Pedestrians and cyclists to be given more priority over drivers in updated Highway Code

Pedestrians and cyclists are to be offered greater protection with greater priority over drivers in changes to the Highway Code announced by the UK Government.

They include a requirement that those vehicles which can do the greatest harm will carry the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to others.

However, it does not go as far as “presumed liability”, urged by some campaigners, where drivers are presumed to be at fault in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists unless proved otherwise.

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Other campaigners have pointed out some drivers are unaware of their responsibilities under the Highway Code, despite much of its contents being legal requirements.

Cyclists will be given greater priority over drivers at junctions

The changes to the code, expected to be approved by MPs in the autumn, include pedestrians being given greater priority on pavements and when crossing or waiting to cross the road.

They include the requirement for drivers and cyclists: “At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning.”

To help protect cyclists, guidance will be published on safe passing distances and speeds.

This has been the subject of extensive Police Scotland work under its Operation Close Pass initiative.

Cyclists will also be given priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead.

The drivers’ requirement will be: “You should not cut across cyclists going ahead when turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle.”

The code’s new “Hierarchy of Road Users” will mean car drivers being responsible for cyclists’ safety, while in turn cyclists will be responsible for looking out for pedestrians.

The proposed changes are due to receive Parliamentary approval at Westminster in the autumn.

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Living Streets, which campaigns for “everyday walking”, welcomed the balance between road users being redressed.

Scotland director Stuart Hay said: “Up until now, The Highway Code has treated children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people’s safety. These changes will redress that balance.

“People walking cause the least road danger but are often left paying the price, with pedestrians accounting for over a quarter of road deaths in the UK.

"It is time motorised road users, with the most potential to cause harm, take greater responsibility for the safety of other more vulnerable groups.”

Dave du Feu, of Spokes, the Lothian cycle campaign, said: “We very much welcome these long overdue changes, which bring the UK into line with normal road safety practice in many other European countries.”

Jodi Gordon, a partner at Cycle Law Scotland, said: “It’s a step in the right direction but the communication of these changes must be well publicised and understood by all road users.

"To take notice and really adopt the concept of road share, there needs to be a backbone that underpins the Highway Code and makes these changes a legal requirement.”

The Scottish Government supported the changes but said the UK Government had “again fallen short of what we would consider adequate engagement with Scottish ministers over the announcement”.

The changes align with Transport Scotland’s own “sustainable travel hierarchy”, which places walkers and wheelers at the top and cars at the bottom.

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