New Year, New Highway Code...
We consider what the changes may mean for pedestrians and horse riders, who are often the victims of road traffic accidents.
The changes to the Highway Code have now been confirmed and are to be implemented on 29 January 2022. These changes are numerous and wide-ranging and will have a significant impact on the way in which all road users interact. The Highway Code contains a mixture of mandatory and advisory rules and guidance, which aim to reduce road accidents. Whilst a failure to comply with a mandatory rule is a criminal offence, a failure to adhere to the advisory rules and guidance may be used in evidence in court proceedings when establishing liability.
In a series of legal updates we will be looking at the changes to the Highway Code and what it means for different groups of vulnerable road users.
Highway Code changes-what do they mean for pedestrians and horse riders?
The main changes
There are 3 main changes which will affect pedestrian and equestrian on road safety:
Rule H1 - Hierarchy of Road Users. This concept imposes greater responsibility on road users who can cause the greatest harm should an accident occur (typically large, goods drivers and the like), with pedestrians, as the most vulnerable road users, sitting at the top of the pyramid. The concept is not a new one as the civil courts, as part of their determination of liability and contributory negligence, already consider the potential of the offending road user to cause harm to the other person (causative potency).
The proposed text makes it clear that the introduction of the hierarchy does not remove the need for all road users to behave responsibly and it specifically reminds horse riders and drivers of horse drawn vehicles that they have a responsibility to reduce the danger that they pose to pedestrians. There however remains an ongoing concern, that Rule H1 may lead to the introduction of presumed liability (despite the Government having previously confirmed that presumed liability was out of scope of its consultation) [DOT Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy: Safety Review Consultation on a review of the Highway Code, page 7]. Should this happen, prosecuting authorities and others may form an early view on liability based largely on where each of the relevant road users sit within the hierarchy, with the potential for core liability evidence, such as physical evidence from an accident locus, CCTV footage or early witness accounts being lost or compromised. If the risk materialises, it may result in insurers facing increased indemnity spend and lifecycles for road traffic claims, due to a prolonged evidence-gathering process.
Rule H2 - Priority for pedestrians at junctions. Other road users, to include horse riders, at a junction will now be required to give way to:
a. Pedestrians who are either crossing or waiting to cross the road into which they are turning; and
b. Pedestrians who are established on a zebra crossing or on a parallel crossing
It is advised that other road users should also give way to pedestrians who are waiting to cross a zebra crossing or a parallel crossing.
Cyclists are advised under Rule H2 to give way to horse riders on bridleways.
Rule 8 emphasises the need for pedestrians to take responsibility for their safety at junctions by looking out for traffic turning into the road and crossing where they can be seen by drivers, while Rule 170 acknowledges that pedestrians and other vulnerable road users are not always easy to see at junctions.
There is concern that Rule H2 may wrongly foster the belief amongst pedestrians that the responsibility for their safety rests with others, leading to some pedestrians taking increased risks when crossing at junctions and failing to appreciate that drivers are only advised to give way to them as they wait to cross a zebra crossing or a parallel crossing. Improving the safety of pedestrians at junctions has rightly been made a priority, given the high level of pedestrian casualties at this locus. However, the introduction of the Rule H2 has the potential, particularly in the short term, to lead to more accidents, confusion, and conflict. We may see incidents involving pedestrians crossing at a point where they cannot be seen by oncoming drivers, drivers slamming on the brakes on seeing a pedestrian late (leading to more rear end shunts) and misunderstandings as to whether a driver has seen a pedestrian and will give way or whether the pedestrian standing close to a junction is intending to cross. Confusion and perhaps accidents may occur if horse riders wrongly assume that cyclists must give way to them on bridleways, as this may result in cyclists passing too close to a horse and startling it.
3. Rule H3 - Priority for cyclists, horse riders and riders of horse drawn vehicles at junctions. Motorists must:
a. Not cut across the path of horse riders or horse drawn vehicles who are going ahead when they are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane.
b. Not turn at a junction if it would cause the horse rider or driver of a horse drawn vehicle who is travelling straight ahead to stop or swerve.
Rules 169 and 170 advise other road users to remain behind a horse rider or horse drawn vehicle when approaching a roundabout or junction and intending to turn left and when the rider is at a junction, even if they are waiting to turn and are positioned close to the kerb.
Giving priority to horse riders at junctions should ultimately lead to less collisions and motorists being more considerate toward riders, although we may see more collisions in the short term while people get used to the change in the Rules.
Other important changes include:
a. Rule 23 - Routes shared with cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles - everyone is advised to respect each other’s safety and not to obstruct or endanger another user.
b. Rule 63 - Passing horses - this provides helpful guidance to cyclists not to pass a horse on their left or at high speed. It reminds other road users that horses can be easily startled, and cyclists need to be prepared to slow down and stop, when necessary. The advice that a cyclist may warn a horse rider of their presence by ringing their bell, may however startle the horse and result in potential injury to the horse and/or its rider.
c. Rule 52 – Riding - inexperienced riders or riders who have not ridden for a while are advised to consider taking the British Horse Society’s Ride Safe Award, to familiarise themselves with safe riding, particularly on roads.
d. Rule 125 –Speed - all drivers and riders are advised to reduce their speed when sharing the road with pedestrians, horse riders and drivers of horse drawn vehicles.
e. Rule 163 - Overtaking Rules -this establishes guidance on safe passing distance and speed limits when overtaking:
- A pedestrian walking on the road - a passing distance of least 2 metres, whilst passing at a low speed.
- Horse riders and horse drawn vehicles – a passing distance of at least 2 metres, travelling at a speed of up to 10mph, with extra care in bad weather and at night.
f. Rule 186 - Signals and position - horse riders and horse drawn vehicles may stay in the left-hand lane if they intend to continue across or around the roundabout and they should signal right to indicate that they are not leaving the roundabout.
g. Rule 213 - Narrow Road - horse riders may ride in the centre of the lane when the road is narrow, for their own safety and to improve visibility.
Whilst the proposed changes should, in general, be welcomed as a potential tool to reduce the level of road traffic casualties, particularly amongst pedestrians and equestrians, it is essential that all road users are educated about the changes through simple and effective messaging and buy in is achieved. A failure to achieve both goals may place pedestrians and horse riders at further risk.
Find further information on the changes in the Table of change to the highway code.
Weightmans will be providing training to clients on the changes to the Highway Code once they have been approved by Parliament. For further information or to discuss how the proposed changes may affect you, please contact Christina McDonald.