In this Opinion piece, Faye Fishlock Head of Defendant Insurance Services, Carpenters Group, looks at the recent Highway Code changes and what they could mean for insurers.
The Highway Code was launched in 1931, just over 90 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of copies are sold every year and it remains on the UK bestseller list. However, I hazard a guess that unless you have someone just about to, or having just taken, their theory or driving test, there is not a copy of the Highway Code on your bookshelf at home. Indeed, I know of many motor insurance handlers and lawyers who wouldn’t find a copy on their office bookshelves, saved as an internet favourite or as an app neither.
That is where the worry is, the safety rules of our roads have been updated, but many people using the road will not be aware of the changes and a promised government campaign to raise awareness is currently lacking; echoes of other recent changes and introductions maybe?
The latest version of the Highway Code, launched at the end of January 2022, is aimed at improving the safety of people walking, cycling and riding horses amongst other vulnerable road users. In total 10 sections have been updated with over 50 rules being added or updated. You can find a summary of all the changes on The Highway Code updates list on GOV.UK.
To whet your appetite for the latest version of this bestseller, we now have a “Hierarchy of Road Users” putting pedestrians at the top of the list. It does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly. The Code clarifies various rules around road use by pedestrians, as well as new rules about priorities and considerations of various road users in shared spaces.
People often bemoan cyclists, the new Code updates guidance around their road positioning to include an ability to ride in the centre of the lane on quiet roads, in slower moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowings. People cycling in groups should be considerate of other road users, but can ride two abreast, whilst also being aware of people driving behind them and allowing them to overtake (for example, by moving into single file or stopping) when it’s safe to do so. There is further detailed guidance for cyclists and horse riders and I encourage you to review this in detail.
It is interesting to also see updated advice on parking vehicles and the use of electric charging points. There is however an omission around e-scooters. These remain in use on our roads as part of official trial schemes. Many of us will also regularly see private e-scooters being used illegally on our roads. E-scooter users would rank highly in the hierarchy of road users and it seems inevitable that if the trial schemes are successful a further update to the Highway Code will be required.
For those of us who refer to the Highway Code when reviewing liability considerations in road traffic accident claims, it will be vital to ensure that the correct version of the Code is considered as against the date the accident occurred. This is especially important around claims proceeding within the OIC portal, but also those involving vulnerable road users proceeding within or without the MOJ portal depending on value.
It is not just civil claims, but also criminal prosecutions which will need to be considered. It has always been the case in the criminal courts that colliding with a vulnerable road user “aggravates” the offence, meaning that motorists often faced higher sentences. What might have been an arguable case may be no longer. An example of this will be around Rule 170 which under the previous Highway Code stated that motorists should give way to pedestrians “if they have started to cross”. The revised rule includes guidance to give way to pedestrians crossing or “waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning”. Motorists and those representing them will need to be conscious of this nuance in such situations.
For those that use our roads professionally; be that as a cyclist, in a car, van or HGV, how will they (and where applicable their employers) ensure awareness of the changes and updated Highway Code? Any size or type of fleet needs to ensure all road users/drivers; including agency, are aware of the new rules, the impact of the changes on the driving and routes to be undertaken.
Should an accident and resulting claim occur, then it is likely that you will need to demonstrate and evidence training undertaken on the new Highway Code, updated policies and procedures where appropriate and is it appropriate to consider / re-consider the use of dash cams, helmet camera and other technology?
My advice, don’t let this bestseller not be on your 2022 reading list going forwards, it is essential reading for all road users.