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The Highway Code

How well do you know the Highway Code? Whether you're a new driver or been driving for a few years, you still need to keep up to date.

How well do you know the Highway Code?

As a learner driver, you're encouraged to know the Highway Code inside out. But once you've passed your test, you probably never bother to look at it again. But the rules are regularly being updated to keep pace with new technology and laws. So from time to time, it's important to remind yourself of the rules of the road.

What is the Highway Code?

Introduced in 1931, the Highway Code covers all aspects of the UK road network and how to use it safely. It brings together the rules, regulations and guidelines road users must follow. It's also regularly updated to keep pace with the current state of motoring, the cars we drive and how we drive them.

Put together by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Department for Transport, the Highway Code is essential reading for all motorists – and not just learner drivers.

The Highway Code isn't just for motorists either. It also provides guidance for all road users including pedestrians, cyclists and even horse riders.

How well do you know the Highway Code?

To sit your practical exam, you'll need to take – and pass – the 'Highway Code test'. This is more commonly known as the driving theory test.

There's a lot to learn and it can take a while to get your head around things like stopping distances and road signs. Even motorists who have a full driving licence can struggle to remember some parts of the Highway Code.

For example, in a recent survey of drivers by road safety charity Brake, just 26% of people correctly answered that cars need 96m – or 24 car lengths – to stop if travelling at 70mph. Road signs are also a constant source of confusion for drivers – some signs more than others. In a Click4reg survey, it was the 'with-flow bus and cycle lane' sign that confused most motorists.

Which areas of the Highway Code do you need to brush up on?

In a driving theory test, you can be asked about any part of the Highway Code. Let's look at some of the road rules which often cause confusion among drivers:

  • The two-second rule

The Highway Code says to allow at least two seconds from the vehicle in front – and at least double this in bad weather conditions. As the car in front passes a fixed point, such as a sign or a bridge, the DVSA suggests this little rhyme might help with counting, 'only a fool breaks the two-second rule'.

  • Using a mobile phone

Most drivers know that it's illegal to hold a phone or sat nav while driving. If you get caught doing so, you can expect six penalty points and a £200 fine. The government has now tightened the rules on the use of mobile phones – banning drivers from using any device to take photos or videos, scroll through playlists or play games.

  • Motorway driving

Although statistics consistently show that motorways are one of the safest types of UK roads to drive on, changes are being introduced to make them even safer. Plus, the introduction of smart motorways has led to some confusion among motorists. To help with this, the Highway Code has been updated with clearer advice on:

  • Where to stop in an emergency.
  • The importance of not driving in a lane closed by a red X.
  • How variable speed limits are used to keep traffic flowing.

The Highway Code - what’s changed?

The Highway Code is updated from time to time and it's important to keep up with the latest amendments on the GOV.UK website. It's all part and parcel of being a safe driver. Let’s take a look at some of the most recent changes.

Hierarchy of road users

One of the biggest changes to the Highway Code is the introduction of the 'hierarchy of road users'. This is to make sure that those 'who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others'. So, who's got top priority? The new hierarchy looks like this:

  1. Pedestrians
  2. Cyclists
  3. Horse riders
  4. Motorcyclists
  5. Cars and taxis
  6. Vans and minibuses
  7. Buses, HGVs and other large passenger vehicles.

That means that pedestrians are most at risk as road users, so they have priority above people on bicycles, horses, motorbikes and so on.

Pedestrian priority at junctions

The new rules also clarify pedestrian priority at junctions. That means drivers and riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road.

The code says, 'At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning.' (Rule H2)

There is also new wording around the priority at zebra crossings. Rule 195 now says that drivers MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing. And that they SHOULD give way when a pedestrian is waiting to cross.

Remember, the exact wording in the code is important. The word ‘MUST’ means it's an offence to disobey this rule, and you could get a fine or points on your licence if you ignore it. The words 'SHOULD/SHOULD NOT' or 'DO/DO NOT' indicate something that's advised - it's not an offence to ignore it but if you're involved in a collision, it could be used to establish your liability in court.

Passing distances

The rules around passing distances have also been updated. Up to now, when drivers were overtaking a cyclist or pedestrian, they were advised to leave as much space as they would for a car.

But now, drivers are advised to leave a minimum distance of 1.5 metres when they're overtaking a cyclist at speeds up to 30mph. If you're travelling at over 30mph, you should leave a gap of 2 metres. This will hopefully reduce the amount of accidents between cars and cyclists on our roads

When it comes to overtaking horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles, you should reduce speed to under 10mph and leave a 2 metre gap

If you need to overtake a pedestrian walking in the road (with no pavement), allow 2 metres of space.

Passing distances

Do you know where cyclists should be positioned on the road? The new Rule 72 clarifies this. Cyclists should ride in the middle of their lane when they are:

  1. On quiet roads and streets
  2. When they're in slower-moving traffic
  3. When they're approaching junctions or narrow roads

If a vehicle is moving faster than them, cyclists should allow the vehicle to overtake while they still keep a minimum of 0.5 metres away from the kerb.

It can sometimes take a few months for the new amendments to be reflected in the driving theory test. So, just make sure that you’re studying from the latest version of the Highway Code when doing your revision.

If you're a new driver, getting your first set of wheels can be expensive. The good news is Hastings Direct can help you cut the cost of motoring with our young drivers' insurance.

Learn more about how to stay safe on the roads with our handy guides.

All information is correct at the time of publication. Hastings Direct cannot be held responsible for any misinformation displayed.

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