but chose not to.

Also, buses and HGVs need to be aware of the wind blast their vehicles generate during an overtake: they must not pull out just one vehicle length before passing a cyclist.

Flashing front bicycle lights might spook horses a cyclist encounters. Cyclists should put a hand over the light until they have passed the horse.

The rest of that section is ok.

6. People cycling at junctions

As with Rule H2, this could lead to confusion and potential accidents. Both cyclists and pedestrians must be observant. The current text leaves too much leeway for pedestrians not to be observant.

7. People cycling, riding a horse and driving horse-drawn vehicles on roundabouts

This is restating the obvious: "The code has been updated to clarify that people driving or riding a motorcycle should give priority to people cycling on roundabouts."

Traffic on a roundabout always has had priority. Anyone not realising that cyclists on a roundabout are fully-fledged road users to whom priority should be given should not be driving in the first place.

8. Parking, charging and leaving vehicles

This needs stronger language. Make Dutch Reach compulsory and convict drivers dooring cyclists of careless driving.

In conclusion, with a few minor amendments the 2022 Highway Code changes would make Northern Ireland roads safer for vulnerable road users. The difficulty facing the Department for Infrastructure is how to raise awareness of these changes among road users. A multi-channel advertising campaign could address successully the fragmentation of information consumption that we have observed over the past few years.

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