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Highway Code changes 2022: what do they mean for motorcyclists?

In the last insight of the series we seek to address changes specific to motorcyclists within the newly established “Hierarchy of Road Users.”

Previous insights in this series have sought to highlight the impact of changes relevant to pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists. It therefore may come as no surprise that this piece will seek to address changes specific to motorcyclists within the newly established “Hierarchy of Road Users.”

Rule H1 of the newly updated Highway Code imposes the new concept of the Hierarchy of Road Users indicating: “Those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others.” The Code goes on to state: “The objective of the hierarchy is not to give priority to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders in every situation, but rather to ensure a more mutually respectful and considerate culture of safe and effective road use that benefits all users.”

Differentiating themselves from the lower ranked groups, and in line with their standing within the new hierarchy, motorcycle riders are in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle, and as such, are more likely to find themselves considered the perpetrator of a road traffic collision on account of their potential causative potency. They may also be at higher risk of a finding of contributory negligence when injured themselves. As highlighted in the preceding insight by my colleague James Mackie, the courts have historically recognised the hierarchy of road users under the guise of concepts of ‘moral blameworthiness’, ‘destructive disparity,’ and ‘causative potency,’ although these are now applicable to all road users in the absence of presumed liability.

As with cars, the status of a motorcycle can vary widely from a low powered moped to a high performance racing bike. Some motorcycles have the capability to accelerate very swiftly and travel at great speed, hence reducing response times for all road users. Alongside this, their less significant road presence when compared to a car, and propensity for their view to be restricted, can hinder both the rider and other road users’ ability to heed each other’s presence. This may also limit a motorcyclist’s ability to take appropriate action or respond as necessary to any situation which may arise. These issues can make motorcycles more difficult to observe, and give rise to more serious consequences as the result of a limited error of judgement.

There has been a degree of concern within the motorcycling community as to whether their status as a vulnerable road user has been a main consideration for the Department for Transport (“DfT”) when undertaking the review, particularly due to an absence of any representation during the consultation process, compared to the lower ranked groups. Referencing “accusations and vilification,” often aimed at motorcyclists in an article in MCN (Motorcycle News) dated 7 January 2022 the Motorcycle Action Group indicated: “We take no issue with moves to improve safety for other road users, but the systemic and sustained process of turning a blind eye to the needs of motorcyclists is unforgivable.” In response the DfT indicated: “The safety for all road users is at the core of our road safety strategy.” Regardless of this dispute, the changes clearly impact the manner motorcycles should be ridden in certain circumstances.

Despite the Government’s previous confirmation that presumed liability fell outside the scope of its consultation, the weighting which is given to helmet camera footage by prosecuting/determining authorities when motorcycles are involved in incidents with lower ranking road users will be interesting, as will the approach adopted by insurers and their advisors as to liability disputes.

On 25 November 2021 the UK Government Department for Transport (National Statistics) published a report entitled “Reported road casualties in Great Britain: motorcycle factsheet, 2020” . This report considered road traffic accident data between 2015 and 2020, and specifically the main trends in motorcycle usage and collisions involving motorcycles. It is pertinent that the preamble to the report indicates: “Motorcyclists are one of the vulnerable user groups. They are not protected by a vehicle body in the same way car users are, and tend to be harder for drivers to see on the road. They are, therefore, particularly susceptible to injuries.”

The main findings of the report taken over the said period were as follows:

Between 2004 and 2020:

  • fatalities decreased from 585 to 285 (51%)
  • serious injuries (adjusted) fell by 48%
  • motorcycle traffic fell by 22%

Averaged over the period 2015 to 2020:

  • an average of 6 motorcyclists died and 115 (adjusted) were seriously injured (adjusted) per week in reported road casualties
  • a majority of motorcycle fatalities (58%) do not occur within 20 metres of a junction compared to 39% of all seriously injured (adjusted) casualties
  • almost half (40%) of motorcycle fatalities in two vehicle accidents involved a car
  • 66% of motorcycle fatalities occurred on rural roads compared to 41% of traffic
  • 92% of motorcyclists killed or seriously injured (KSI) casualties were male
  • the most common contributory factor allocated to motorcyclists in fatal or serious accidents (FSA) with another vehicle was ‘driver or rider failed to look properly’
  • ‘driver or rider failed to look properly’ was also the most common factor allocated to the other vehicles involved

Table 5 of the report provides a breakdown of the contributory factors (top 10) recorded in respect of motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists on a subjective basis by reporting police officers where motorcyclists had been involved in fatal or serious accidents. While not evidentially conclusive, these statistics provide an overview of culpability, potentially contributory factors, and an insight into how and why the accidents occurred:

Table 5 of the government's report

Table 4 of the same report provides a breakdown of road layouts at which accidents occurred in comparison to the severity of injury caused to motorcyclists and it is interesting to note that almost 70% of all casualties sustained injury at a T,Y or staged junction or not within 20 meters of a junction. Notably, 57.5% of fatalities occurred not within 20 meters of a junction, which would include overtaking manoeuvres and riders losing control, perhaps in response to the actions of other road users. Is there a risk that with new obligations to give way to pedestrians crossing at junctions, and reference to overtaking distances, this percentage could increase further? (see below)

Table 4 of the government's report

It is interesting to note the balance with which the Highway Code is interpreted in respect of motorcyclists, as against other vulnerable road users. The main changes relevant to motorcyclists are as follows:

1. Rule H1 - Road users who can do the most harm have the greatest responsibility

This has been addressed above and in the previous insights in depth. It is pertinent to note, however, that the principle is indicated to apply “most strongly,” to “drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles“

This seems to emphasise the suggestion above that motorcyclists, who sit in the middle of the hierarchy pyramid are seen equally as potential perpetrator and yet vulnerable. This may be impacted upon by the size and specification of the motorcycle in question.

