The Highway Code: Proposed amendments, 1998

The ABD's Response



This document dates
from 1998, prior to
the publication of the
new Highway Code.

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1. General points

1.1 Road safety is the responsibility of ALL road users

There has been an unfortunate and dangerous trend in most recent government road safety publicity. It always implies that the car driver will be to blame in any accident involving pedestrians or cyclists. This has given young people in particular the impression that they have no obligation to take reasonable care for their own safety or that of others when they are walking or cycling.

This is evidenced by the reckless and inconsiderate behaviour of many young pedestrians and cyclists. What will happen when they take their selfish and boorish attitude behind the wheel of a motor vehicle does not bear thinking about.

This trend must be reversed and campaigns launched to instill in children and their parents the need for a responsible attitude to using the highway, whether on foot, on two wheels or four, or even on horseback.

1.2 The Highway Code and the Motoring Environment

It is recognised that the Highway Code is one element in a complex environment where, in addition, the Law and the physical environment of roads and signs impinge upon the road user. In particular, the Highway Code and the Law are separate, if overlapping, entities. So where the Law and other aspects of road design and traffic management are at odds with safety, good practice and common sense, the Code will tend to be too. In such instances the Association calls for changes even though these may involve more than just rewording the Highway Code.

1.3 Getting the message across

Who reads the Highway Code? Most learner drivers do, to some extent. But precious few others. The road users who most need to read the Code are clearly the ones who do not do so. Much of the existing wording would be adequate — if only people took any notice of it! We live in an age where many people do not read much, if anything, beyond the sports pages of a tabloid newspaper; yet the majority of adults hold driving licences. Ways must be found of bringing the Code to people's notice more effectively. Television is the obvious medium that will have the widest audience and can be most effective in imparting information and changing attitudes. There used to be "shorts" on TV but these seem to have vanished. There is plenty of scope for extracts of the Highway Code to be used to create informative clips which could be shown between programmes. Other approaches could use school projects, children's comics and magazines etc.

However a new angle is essential. The negative and over-simplistic 'speed kills' slogan should be dropped in favour of positive messages that encourage drivers to alter their speed to a level appropriate to the conditions.

The following notes mention not only Rules where changes are required but Rules which require reinforcement by means of publicity.

The Rule numbers below refer to the current issue of the Highway Code. The headings and subheadings also follow the structure of the existing code.

Specific points in the order of the existing Highway Code

2. The Introduction

The present Introduction inside the front cover is easily overlooked. If it were moved beyond the Contents it would become part of the Code. It lacks a key statement about the purpose of the road system. The following paragraph should be inserted:
"The road system exists to enable all road users to travel from place to place about their legitimate business quickly and safely. All road users should, by courteous and considerate behaviour, assist each other in completing their journeys without inconvenience or danger. No road user or group of road users has the right to impede or obstruct the progress of others."

3. Pedestrians

The Code must emphasise that it is at least as much the responsibility of vulnerable road users like pedestrians to safeguard their lives and wellbeing as it is the responsibility of drivers. This fact is not stressed adequately anywhere in the existing code or the proposed new rules.

3.1 Crossing the Road

An introductory paragraph before the Green Cross Code (Rule 7) is needed as a preface to all the road-crossing Rules. It should say:
"Cross the road safely, using the Green Cross Code (see below). When waiting to cross, do not stand close to the traffic flow: stand back from the kerb. When crossing a road, never dawdle or fool around as this can endanger others as well as yourself."
Rule 13. There is widespread ignorance among pedestrians and drivers that a crossing with an island, like the staggered crossing in Rule 15, should be treated as two separate crossings. Strengthen the wording of this rule as follows:
"If there is an island in the middle of a crossing, treat each half as a separate crossing. Having crossed halfway does not entitle you to step onto the second part until you have followed Rules 11 and 12 again."
It needs extensive publicity using leaflets, TV advertising and school road safety sessions to ensure wide knowledge of this rule.

Rule 14. Strengthen the wording of this rule to outlaw aggressive dawdling. The last two sentences to read:

"...This means that you should not start to cross. If you have already started you will have time to finish crossing safely, but never dawdle or fool around as this can endanger others as well as yourself."

