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Two Years On: Drivers doubt safety impact of Highway Code changes introduced

A recent study by the RAC has revealed that, two years on from its implementation, over half (51%) of UK drivers remain uncertain if changes to the Highway Code have enhanced road safety for pedestrians.

The alterations, which marked a significant shift in road usage principles, were introduced to establish a hierarchy of road users, prioritising the safety of the most vulnerable.

A key element of the revised code advises motorists turning into or out of junctions to yield to pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders. The intent was to mitigate risks posed by larger vehicles like goods and passenger vehicles, vans, minibuses, cars, taxis, and motorcycles. However, the RAC's Report on Motoring indicates that only 18% of drivers feel these changes have improved pedestrian safety, while a worrying 31% believe the danger has actually increased.

The root of this uncertainty seems to lie in communication, or the lack thereof. Despite Highway Code Rule 170 clearly instructing drivers to give way to pedestrians at junctions, compliance is staggeringly low. Only 23% of drivers consistently adhere to this rule, while a significant portion either seldom follow it or ignore it altogether.

This discrepancy is further highlighted when drivers, as pedestrians, observe others' driving habits. A mere 2% witness consistent compliance, whereas a substantial 65% rarely or never see drivers stop for them.

The Government’s Public Accounts Committee corroborated these findings in November 2023, citing ineffective communication as a key barrier to public adoption of the new rules. The report also uncovered a stark divide in perceptions between younger and older drivers. 37% of motorists aged 17 to 24 believe the changes have made roads safer, in stark contrast to just 13% of drivers aged 65 and above.

The disparity extends to driving experience, with only 13% of drivers with 25 or more years behind the wheel feeling the changes have enhanced safety, compared to 37% of those with less than a decade of driving experience.

Regionally, at least 21% of pedestrians across the UK claim they are seldom given way at junctions, with the sentiment strongest in Wales and Yorkshire.

As the Highway Code's hierarchy system marks its second anniversary, the RAC's findings suggest a pressing need for more effective communication and enforcement to ensure these well-intentioned changes translate into safer roads for all.

RAC Road Safety Spokesperson, Rod Dennis, said: “When initially introduced, we welcomed the major Highway Code changes because they were set to make the roads much safer for the most vulnerable users. However, two years on, it’s concerning to see there’s still so much uncertainty, with most drivers not stopping for people crossing when they should and therefore many pedestrians seeing no change to their safety at junctions.

“It’s interesting that when respondents described their experiences as pedestrians, a high proportion still don’t see enough other drivers doing the right thing and giving way to those on foot at junctions. Conversely, when reflecting on their own actions as drivers, their responses were different, and a higher proportion feel confident they always let pedestrians cross.

“The updates are only as good as a universal understanding of them. If a driver turns into a junction as a pedestrian is crossing, it’s already too late, because that’s when confusion could turn into a collision.

“Part of the reason may be that drivers simply don’t know that the changes have been made, least of all the consequences of ignoring them. Most drivers probably rarely refer to the Highway Code once they’ve passed their tests, and that’s where the problem could lie. We urge motorists to take another close look at the changes – either by visiting the Highway Code or RAC websites, or by picking up a printed copy. We’d also urge the Government to make another concerted effort in communicating the changes to all road users.”


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