2. Rule H2: Situations in which pedestrians have right of way

This rule provides that all other road users, including motorcyclists, provide priority for pedestrians in the following circumstances:

  • Should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning.
  • MUST give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing (see Rule 195).
  • Pedestrians have priority on a zebra crossing, parallel crossing or at light-controlled crossing (with green light)
  • Give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing and to pedestrians/cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing

Save for the first provision, the new rules are not a significant departure from the historic position. James has previously outlined the significance of the ‘should’ based rule, and Christina that Rule 8 emphasises the requirement for pedestrians to take responsibility for their own safety at junctions. Whilst the rule only extends to scenarios when a motorcyclist may be turning into or out of a road, this may present additional risk, particularly in circumstances when there is uncertainty as to the pedestrian’s intention, where the road conditions are unfavourable, and/or the view of the rider is restricted.

3. Rule H3: Not cutting across the path of other road users

“You should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles going ahead when you are 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. This applies whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them.”

“You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary. This includes when cyclists are:

  • approaching, passing or moving off from a junction
  • moving past or waiting alongside stationary or slow-moving traffic
  • travelling around a roundabout

The changing of the rules emphasises an importance on appropriate speed, observations to heed the presence of other road users, and an anticipation of both the rider’s and other road user’s potential next steps. Motorcyclists and drivers will need to show patience in accommodating the additional protection afforded to those deemed more vulnerable, and ultimately to avoid collisions occurring.

Other important (non-exhaustive) rule changes that could impact a motorcyclist, with comment where appropriate include:

  • Rule 125
    • Additions made to general rule that speed limit is maximum speed, subject to conditions. “Unsafe speed increases the chances of causing a collision (or being unable to avoid one), as well as its severity, inappropriate speeds are also intimidating, deterring people from walking cycling or riding horses.” Additions also include the particularisation of more vulnerable pedestrians (children, older adults or disabled people)
    • Onus is being placed upon a widening of the anticipation of additional vulnerable road users and accommodation of the same.
  • Rule 140
    • Obligation to give way to cyclists in cycle path and not cut across them when turning at junction
    • Refers back to H3 and highlights road users should have a willingness to stop and allow the cyclists to pass before identifying a safe gap in traffic and undertaking any manoeuvre.
    • Observations and road awareness essential.

  • Rule 151
    • In slow moving traffic allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross in front of you
    • Existing rule indicates motorist should “be aware of cyclists and motorcyclists who may be passing on either side.”
    • Amendments to the rules should give rise to a willingness by motorcyclists to allow cyclists to hold priority over their positioning given they will be deemed more vulnerable in the event of a collision
    • Given overtaking Rule 163 and on the basis of the hierarchy, any coming togethering in slow moving traffic is more likely to be determined in the cyclist’s favour

  • Rule 160
    • You should give way to cyclists when you are changing direction or lane – do not cut across them.

  • Rule 163 – Overtaking
    • Provides for more specific distances which should be allowed when overtaking all vulnerable road users
    • “[G]ive motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 215). As a guide:
      • leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph, and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds…
      • take extra care and give more space when overtaking motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians in bad weather (including high winds) and at night
      • you should wait behind the motorcyclist, cyclist, horse rider, horse drawn vehicle or pedestrian and not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances”
    • This could present challenges on county or narrow roads whereby a cyclist or group of cyclists have sought to travel in the centre of the carriageway and potentially two abreast for visibility reasons
    • Likewise, a group of walkers could feasibly create a tailback on such roads
      A high degree of patience will be required, and there is certainly potential for conflict between road all road users and their interpretation and implementation of this rule

  • Rule 167
    • DO NOT overtake
      • on the approach to crossing facilities
      • Where a vehicle ahead is slowing to stop for a pedestrian that is crossing from a pedestrian island
      • Do not cut across cyclists going ahead, including those using cycle lanes

  • Rule 170
    • Adds obligation to take care for pedestrians at junctions and give way if they are waiting to cross.

  • Rule 183
    • When turning give way to vehicles using bus/cycle lane, including when they are passing slow moving or stationary vehicles on either side

  • Rule 186
    • Give priority to cyclist on a roundabout
    • Cyclists, horse riders/carriages may stay in left hand lane (and signal right if not exiting)

  • Rule 195
    • Give way to pedestrians waiting to cross zebra crossings
    • Should give way to pedestrians and cyclists waiting at parallel crossing
      • MUST give way if moved onto crossing
    • Parallel crossing with a central island is two separate crossings

  • Rule 211
    • Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve, just as you would do with a motor vehicle

  • Rule 212
    • Altered from providing motorcyclist and cyclists “plenty of room” when passing to providing all vulnerable road users the same distance you would afford a car, adding further that extra care should be taken when overtaking vulnerable road users in bad weather or at night

  • Rule 213
    • Cyclists permitted to ride in centre of lane and two abreast on narrow sections of road, at junctions and in slower-moving traffic
    • May give rise to an inability to overtake or overtake on opposite side of carriageway, where appropriate

  • Rule 239 – Implementation of the “Dutch Reach” rule
    • should be beneficial to motorcyclists in context of parked cars reducing the risk of opening their door into the path of a passing motorcycle

Further information on the changes can be found here.

A summary of the key changes to The Highway Code

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We will be providing training to clients on the changes to the Highway Code. For further information or to discuss how the changes may affect you, please contact Philip Nicholas.

Read our previous article on Highway Code Changes in which we consider what the changes may mean for pedestrians and horse riders, who are often the victims of road traffic accidents.

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