3.2 Pedestrians and alcohol

"Road Accidents Great Britain 1996" indicates that nearly four-fifths of all adult pedestrian road accident fatalities between the hours of 10pm and 4am have consumed alcohol at least up to the legal limit for drivers.

New rule. A new rule should address pedestrians concerning the effects of alcohol:

"You must proceed with extreme caution in the vicinity of the road, particularly if attempting to cross the road, while your judgment is impaired by alcohol or other substances."

4. Drivers, Motorcyclists and Cyclists

4.1 General

Mobile Phones — Rule 43. The change of wording proposed in the DETR press release of 13th November is sensible. Signals — Rule 45. A lot of publicity has been given to statements which imply that it is "advanced" driving not to indicate in many situations. This advice has unfortunately been misinterpreted by many drivers who cannot recognise the presence of other road users for whom signalling would be helpful. Not signalling causes inconvenience, uncertainty, annoyance and potentially danger.

The balance must be restored, so the wording of Rule 45 should be strengthened by the following additional sentences:

"Although there may be occasions when you think that signalling is unnecessary, you must signal if any other road user (vehicle or pedestrian) is within sight of your vehicle. If in doubt, signal. You must signal when pulling away from the kerb or when changing lane — there may be another road user whom you have not seen."

4.2 Driving your vehicle

Slow-moving vehicles — Rule 53. The wording of this rule should be adequate but too many drivers do not know of its existence. This must be remedied with a publicity campaign. Speed limits — Rule 54. This rule does not exist in a vacuum. Unfortunately it exists in an environment where too many roads have inappropriate speed limits. Further, detailed comments on speed limts are made later in the speed limit secton. Suffice it to say here, that although the Association of British Drivers would like to be able to support this rule, and would do so if reasonable limits were applied, it is at present unsupportable as the application of inappropriately low speed limits is already having an adverse effect on road safety. In the interests of safety, the Association therefore proposes that Rule 54 should be worded as follows:
"You should travel at a speed safe for the conditions and with due regard to hazards such as schools. You should be able to stop within the distance you can see. You should observe the two-second rule."
The above is the wording used in ABD publications to ensure that our members understand that the Association does not condone the abuse of speed.

Fog Code Rule 58. There is poor understanding of the use of rear fog lights. The existing code says: "switch them off when visibility improves". This is not explicit enough., a new rule such as the following needs to be inserted:

"The use of rear fog lights when they are not necessary is not only illegal but can adversely affect your own safety. Rear fog lights can dazzle the driver behind so that your own brake lights become invisible. It is also more difficult for the following driver to see beyond your vehicle to get early warning of holdups ahead. In general, if you can see a following vehicle in your rear view mirror, he will be able to see you without your rear fog lights on."

4.3 Overtaking

Rule 99 There should be greater emphasis on the need for the driver of the overtaking vehicle to be alert for, and avoid overtaking in the vicinity of, concealed and blind exits on the right-hand side of the road, from which emerging vehicles could turn left into the path of the overtaking vehicle. This is the primary source of accidents involving overtaking manoeuvres, and should be highlighted as the major risk in these circumstances.

A great deal of congestion is caused on two-lane dual carriageways by lorries overtaking each other with a negligible speed difference. This should be discouraged by enforcing Highway Code Rules 99 and 100.

4.4 Vehicle Lights

Fog Lights — Rule 133. Add a new sentence:
"Remember to turn off rear fog lights when following vehicle(s) can see you without them. See the Fog Code, Rule 58."

4.5 Waiting and Parking

Rule 137 states: "You must switch off the engine and headlights". Not many people follow this guidance, it should be reinforced by appropriate publicity and enforcement. Places to wait or park — Rules 138 to 141. The Highway Code is very explicit about where not to park; the listed places are prohibited for good safety reasons. However, in many towns there has been a systematic removal of parking places. As a consequence more people will resort, in desperation, to stopping in less safe places.

