Are the latest changes to driving rules causing more conflict on our roads?

Are the latest changes to driving rules causing more conflict on our roads?
Almost two thirds (59%) of UK motorists believe that there will be more conflict on the nation's roads as a result of the introduction of the new hierarchy of road users, according to road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart.

The new risk-based hierarchy is the biggest change to the new Highway Code launched at the end of January, and states that road users who possess the potential to do the greatest harm will have the most responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.

The hierarchy applies to all road users, including pedestrians, but applies most strongly to drivers of HGVs, vans, buses, cars and motorcycles, as they typically cause the most damage in the event of a collision.

59% of the 1,000 motorists surveyed said they believe that the new system will create more conflict on the roads, rather than making them safer. Meanwhile, only 6% of motorists thought the new implementation would cause less conflict, and 13% believed nothing would change at all.

Under the new policy, pedestrians now have priority at junctions, meaning that vehicles turning in or out of them should give way. Over half of those surveyed (54%) believe this new rule will cause more conflict, whereas only 15% thought it would reduce incidents on the roads.

Responsibility sits with each road user to know how the new rules affect them, and how they should act in the safest way. Many of the rules are legal requirements and can carry fines and points if not obeyed.

Neil Greig, Director of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart, said: "It is concerning to see the number of motorists who believe the new rules implemented in the Hierarchy of Road Users will cause more conflict on our roads, rather than less.

"The changes to the Highway Code are a reminder to all road users to behave responsibly with a mutual respect for each other’s safety. The hierarchy offers clarity as to where priority should be given in various scenarios, so it is important for all road users to understand how the changes will affect them and others in real situations on the road.

"An upcoming Department for Transport (DfT) information campaign will hopefully go some way towards disarming the scepticism around these changes, by ensuring the proper messaging is getting through. However, we would urge the DfT to be more realistic about the impact that simply changing a seldom read document will have on the behaviour and safety of road users, and instead, roll out more intensive and timely campaigns to build awareness and confidence in the new code."

What is the priority order for road users?

With the confusion facing UK road users since the changes to the Highway Code, the RAC have highlighted the new 'hierarchy of road users'.

  1. Pedestrians
  2. Cyclists
  3. Horse riders
  4. Motorcyclists
  5. Cars and taxis
  6. Vans and minibuses
  7. HGVs

However, the Highway Code does conclude by station, 'The hierarchy does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly'.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: "These changes to the Highway Code are substantial, so it’s vitally important they are communicated clearly. In theory, they should make our roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, but unless everyone is aware of them, there’s a risk of angry clashes and, worse still, unnecessary collisions.

"Nobody wants to be on the right side of the Highway Code changes but in the back of an ambulance because of confusion on the part of a driver or any other road user."

The revised rules came into effect from 29 January 2022, following calls to protect vulnerable road users and here are several other key changes to the Highway Code that UK drivers need to be aware of. 

RAC Survey

Recently, the RAC surveyed 2000 UK drivers on the recent changes, and it provided some interesting results.

Do you think there has been enough publicity about the changes?
Yes24%
No67%
Not sure9%
Have you actively tried to find out how the changes affect you since they were announced?
Yes - to a news outlet's website25%
Yes - to the GOV.UK website21%
Yes - using the Highway Code app6%
Yes - to a motoring organisation's website, like rac.co.uk16%
No47%
How familiar are you with the changes to the Highway Code and how they affect you?
I'm not familiar with how any of the changes affect me as a driver10%
I'm familiar with how some f the changes affect meas a driver, but not all of them62%
I'm familiar with how all of the changes affect me as a driver27%

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