Highway Code - Review due for 2019

Last Thursday the Department for Transport (“DfT”) announced a proposed update of the Highway Code, to further codify driving practices intended to…

Last Thursday the Department for Transport (“DfT”) announced a proposed update of the Highway Code, to further codify driving practices intended to protect cyclists and pedestrians. This follows the publication in September of the DfT’s highway casualty statistics for 2017. Although these revealed a 39% decrease in road casualties over the past decade, cyclist and (in particular) pedestrian fatalities remain at unacceptable levels. Pedestrian fatalities were up 5% on 2016 figures (470), and although cyclist fatalities were down 1% since 2016 (101), bicycle traffic had decreased by 5%, attributed to “natural variation”. Taking into account the waning “Tour De France” effect, for a Government obliged to improve air quality and meet carbon emission targets, as well as seeking to reduce obesity this is a trend heading in the wrong direction. The continuing strategy to instil in people the confidence to leave their cars at home is, therefore, of paramount importance to the DfT.

The revamped Highway Code will provide refreshed focus on the practice of “close passing”, and promotion of the colourfully named “Dutch Reach” (the opening of a car door with the hand furthest from the handle to promote a natural check of the blind spot). Accidents occurring in this way are unfortunately frequent. Cycling UK’s analysis of DfT’s data revealed that between 2011 and 2015 there were 3,108 collisions resulting in injury, including eight fatalities where "vehicle door opened or closed negligently" was a contributing factor in incidents attended by the police. Perhaps most notably, and with a certain degree of irony, the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, was involved in such an incident in October 2016. In tandem with the publication (also last Thursday) of the National Standard for Cycling Training, a non mandatory comprehensive guide to competent and safe cycling, it is hoped that the casualty statistics will improve in 2019. Pressure groups Cycling UK and Living Streets have proclaimed the proposed changes a “major victory”. 

On the other hand, a consultation on whether the offence of causing death by careless or dangerous driving should be expanded to include cyclists as part of the drive to safeguard pedestrians in particular closes on 5 November 2018. This follows the death on 28th August of pedestrian Sakine Cihan, the first known fatality in the UK involving an electric bicycle, and campaigning by Matt Briggs whose wife, Kim, was killed as she crossed the road by a cyclist in 2016 who at the time was riding an illegal road bike.

This thrusts the possibility of compulsory insurance for cyclists back into the limelight. For riders of electric bicycles at least this seems highly likely following the proposed review of the EC Motor Insurance Directive as just one consequence of Vnuk and the update of the definition of “motorised vehicle” to include electrically powered assisted cycles.

Comment

Rather than a further shifting of the burden of diligence onto motorists, we see this development as simply part of the Government’s rolling campaign to improve road safety, and also as a part of more recent efforts to reduce traffic pollution on the streets of the UK. As the number of catastrophic pedestrian and cyclist casualties remains high, as a direct result of their high vulnerability as road users, any initiative which improves awareness and, as a consequence, the safety of those road users must be seen as a positive. 

With the heightening of awareness and promoting additional care when overtaking, turning at junctions and on the opening of doors the number of serious spinal and brain injuries is expected to decrease, thus reducing the number of claims in these areas.

 

For further information or assistance on any of these issues please contact:

Charles Heppenstall, Partner
Charles.heppenstall@weightmans.com
0113 213 4075

Philip Nicholas, Associate
philip.nicholas@weightmans.com
0161 233 7397

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