Moreover, unnecessary traffic movement is created as drivers circulate, looking for a parking place. This unreasonable behaviour on the part of local authority planners must be outlawed and reversed. They must be instructed to maximise the availability of kerbside parking. (This will have the additional benefit of revitalising town centres — a matter of current concern.) Parking at night — Rule 142. This prohibits parking on the "wrong" side of the road and is another rule that apparently a whole generation of drivers is unaware of and which appears never to be enforced. The wording needs to be strengthened to: "You must not park or wait at night facing against the direction of the traffic flow. In other words, you must not stop on the 'wrong' side of the road."

4.6 Road Works

Alternate merging at road works — Rule 147. We welcome the proposed change in the interests of smoother merging, better use of road space and fairer queueing.

Temporary speed limits — Rule 148. This is another example of speed limits being brought into disrepute by their inappropriate application. The notion that all roadworks should have 50mph limits, which appears to be the case, is plainly ridiculous. Sometimes 70mph would be reasonable, sometimes 40mph. It all depends on the lane width, the proximity of the works, any surface disruption or adverse camber, the tightness of any bends in the road works section and so on.

Thus for every works, appropriate limits should be posted. The limit may even need to vary within one road works section, for example a lower limit through a chicane with narrow lanes. It is a good idea to post the reason for each reduced limit.

If drivers perceive that the speed limits in road works are not only reasonable but help them make smooth and safe progress, they will respect those limits and there will be no need for the expensive and heavy-handed use of "Big Brother" technology to enforce them. If the above conditions apply, then Rule 148 will be reasonable.

5. Motorways

5.1 On the Motorway

Overtaking and Signalling — Rule 168. Use of mirrors and signalling is still very poor on motorways; late or non-existant signalling often being a symptom of poor anticipation. The sentence reading "Use your mirrors" should be strengthened to:
"Use your mirrors and glance to your right."
The sentence reading "Signal before you move out." should be strengthened to:
"Signal for at least four seconds before starting to move out."
Overtaking — Rule 169. We welcome the intention to outlaw lane-hogging. However, stronger wording will be to no avail without enforcement. The inappropriate 70mph limit also does not help matters by providing the selfish, stubborn and bloody-minded with an excuse for their behaviour.

It is also important that drivers are not encouraged to cut in by the changed emphasis. Ultimately it must be recognised that safe overtaking, even on a motorway, is carried out fairly briskly with a healthy (but not excessive) speed differential. The present 70mph limit therefore militates against good, safe driving practice.

The wording of the Highway Code should recognise the reality that most cars on the motorways are travelling safely, responsibly and considerately at speeds between 80mph and 100mph. It would therefore be best if no particular speed was mentioned and the following wording should be used.

"You should drive in the left hand lane if the road ahead is clear. If you are not in the left hand lane and you are delaying traffic behind you, move into a lane to your left when it is safe to do so and without 'cutting up' the vehicle you have passed."
Overtaking — New Rule. Many vehicles travel at about the same speed, currently 80mph to 85mph for cars, 60mph for lorries. Thus there are potentially difficult situations when one vehicle catches up with another with perhaps 1mph speed difference or less. The following new rule would be helpful.
"If you catch up with another vehicle on the motorway, do not attempt to overtake it unless you and your vehicle have the ability to do so quickly and safely. Do not creep past other vehicles as this causes danger and frustration to following traffic."

6. Extra Rules for Cyclists

The Code must emphasise that it is at least as much the responsibility of vulnerable road users like cyclists to safeguard their lives and wellbeing as it is the responsibility of drivers.

6.1 Safety equipment and clothing

Being seen — New Rule. Being seen in good time by drivers of motor vehicles is an essential pre-requisite to not being hit by them. So add the following new Rule:
"Use lights whenever they would improve your visibility to other road users, for example on country roads where trees create heavy shade, on grey mornings, or if you have busy road junctions to negotiate."

6.2 Cycling

Rules 192, 193, 196, 197, 198, 199, 209, 210. There is nothing wrong with these rules but why do many cyclists not observe them? It appears that many parents let their youngsters ride out without the slightest knowledge of the rules of the road — not even keeping to the left. Why is there no attempt to enforce these rules and educate the errant riders?

Car drivers tend to be blamed for every injury on the road, yet it is the gross misbehaviour of numerous cyclists that puts them and others at risk.

No changes to these rules are needed but a massive campaign of publicity along the lines suggested elsewhere is needed.

