Major changes to the Highway Code that would introduce a new hierarchy of road users to give extra protection for cyclists could be brought in by spring next year, Transport Network understands.
The Department for Transport has declined to commit to an exact schedule as it is 'very much reliant on Parliamentary time' a spokesman said.
This is despite the Government already making other changes to the Highway Code over the summer prompting fears the complexity and potential politics of the move to reform the cycling rules could have seen the DfT deprioritise it.
Sector interest group Cycling UK has spoken to the DfT about the reforms and suggested they had been assured they would go ahead next year.
Duncan Dollimore (Cycling UK head of campaigns), said: 'The Department of Transport has indicated that it plans to put the statutory instrument before parliament before Christmas. Once this happens, it will still be a couple of months before the new code would be in force.
'If these plans proceed according to this timetable, the earliest we will see the updated Highway Code come into force would be February or March.'
The move has been over three years in the making and was first conceived in 2018 with the outcome of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy safety review, which announced plans to review the Code to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
Then with the publication of the Government's Gear Change document in July 2020, ministers launched a consultation that covered the following three changes known as H1, H2, and H3:
- H1 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
- H2 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
- H3 ensures cyclists have priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead
Following the consultation, the Government confirmed it would introduce 'all the proposed changes' with some amendments to the wording.
In accordance with section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, ministers must lay the revised version of The Highway Code before both House of Parliament for a period of 40 days.
If Parliament agrees to the proposed changes being made, the Department for Transport said it would work with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to update The Highway Code.
Consultation and amendments:
The consultation produced 21,000 responses with strong opinions on both sides, which the Government outlined in its response.
On the issue of the new hierarchy, the Government said: 'The proposed introduction of the hierarchy of road users on responsibility (new Rule H1) was widely supported with 79% agreeing with its introduction.'
It added that the Government would 'seek to introduce Rule H1 with amendments to the wording to emphasise that all road users have a responsibility for their own safety'.
The introduction of new Rule H2 on pedestrian right of way was supported by 75% of respondents.
Respondents raised concerns the rule puts the onus on drivers and riders to predict pedestrian behaviour and it could be that the pedestrian has no intention of crossing and it could facilitate 'a false sense of security that could put pedestrians at risk'.
The Government said: 'Safety of all road users is paramount so we will consider the wording in light of this feedback to ensure that pedestrians are not putting themselves at risk.'
The Government found 89% agreed with the rule but some respondents felt it would 'put the lives of cyclists at risk as it gives priority to cyclists passing on the inside of a vehicle waiting to turn left, or to overtake a vehicle waiting to turn right on the outside'.
'Further analysis indicated that Rule H3 could put too much burden on the drivers of vehicles to spot cyclists, who do not always wear hi-viz clothing or accessories. They felt that cyclists could be easy to miss when checking mirrors, particularly if they were in a blind spot, especially of larger vehicles. This is a particular concern for cyclists passing on the inside of larger vehicles.'
Department for Transport officials promised to evaluate the wording and consider 'how education and communications can play a part in ensuring the safety of cyclists passing to the left'.
Motorway safety changes
Elsewhere National Highways has brought about changes to motorway safety in the wake of concerns around smart motorways. The changes came into effect on 14 September and give clearer advice on:
- where to stop in an emergency
- the importance of not driving in a lane closed by a Red X
- how variable speed limits are used to keep traffic flowing.