What is active travel?

Active travel is the collective name for walking and cycling (and any other transport reliant on physical activity) and is often used to describe the active alternative to shorter daily journeys such as the commute.

What has been proposed?

On Friday 30 July 2021 the UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that there would be changes made to the Highway Code. His plan is to introduce a new road user hierarchy with pedestrians and cyclists at the top.

On the road, this will mean that non-active travel road users (such as car drivers or motorcyclists) will have to give way at junctions to active travellers. This could represent a substantial change to driving habits and risk in the near future.

Why is this being brought in?

This change is underpinned by three ideas. The first is the increased safety of road users. By targeting motorists – those with the highest potential to cause harm – with additional responsibility, the new rules will likely bolster the perception that active transport is a safer option.

This will be helpful in achieving the second idea, the increased use of active transport to tackle health issues – which have been a long-running objective across government.

Finally, it is hoped that the change will have an impact on the number of cyclists using Britain’s roads and thus have a positive impact on our carbon footprint.

Do we change the Highway Code often?

Specifically, the amendments to the Highway Code are not unforeseen or unusual. The code itself has been regularly amended to suit the developing needs of the highway since 2015.

Prior to that, in 2016 a briefing was released by Public Health England which announced that ‘motor traffic control measures are one of the most important environmental issues to address’ citing specifically the ‘lack of infrastructure for walking and cycling’.

What are my responsibilities as a motorist?

It is important to note that these changes are not scheduled to come into force until the Autumn, so there is likely to be some amendment to the current plans. Additionally, there has always been a responsibility on motorists to ensure the safety of other road users. However, this specific amendment could drastically change the burden placed on motorists. Proposed changes at the current time include:-

  1. Responsibility for motorists looking to turn at a junction to wait for cyclists who are going straight on to pass.
  2. Motorists will be expected to make sure that no vulnerable road users (such as pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders) are crossing, waiting to cross, or approaching and likely to cross a junction. If any of the above is true, the motorist will have to wait before turning.
  3. The definition of a ‘safe distance’ to pass these road users will be formalised and motorists will be expected to wait until it is safe to pass at these distances.
  4. Guidance for cyclists will change in relation to their position on the road – the new rules encouraging them to ride in the centre of the lane.

As a result, it is clear that it may take some time to adapt to the new rules, such as giving way to pedestrians at junctions, and the short term effect of this could be dangerous. Our advice? Keep an eye on this page for further updates and ensure that you are following the most up to date guidance when on the road either as a motorist or when using active travel.

If you would like any further information or advice about these new rules, please contact our specialist road traffic lawyer Jonothan Moss on Jonothan.Moss@bpcollins.co.uk or call 01753 278665.

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Jonothan Moss
Principal Lawyer

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