There also needs to be sensible guidance for parents teaching young children to ride but this is probably out of place in the Highway Code.

Highway damage — Rule 194. The dictum to look out for bad road surfaces is sadly only too necessary. Badly repaired roads, poorly aligned manhole covers and gullies at the side of the road pose a serious danger to cyclists compared with being of minor significance to motor vehicles. It is incredible that no long-term plans for improving road surface quality have been adopted.

Traffic "Calming" "Features" — Rule 195. Deliberate obstructions designed to impede the smooth progress of traffic almost always increase the danger to cyclists:

All "traffic calming" obstructions should be removed forthwith.

7. Animals

7.1 Horse Riders

Riding at night — Rule 219. This rule states that reflective clothing and fetlock bands should be worn and that lights should be used. There is widespread disregard of this rule, particularly in commuter villages where people come home from work, then go out for a ride in the dusk while everyone else is still coming home in cars. It is a recipe for disaster. The rule does not need changing it needs publicising and enforcing.

8. Speed Limits

8.1 Introduction

A revised Highway Code is unlikely to be taken seriously unless the current stance with regard to speed and speed limits is modified. The Code states: "a speed limit should not be regarded as a target. It will not always be safe to drive at the maximum speed limit". However, speed limits must be worthy of respect; otherwise they will not be observed, nor will they represent a positive contribution to road safety. This view is supported by an extensive study carried out in the United States by the Federal Highways Administration.

Under the current circumstances, with the 70mph national speed limit (which up to 70% of cars drivers ignore) for motorways and dual carriageways, it is in fact true to say that "the application of a particular speed limit often means that it perfectly safe to exceed it". This leads to a devaluation and lack of respect for all speed limits.

With the current level of automotive roadholding, tyre- and braking technologies, a careful and thorough review of all speed limits is long overdue. A speed limit of not less than 85mph for motorways and high quality dual carriageways would be more realistic and more appropriate. Not only would this improve compliance; US evidence shows it would also reduce casualties.

Similarly the current obsession with mis-applying 30mph and 40mph speed limits to large tracts of road where such low limits are highly inappropriate is already having grave and indeed fatal consequences. Recent inquest reports on two deaths by West Suffolk Coroner, William Walrond, clearly indicate the adverse consequences of such speed limit policies. His remarks are quoted in the Appendix.

8.2 Why too-low limits are bad for safety

There are several ways in which inappropriately low speed limits have an adverse effect on safety. For example:

8.3 Categories of bad limits

There are several main categories of bad limits: Furthermore no housebuyer is compelled to purchase a house by a main road.

8.4 What should be done about speed limits

It is essential, for the sake of road safety and the efficient use of the road transport network that we move towards a sensible regime of speed limits and enforcement. The following comments relate to speed limits for cars and refer to the table on page 53 of the existing Highway Code.

Built-up areas The 30mph limit is widely respected where it is properly applied. There is no need to change the rule but local authorities must be instructed not to devalue this limit by applying it in places where it is obviously too low. 40mph, 50mph or 60mph limits should be used where road width and hazard frequency permit. Local authorities must not be allowed to cheat by reducing road width and introducing artificial hazards.

Dual carriageways The 70mph national limit is too low and should be increased to at least 85mph on high quality dual carriageways. This increase should be accompanied by publicity on safe high speed driving such as following distances and lane discipline (including use of mirrors and indicators).

Motorways The 70mph national limit is far too low and should be increased to at least 85mph. This increase should be accompanied by publicity on safe motorway driving especially emphasising observation, anticipation, signalling and following distances. The Association would be pleased to become involved with specifying the safety publicity programmes required.

Ultimately the motorway blanket limit should be removed. The requirement would remain to drive with due regard to hazards and to be able to stop within the distance one can see.

9. Light Signals Controlling Traffic

The vast majority of drivers respect and obey traffic lights for obvious reasons. However lights are increasingly being used for political reasons by local authorities, to create congestion and to inconvenience motorists. This abuse will eventually bring traffic lights into disrepute and respect for them will evaporate.

