By subscribing we will send you emails containing offers. You can read our privacy policy here.

The Highway Code is changing - and so will your driving habits

 Published 30th August 2021
Driver Guides  General Guides 

In December 2020, the total number of driving licences registered with DVLA was 49,400,922. Of these, 40,564,134 were full driving entitlement licences. If we discount the people who have passed their test recently, that means there are probably in excess of 40 million drivers who haven't looked at the highway code for years.

Now it's about to change.

You can keep your fingers crossed that those outdated braking distances will be amended, but don't hold your breath. It might be worth familiarising yourself with it again though, if only to make sure you understand how the changes will affect you.

The changes are, in part, down to the challenges of hitting a net zero carbon target. We know that new diesel and petrol car sales will cease by the end of the decade, and the push to an EV based infrastructure is well underway. What the government has also made clear, is that another major factor is getting people out of vehicles altogether.

Expect more ‘active' travel

Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit and get out into the fresh air. Granted, it's largely been forced on us by circumstances, but the government is trying to encourage a more permanent shift and keep that growth going.

It comes after last year saw cycling rise more than in the previous 20 years put together, with the number of miles cycled on British roads rocketing by 45.7% to 5 billion. At the end of July, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a £338 million package to boost the active travel boom seen throughout the pandemic.

Infrastructure upgrades, changes to The Highway Code  and new requirements to ensure that the effects of active travel schemes are properly assessed are among the raft of measures included in the Summer of Cycling and Walking document.

The £338 million package is a 30% increase to the £257 million announced for active travel in last year's spending review. This funding will pay for the construction of hundreds of miles of new high-quality cycle lanes and aid the delivery of new schemes to encourage walking. This will include the delivery of improvements across the National Cycle Network.

Encouraging people to walk or cycle more should help ease congestion on the roads, keep the nation a little bit fitter, and you can do your bit for the environment at the same time.

New safety priority tier system

So, how does that change your driving? Part of the package is to enhance safety for cyclists and pedestrians with a new version of the Highway Code to be published next year.

A new hierarchy of road users ensures that those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others. The bigger you are, the more responsibility you have to protect other road users.

New changes will give pedestrians and cyclists greater priority over cars at junctions and crossings. Under the existing code, traffic does not have to give way at a zebra crossing until a pedestrian has moved onto the crossing. At the same time, pedestrians are told they should not start to cross until the vehicles on the road have stopped. The current code also tells motorists turning into a road at a junction to give way to pedestrians "if they have started to cross".

All of that is likely to change, giving pedestrians the right of way at all times. The new code will also ensure cyclists have priority when travelling straight ahead at junctions, as well as providing updated guidance on safe passing distances and speeds.

The full details of the new highway code will be published in the autumn, with the new regulations coming into force next year.

View our latest blog posts