Tuesday 19 January 2021

RHA airs concern over changes to Highway Code

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has launched a campaign against proposed government amendments to the Highway Code currently out to consultation, which the organisation says would lead to more dangerous roads.

The RHA warns that the Department for Transport’s (DfT) proposed changes will make drivers of larger vehicles “bear the responsibility” in the event of a collision – as well as modifying the right of way pedestrians have at junctions over vehicles turning, and giving cyclists the right of way when undertaking or overtaking a turning vehicle at junctions.

The association says the changes “would lead to increased risk for some road users and an unfair shift in responsibilities”.

Compounding the problem, RHA said, was the “mix of spin and technical jargon that make understanding the propositions difficult”. As such, it has produced a summary of its interpretation of the changes, which can be accessed via its website. Wording of the proposed update to the Code introduces a ‘hierarchy of road users’. It states that: “those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, followed by vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles.”

But the RHA warns that in its view, this ‘responsibility’ translates into a legal liability, due to the way the Highway Code can be used as evidence in court proceedings to establish who is liable for an incident.

“The extent of the change to liability and how this impacts a presumption of responsibility in the event of a collision is not explained in the consultation,” said the RHA in its summary document.

“It simply places more responsibility on the driver of the largest vehicle.”

The updated Code would also extend pedestrian right of way over any turning vehicle at a junction, so that the pedestrian right of way applies before they leave the pavement – which the association says would represent a “major change” for UK road users.

“Similar rules do apply in other countries,” it said. “If applied, education will be critical to ensure the rules and obligations are generally understood to avoid misunderstanding or ignorance leading accidents.”

The DfT’s proposed amendments also give cyclists the right of way at junctions when overtaking or undertaking turning vehicles.

It would tell drivers: “Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause a cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve… You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary. This includes when cyclists are approaching, passing or moving off from a junction [or] moving past or waiting alongside stationary or slow-moving traffic.”

The RHA said: “This rule gives a right of way to any cyclist passing up the inside of a left turning vehicle or overtaking a right turning vehicle on the outside.

“For example, a car, van or lorry driver intending to turn left, indicating to do so, will be required to give way to a cyclist coming from behind going straight ahead – undertaking on the nearside.”

It warned that this was also “a major change in basic road rules” which “makes the vehicle in front responsible for the behaviour and safety of a following road user”.

The association called the proposal to give cyclists a right of way to pass inside of a leftturning vehicle or outside a rightturning vehicle “dangerous and irresponsible”, and said cyclists exercising this right would “put themselves in grave danger”.

It promised to seek changes that would ensure no right of way would be given to any vehicle passing another in this manner.

Commenting on the changes, Duncan Buchanan, RHA policy director for England & Wales, said: “Creating a ‘hierarchy’ of road users undermines the simple principle that we are all responsible for the safety of ourselves and others when using roads.

“The current Highway Code rightly emphasises that is a shared responsibility and does not need different responsibilities for different road users. The current Highway Code is fit for purpose.

“What is really frightening is the proposal to give a right of way to cyclists undertaking or overtaking vehicles at junctions. Following such a rule will put cyclists in grave danger, and I believe the proposal is irresponsible.

“We are urging all road users to respond to this consultation and call for the proposed changes to be scrapped.”

The consultation, which is open until 27 October, can be read and responded to here.

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