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How Highway Code Changes Could Impact The Commercial Motor Market

Oct 26, 2021

The government have recently run a consultation looking at how the Highway Code can be amended to offer additional protection to vulnerable road users – in particular, cyclists, pedestrians, and horse riders.

The consultation ran from 30th July – 30th October 2020. With responses gathered and analysed, it is now expected that all proposed changes will be set to go ahead in 2022 if parliamentary approval is granted.

What are the proposed Highway Code changes?

The aim of the consultation was to identify ways in which safety for vulnerable road users could be improved.

The key changes proposed are:

  • introducing a hierarchy of road users to ensure those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others
  • clarifying existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements to advise that drivers and riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road
  • providing guidance on cyclist priority at junctions to advise drivers to give priority when travelling straight ahead
  • establishing guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists and horse riders

You can find full details of the consultation and proposed Highway Code changes on the gov.uk website.

Why is there concern that the hierarchy of road users’ changes could impact HGV drivers?

Many parties have highlighted concerns that the change to the hierarchy of road users could unfairly impact HGV drivers, drivers of large vehicle, commercial vehicles and those operating large fleets.

DAC Beachcroft have raised concerns that this new concept of the hierarchy of road users could lead to presumed liability for drivers and motorists. They also highlight that the changes may give the false impression to pedestrians/cyclists that they have priority over other forms of transport when this is not what the code changes set out to achieve.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) have also written of their alarm at the hierarchy of road users changes which they state will ‘see road users of larger vehicles, such as lorries and coaches, given extra responsibility for the safety of road users who are potentially at more risk, such as cyclists and pedestrians’

They highlight particular concern that cyclists could be given the right of way to undertake turning vehicles. Noting that it is not always possible to see cyclists in a blind spot.

Read the full response to the consultation by the RHA for additional concerns raised.

What impact could this have on liability for drivers of large vehicles?

Whilst the ability to cause harm has been an existing part of the liability decision making when it comes to legal proceedings, there is concern that the Highway Code changes could result in presumed liability for motorists.

The hierarchy of road users’ changes places a higher duty of care onto those driving motor vehicles (and a higher duty of care to those driving large vehicles) and appears to reduce the duty of care for other road users (pedestrians, cyclists etc).

The government have committed to ensuring the Highway Code changes relating to the hierarchy of road users will be published ‘with amendments to the wording to emphasise that all road users have a responsibility for their own safety.’

So, will the changes bring about full-scale change when it comes to prosecution and liability? We do not believe so. But with more onerous views possibly being taken by courts when it comes to liability, and the changes becoming relevant to judgements we could see directors of fleet operators held to higher account.

One thing is for sure, and it is something that we have written about previously, is that if you employ people to drive for a living, you need to take your responsibility to road safety and training seriously. Driving is considered one of the more dangerous occupations and needs to be treated as such. Road safety and risk management should be at the top of your agenda. These changes could make it even more important for you to be able to demonstrate that your business has paid due care and attention to training your drivers on these Highway Code changes and to minimising risk overall.

At Anthony Jones we view risk management as a vital part of the service that we provide. That is why we work closely with DAC Beachcroft, our legal partner to provide a legal representation in the event of an incident. And with Cardinus who are a global risk and safety partner for Fleet Risk Management services. For more information on how we can help you and your fleet if you are reviewing your commercial motor insurance at this time do get in touch with us on 020 8290 9099 or email us at commercial.motor@anthonyjones.com.

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