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Highway Code for Road Users

Anyone who uses the road, such as motorists, pedestrians, and horse riders should consider the Official Highway Code as being essential reading.

This section explains the legal requirements for using public roads and highways and the new road rules that are coming into force in England, Scotland, and Wales.

Stay Up to Date with The Highway Code

It is a legal requirement to obey many of the instructions stated in the Code. Thus, disobeying them is a criminal offence.

Having the latest copy of The Official Highway Code will help you avoid fines and penalties. You can (either):

Important: You can download a free PDF version of the Highway Code guidance that explains some of the key differences in Northern Ireland.

Is The Highway Code Law or Advice?

Often, in relation to the off-roading activities and events that we write about, we get asked whether the Highway Code is actually classed as a law?

Simply put... No it is not (if viewed as a stand alone law). However, legislation backs up many of the instructions written in the code.

Here's how it works:

It is important to identify the points supported by the law. Thus, when you see words such as 'MUST', or 'MUST NOT', you must obey the instructions. Conversely, you can consider wording such as 'should' or 'should not' as being recommended or guidance.

The information in this section will help you stay safe and keep updated as we explain the most current rules of the road in England, Scotland, and Wales. The changes you need to know about from the 29th of January 2022 are not only for learner drivers.

National Speed Limits

How do you know what the speed limit is if there are no signs on the road? This section explains when you should not be going faster than thirty (30) miles per hour and when to obey the maximum national speed limit (e.g. on single and dual carriageways).

Note: Another help guide explains more about the punishment for speeding and how many penalty points will go on a driving licence for breaking the speed limits.

Towing with a Car

The UK Highway Code allows drivers with a valid driving licence to tow a trailer - as long as it's within the specified weight restrictions.

This help guide explains what you can tow, the current limits for towing weight and width, and the law for using towing equipment, such as tow bars and mirrors.

Using Mobile Phones while Driving

Since the law changed on 25th of March 2022, holding and using devices to send or receive data became illegal for motorists in the United Kingdom.

This guide clarifies the rules for using a phone or sat nav while driving (or riding a motorcycle) with details about the penalties and fines if you get caught.

Official Highway Code Changes: FAQ with Answers

The updates to the Highway Code rules apply to all types of road users from the 29th of January 2022. The main aim of updating the mandatory instructions is to improve road safety for walkers, cyclists, and horse riders.

What is the Highway Code Hierarchy Law?

The new 'hierarchy of road users' change results in three new rules in the introduction section (numbered H1, H2, and H3).

Simply put, it places road users who would be most at risk in a collision at the top of the hierarchy. Even so, all road users must still behave responsibly, and:

  • Be considerate to other road users.
  • Understand their responsibility for the safety of others.
  • Be aware of rules of The Highway Code.

Do Cars Have to Give Way to Pedestrians?

One of the key updates to the code clarifies what you must do in situations where people are crossing the road at a junction. Now, it states that (all):

  • Other traffic should give way if people are crossing or waiting to cross at a junction.
  • The traffic should give way, and the people crossing have priority, if people have started crossing and traffic wants to turn into the road.
  • Drivers, motorcycle riders, and cyclists must give way to people on a zebra crossing and to people walking or cycling on a parallel crossing.

Note: Even though a parallel crossing is similar to a zebra crossing, it will have a cycle route alongside the black and white stripes.

What Happens when Walking, Cycling, or Riding in Shared Spaces?

New guidance now applies to routes and to spaces shared by people who are walking, cycling, or riding a horse.

Anyone who is cycling, riding a horse, or driving a horse-drawn vehicle, should respect the safety of any person who is walking in these spaces. Furthermore, cyclists are asked:

  • Do not pass people who are walking, riding a horse, or driving a horse-drawn vehicle closely or at high speed (especially from behind).
  • To be aware that people walking may be deaf, blind, or partially sighted.
  • Not pass a horse on the left-hand side.
  • To slow down when necessary and let people who are walking know that they are there (e.g. by ringing the bell on their bicycle).

Where Should Cyclists Position Themselves?

Further updated guidance focuses on where people should be positioning themselves when cycling on the road. The new direction states that cyclists should:

  • Ride in the centre of the lane they are in:
    • If it is a quiet road.
    • In slower-moving traffic.
    • At the approach to a junction or a road narrowing.
  • Keep at least half a metre (1.5 feet) away from the kerb edge (further when safe to do so) when riding on a busy road where vehicles are moving faster than they are.

