The Government has announced a consultation to review the Highway Code. This partial review proposes changes to better protect vulnerable road-users such as cyclists, equestrians and pedestrians.

However, motorists are to be given less priority on the roads and have a higher duty to take steps to avoid endangerment, with potential implications for RTA liability and contributory negligence issues.

The consultation will close on 27 October 2020, with a summary of responses expected by the end of January 2021.


News of the review came in late 2018 as part of the Government response to the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Safety Review. The review was principally motivated by emerging technologies, revolutionising transportation and environmental concerns. The changes proposed are also especially relevant to more immediate lifestyle changes that have arisen during the pandemic.

In May this year, the Government reported an increase of up to 70% in the use of bicycles in some areas of the UK. Whether avoiding crowding on public transport or trying out new forms of fitness outside the gym, more people are taking their bikes to the road. To accommodate these developments, some local authorities have taken action to make room on the roads such as installing pop-up cycle lanes.

In parallel to the growing cyclist presence on the roads, the number of personal injury car insurance claims involving cyclists and pedestrians has doubled in recent months. The proposals recognise these developing trends and are an attempt at maintaining road users' safety.

The proposed changes

The three principle additions / amendments are:

A hierarchy of road users

'In any interaction between road users, those who can cause the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they pose to others'.

'This principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, followed by vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles'.

This hierarchy matches those with the greatest potential to cause harm to the greatest responsibility at the base, with those most vulnerable positioned at the top. Priority is given in particular to 'children, older adults and disabled people'. Rather than providing a rock-paper-scissors list of road-users for reference, this hierarchy will rely on each situation and mutual respect between all road-users.

Pedestrian priority

  • In slow moving traffic, drivers should allow pedestrians to cross in front of them.
  • Instead of giving way to pedestrians who have started to cross the road into which a driver is turning into or out of, the driver should also give way when that pedestrian is waiting to cross.
  • Pedestrians may use any part of the road or a cycle track as well as the pavement unless shown otherwise by signs prohibiting it.
  • Road users must give way to pedestrians waiting to cross at zebra and parallel crossings.

Cyclist Priority

The proposed changes include:

  • Cycling two abreast. Cyclists will be able to cycle two abreast where it is safer to do so, unless a car wishes to overtake and it is safe to let them.
  • Cycling in the centre of the lane on quiet roads, in slower moving traffic or on a roundabout when it is safe to do so.
  • The differentiation between a cycle track and a cycle lane by the physical border of separation of a track and the road markings of a lane. Motorists are to give way to cyclists in a cycle lane even as they approach from behind, and not to cut across them. They should also give way to cyclists turning into or out of cycle tracks.
  • Junctions
    • Waiting behind cyclists when waiting at a junction even if they are waiting to the side of the lane, and giving them time to move off first. Drivers of large vehicles should leave sufficient space in front of them when waiting at junctions so as to see the whole area where a cyclist may be waiting. Motorists should give way to cyclists when changing direction or lane so as to not cut across them.
    • Giving priority to cyclists when going straight ahead at junctions and on roundabouts.
    • 'Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve, just as you would do with a motor vehicle'.
  • Introducing the 'Dutch reach'; opening a car door from the inside with the hand on the opposite side, to reduce the chances of collisions between cyclists and car doors.

Other updates will apply to footways, parades, cycle tracks shared with pedestrians, and animals.


Under the proposals, motorists are being given a greater burden of responsibility in order to encourage more vulnerable road users to make use of the highways and ensure their safety. However, in order to promote a 'more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use' effectively, the Government will need to do more than just change the Highway Code to bring about a change in driver behaviour; education and enforcement will be need to be proactively managed to bring about the desired changes.

As with the current Highway Code, the proposals will inform the liability position in the event of an accident. Whilst a breach of the code alone will not establish liability in theory, in practice a breach of the Code equates to a breach of a duty of care so long as causation is proven.

Current findings and apportionment of driver negligence in RTAs involving pedestrians already make allowance for pedestrian vulnerability, for example child pedestrians having less liability the younger they are given their reduced appreciation of the dangers of traffic. However, the proposed hierarchy, which specifically considers children, older people and disabled people above other pedestrians, could raise the threshold for contributory negligence arguments against defendant motorists in some circumstances.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.