Highway Code is a bestselling lifesaver that deserves another read – Alastair Dalton

One of the many childhood foibles that should have signalled I was destined to write about transport for a living was my love of the AA Members’ Handbook on long car journeys.

I recall a particular interest – along with the maps to follow our progress – in the pages of road signs, and looking out for the more unusual ones.

Electronic motorway signs which lit up when there were hazards ahead, seem to have had a particular fascination.

I remember – with a slight shudder in retrospect – my disappointment at rarely seeing them in action.

That’s the opposite reaction to that of my adult self behind the wheel, seeking delay-free driving rather than drama.

The memory was triggered by the first of the next generation in our family needing to start getting familiar with such signs as he approaches his 17th birthday, and the opportunity to be start driving himself.

The AA handbook may now just be a nostalgia item for sale on eBay, but those signs – and everything else you need to know about the rules of the road – are available in that handy but often overlooked evergreen tome, The Highway Code.

When the first code was published 90 years ago, it advised horse-drawn vehicle drivers how to hold their whips to indicate which way they were turning, and recommended that drivers sounded their horn when overtaking.

A new hierarchy of responsibility designed to protect the most vulnerable road users like cyclists is among impending changes to the Highway Code

Now sold as The Official Highway Code, the UK government makes it sound as invaluable to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with the description “essential reading for everyone”.

But that’s no hyperbole – it shouldn’t be regarded as a document just for novice drivers to mug up on and then discard.

The first few pages underline its importance – and much of the contents are law, not mere advice.

It states: “Knowing and applying the rules contained in The Highway Code could significantly reduce road casualties.

The first Highway Code in 1931 included advice to horse-drawn vehicle drivers on how to hold their whip to show which way they were turning. (Picture: UK Department for Transport)

“Cutting the number of deaths and injuries that occur on our roads every day is a responsibility we all share.”

I’m as guilty as the next person about not re-reading the code, but it’ll become a priority for me with a budding novice driver in the house.

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Skimming through the 300 or so rules, they seem a combination of what drivers should know and common sense.

But did you know that cycling “under the influence of drink” is illegal, police can require a driver to take an eyesight test, and pedestrians who have started to cross a road have priority?

That last rule is particularly significant, if you were unaware, because an impending update of the code will also give pedestrians waiting to cross at junctions priority when a vehicle is turning.

It’s part of a refocusing of responsibility among those using the roads, with the creation of a new hierarchy in which those who could do the greatest harm, such as drivers, have the greatest responsibility to reduce the potential danger they pose to others.

For all those who don’t have teenagers in the house eager to get their hands on the car keys, the change would seem as good a reason as any to acquaint yourself with the new version of that enduring bestseller you once read.

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