Date laid: 1 December 2021
Parliamentary procedure: negative
These proposed revisions of The Highway Code aim to improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders when using the highway. The changes establish a hierarchy of road users with pedestrians taking priority in most situations, although the revisions emphasise that pedestrians also have responsibilities. The proposals recommend safe passing distances for vehicles overtaking cyclists or horse riders and give them priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead: vehicles should not turn across their path.
While the proposed changes appear sensible, improvements to the way those changes are communicated to the public need to be addressed urgently. We strongly support the principles of good law which include that the law must be accessible to all.
These changes to The Highway Code are drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground that that they are politically or legally important and give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.
6.The Government take the view that promoting walking and cycling could reduce air and noise pollution from car use, mitigate traffic congestion, increase levels of physical activity and lead to more sustainable communities. The Department for Transport (DfT) has identified that one of the greatest barriers for people choosing to cycle or walk is safety, and perceptions of safety: these changes therefore aim to improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders when using the highway.
7.These proposed revisions of The Highway Code:
8.These proposals are laid as a draft and may only be made law after 40 days if there is no resolution against them. We commend the Department for conducting extensive consultation during the formulation of these proposals. Concerns have been raised with us, however, about the feasibility of some of the recommended passing distances in narrow country lanes, so what should be done in those situations needs to be clearly explained.
9.The Explanatory Memorandum (EM) says that the need for effective communication of the changes was a common theme throughout the consultation responses. We also raised this issue recently, in our 8th Report, in relation to the last set of proposed changes to the Highway Code. We were therefore disappointed that the information in EM about publicity was limited to: “we will implement a robust education and behaviour change campaign ensuring the changes are effectively communicated to the public”.
10.We regret to say that no member of this Committee has noticed any publicity for the previous changes about what to do in the event of a breakdown on a SMART motorway. We therefore asked DfT for more detail on their publicity plans. They replied:
“Our well-established THINK! campaign will be developing a communications campaign to support implementation of the changes to The Highway Code, both at launch and beyond, timed seasonally to support times of increased active travel. We are also working with key stakeholders and have created a Highway Code Communications Working Group in order to exploit as many communications channels as possible as we recognise the need to ensure that the changes are publicised widely and that they are communicated effectively.”
11.This is encouraging, but this particular change will need a special communications strategy since it needs to inform groups that do not habitually consult The Highway Code, such as pedestrians and cyclists, about their responsibilities. DfT’s publicity also needs to reach those people who use the pavements who should not, such as cyclists and people riding electric scooters.
12.We are particularly concerned about the timing of the revised Code’s physical publication. In supplementary material DfT told us that:
“once the 40 day laying period ends, the changes will come into effect immediately. DVSA [the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency] have produced a revised version of the Highway Code so they will update the online version on GOV.UK immediately, with a new hard copy due to be published in the spring.”
13.This is a principle that we have raised before–while most people appear to access information online, it is discriminatory to certain groups, particularly the elderly and disadvantaged, who may not have IT equipment of their own, to bring law into effect before they can have access to it.
14.The Department explained their logistical difficulties in more detail:
“DVSA are in charge of publication of The Highway Code, but have to be mindful of the costs of production. The price has been fixed at £2.50 since 2007 but retailers report that the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) is now too low for many of them to be able to afford to stock it. Acute paper shortages, particularly in the recycled grades required by government buying standards, have also significantly driven up the publisher’s costs of production and increased their lead times.
DVSA therefore try to be proportionate about when they publish a new hard copy of the Code, but recognise it will be needed soon to incorporate our changes and the smart motorway / high speed road alterations that were approved in September. That said, the GOV.UK version of The Highway Code is produced to particularly high standards of accessibility and usefulness. Users rate the rules in the free format on GOV.UK between 64% and 93% for usefulness which is higher than the average for other GOV.UK pages.”
15.While the proposed changes appear sensible, improvements to the way those changes are communicated to the public need to be addressed urgently. We strongly support the principles of good law which include that the law must be accessible to all. These changes affect large numbers of people who do not routinely have to consult The Highway Code, so safety messages need to be disseminated more widely, in particular to those groups whose behaviour these changes seek to correct.
8 Department for Transport, Table of changes to The Highway Code, (December 2021): [accessed 14 December 2021].
9 Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, (Session 2019–21, HL Paper 40).