Cycling in a Group

Another update to the code for 2022 clarifies that people cycling in groups:

  • Should be considerate about the needs of other road users.
  • Can choose to ride two abreast (it may be safer for larger groups, when accompanying children, or for less experienced riders).

The guidelines also asks cyclists to be aware of people who are driving vehicles behind them. They should allow them to overtake when it is safe (e.g. by moving into a single file or making a complete stop).

Cycling Past Parked Vehicles

Cyclists should be extra careful:

  • About pedestrians who may walk into their path.
  • When passing any parked vehicles and leave enough room to avoid being hit if someone opens the car door (e.g. one metre).

What are the Rules of Overtaking when Driving or Cycling?

Rule 129 states that you can cross over a double-white line if it is necessary to do so - provided the road is clear. Examples would be when overtaking someone who is cycling or riding a horse if they are travelling at 10 mph or less.

Updated guidance also clarifies the safe speeds and passing distances for people who are driving or riding a motorcycle when overtaking vulnerable road users, including:

  • Allowing at least two (2) metres of space and keeping to a low speed when passing anyone who is walking in the roadway (e.g. areas where no pavement exists).
  • Leaving at least 1.5 metres (about five feet) when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph. Give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds.
  • Passing horse riding or people driving horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10mph and allowing at least two (2) metres (at least six feet) of space.

Important: Do not overtake (e.g. wait behind them) if it is unsafe to do so or it's not possible to meet the stated clearances.

Cycling Past Slow Moving or Stationary Traffic

Official Highway Code changes also confirm that people who are cycling can pass slower-moving or stationary traffic on their right or their left side. Proceed with extra caution (both):

  • On the approach to a junction.
  • When deciding whether you can safely pass a lorry or a large vehicle.

How Do You Cycle a Junction Safely?

Another Highway Code update addresses situations when turning into - or out of - a side road. In this case, cyclists should give way to people who are walking, waiting to cross, or actually crossing the road.

New special cycle facilities are operating at some junctions in the form of small, cycle traffic lights standing at eye-level height. It means cyclists can move separately from (or before) other traffic.

The new guidance also focuses on people cycling at junctions when there are no separate facilities. In this case, the amended code recommends cyclists should proceed as if they were driving a vehicle.

By positioning themselves in the centre of their chosen lane (where they can do so safely), people who are riding can (both):

  • Avoid being overtaken in a dangerous area.
  • Be more visible to other road users.

When Cyclists are Turning Right

New advice in the code explains how people cycling should use junctions when signs and markings use two stages to help them turn right. The two stages to follow are:

  1. Traffic lights turn green - go straight ahead to the location marked by a cycle symbol and 'turn' arrow on the road, and then stop and wait.
  2. Traffic lights on the far side of the junction turn green (facing the people who are cycling) - complete the manoeuvre.

Priority when Going Straight Ahead at a Junction

Unless the road signs or markings indicate otherwise, people cycling have priority over traffic waiting to turn into - or out of - a side road, if going straight ahead at a junction.

How to Cycle Properly Around a Roundabout?

Following the updated codes, people who are driving or riding a motorcycle should give priority to cyclists who are using a roundabout. So, the new guidance states people who are driving or riding a motorcycle should:

  • Not try to overtake anyone cycling within their lane.
  • Allow people who are cycling to move across their path as they cycle around the roundabout.

Note: Additional guidelines tell drivers to use extra caution when entering a roundabout. They should take steps to ensure they do not cut across people who are cycling, riding a horse, or driving a horse-drawn vehicle while they continue traveling around the roundabout in the left-hand lane.

What is the New Technique for Leaving Vehicles?

There is a new technique recommended in the Highway Code changes (called the 'Dutch Reach'). It is for situations when parking, charging, or leaving a vehicle.

When drivers or passengers can do so, they should use their hand on the opposite side to open the door. Simply put, use your left hand to open a door on your right-hand side so you will turn your head to look over your shoulder.

As a result, doing the 'Dutch Reach' technique is less likely to cause injury to people who are:

  • Cycling or riding a motorcycle as they pass by on the road.
  • On the pavement.

What's the Highway Code Rule for Electric Vehicle Charge Points?

The latest code includes extra guidance about how to use an electric vehicle charging point. As a result, you should:

  • Park close to the charge point and avoid creating a trip hazard with trailing cables for people who may be walking nearby.
  • Display a warning sign where possible.
  • Return the charging cables and connectors neatly to minimise the danger to other people and avoid creating an obstacle for other road users.

Important: The rules and regulations of the Official Highway Code in the United Kingdom can be used as evidence in court proceedings to help establish liability.

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