Deadly New Highway Code.
Most people, particularly drivers, will be familiar with the Highway Code. The Highway Code is a set of information, advice, guides and mandatory rules for road users in the UK. Its key objective is to promote road safety. The Highway Code applies to all road users including pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.
Since 1920 it’s been the bible of road users and road safety. However, last week, has seen some major changes to it. Changes that rip up the rules and advice that we have all become so familiar with and knowledgeable of. I’ve looked into these new changes and I have to say I’m somewhat aghast at the reasoning, implementation and the potential deadly consequences. My observations are as a driver, cyclist and pedestrian.
In general, when it comes to the roads, the people at greatest risk are pedestrians, followed by cyclists and then drivers. In the late 1960’s roads and vehicles had boomed, so too had road fatalities, particularly pedestrians. This prompted the National Road Safety Committee, now known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, (ROSPA) in 1970 to set up the Green Cross Code. The intention of the code was to raise awareness of pedestrian road safety.. It’s probably one of the most well-known codes in the UK.
Essentially it was a set of safety rules for people to follow to ensure they crossed the road safely. The rules are separated into six different stages:
THINK. Is it safe to cross where you’re currently standing, or is there anywhere safer nearby such as a footbridge, subway, zebra or pelican crossing?
STOP. Stand on the pavement near the kerb and make sure that you can see the traffic. Don’t step on the road.
LOOK. Look both left and right and around for traffic. Listen carefully for approaching traffic that you cannot yet see.
WAIT. If traffic is coming, let it pass. If you’re at a crossing then wait until the cars have stopped.
LOOK AGAIN. Continue to look and listen for traffic as you’re crossing the road.
I remember well the frequent public information announcements fronted by the Green Cross Man Superhero played by the late David Prowse MBE, who was perhaps best known for playing Darth Vader in the Star Wars films. The Green Cross Man’s catchphrase was: “I won’t be there when you cross the road, so always use the Green Cross Code”. The campaign ran for 15 years on billboards and television. Other celebrities also participated in the campaign, including Kevin Keegan, Alvin Stardust and Jon Pertwee.
In 2014, the Green Cross Man was revived for Road Safety Week. This time adding the message about the danger of using smartphones and wearing headphones while trying to cross the road.
So, for 50 years the principle of the Green Cross Code has been the bedrock of pedestrians crossing the road. Until now. Now it, is the complete opposite pedestrians now have right of way crossing the road and motorists must yield.
I’m struggling to understand the reasoning or benefits. This new rule flies in the face of a well-established and well known set of rules understood by all.
Unlike the well-publicised Green Cross Code, these new rules are have been woefully communicated to the country’s 41 million drivers. Indeed, a recent poll by the AA revealed two thirds of members are unaware of the new rules that motorists must now give way to pedestrians and cyclists on the road.
Sadly, the result of this frankly stupid new change to the Highway Code, is going to be an increase the number of accidents that will lead to more injuries and deaths. There will be increases in vehicle crashes too, that will see insurance costs soar. No doubt, the crooked will exploit these new rules to deliberately cause accidents to secure compensation claims.
The other major change to the Highway Code is in relation to cyclists. Cyclists are now encouraged to ride in the middle of the road to make them more visible and thus safer from blind spots from passing cars. There is some logic to this, given that in 2020, 1,412 cyclists were killed on the roads. However, as with most things relating to safe road use, it will rely on sensible and courteous behaviour by motorists and cyclists. Motorists must have patience and overtake cyclists with care. Cyclists need to be sensible and be aware of motorists needs too. Sadly, it has already been reported, since the new rules came in, that groups of so called “Lycra Louts” have already taken it upon themselves to ride in groups in the middle of busy roads and hold up cars. In one case, a group of cyclists held up cars for over eight miles. This type of ignorant activity is simply a recipe for disaster. Slow moving vehicles in the middle of the road, such as tractors and bulldozers, are obligated to regularly move over to allow regular traffic to pass. Cyclists riding in the middle of the road must do so too. Otherwise it risks creating more dangerous circumstances.
The bottom line is this new radical change to the Highway Code is going to cause many accidents and deaths, in particular children. In my view, Transport Minister, Grant Schapps, needs to scrap this lunacy now and reintroduce the Green Cross Code, otherwise he will have blood on his hands.
This column was published in the Newcastle Journal on the 3rd February 2022.