It is clearly in the interest of the Law, good order and safety that this does not happen. The abuse of traffic lights for political purposes must cease. Local authority planners must be instructed that traffic light systems should be programmed to smooth and to maximise traffic flow and for no other purpose.

10. Road Markings

Until recently the variety of road markings was extensive but manageable. The different types of marking have now profilerated to such an extent that they are failing to achieve the objectives for which they were presumably designed. Road paint has become counterproductive in terms of safety, indeed some of it seems designed deliberately to distract, confuse and annoy the driver.

The ABD is opposed to unnecessary clutter which serves only to confuse and which damages the environment by urbanising rural and suburban areas.

11. Conclusion

Many points in the Highway Code would not now need such heavy re-emphasis had not general standards of road user behaviour been allowed to lapse. This has been due to the following features of a very unhealthy climate: These grave errors and injustices must become things of the past if the Highway Code is to maintain its position as the common sense 'Bible' for road users.

12. Appendix

12.1 Coroner's remarks in the case of fatal accidents

The following excerpts are from the Verdict of Mr Bill Walrond, Coroner at Bury St Edmonds, West Suffolk, in late 1996.
Breaks in the quotation are indicated by an ellipsis. Emboldening of key phrases is ours.

"This is the Coroner's Verdict re Frank Gray deceased. I accept Dr Biedrzycki's report as to the medical cause of death and it follows from that that I find that the injury causing death is:- "I (a) Multiple Injuries".

I now come to the most important part of my Verdict and that is the legal cause of death, what is called on the Verdict form "Conclusion of the Coroner as to the Death". Quite plainly, I only have one reasonable Verdict open to me there and that is one of Accidental Death. Part 3 of my Verdict which I have deliberately skipped until now is the time place and circumstances at or in which the injury was sustained, 1 find that that was between 6 and 6. 10am on the 4th November 1996 on the A134 road at Bradfield Combust, circumstances:"due to a road traffic accident".

... I have had reported to me three fatal accidents on this road and these three fatal accidents follow very shortly after certain speed limits have been imposed on this road at Alpheton Bradfield Combust and Sicklesmere.

... I think that there is a very high probability indeed that this tragic fatality has the speed limits as a contributory cause. I say no more than "contributory" and I made a similar finding on the first of the three Inquests that 1 have held.

First of all, if we look at the speed limits themselves, there is a 30 mile an hour speed limit through Sicklesmere, a 40 mile an hour speed limit through Bradfield Combust and a 30 mile an hour speed limit through Alpheton.

I am going to deal with the speed limit at Bradfield Combust first. I think almost anybody would agree that it is thoroughly reasonable to restrict cars to 40 miles per hour as they negotiate the double bend which is, coming from Sudbury, just beyond the Bradfield Manger. Not only is there a double bend there but also there is a road junction. However, I think that the 40 mile an hour speed limit extends too far in either direction from there and I think that it would be more reasonable and that more drivers would keep to the limit if where the 40 mile an hour signs are at the moment, that is at the ends of the speed limits, there were 50 mile an hour signs and a bit later on the legal speed was reduced to 40 miles an hour.

In respect of the speed limits through Sicklesmere and Alpheton, I don't think there can be any doubt whatsoever that 30 miles an hour is ridiculously slow to compel drivers to go through those two villages.

Speed limits which are unduly restrictive are harmful for many reasons but of course I'm only really concerned, and I've only got the right to mention, those respects in respect of which unnecessary speed limits are detrimental to safety. Unnecessary speed limits are detrimental to safety for various reasons, they reduce the opportunity to overtake, thereby making drivers try harder at other times, they cause traffic to bunch, they cause frayed tempers, they cause delay which makes drivers try harder at other times to make up time that they have lost.

Another unfortunate effect that they have is that each unnecessary speed limit leads drivers to think that speed limits are imposed arbitrarily and therefore makes drivers less likely to observe speed limits when they ought to. Furthermore, speed limits can lead to road rage. I know of at least one incident concerning the Alpheton limit where exactly that happened. None of the factors which I have mentioned are things which can be measured statistically and of course there is no way where a speed limit contributes to an accident can excuse a mistake by a driver particularly in regard to matters concerning frayed tempers or road rage. A driver with a frayed temper is not going to drive anything like as well as a driver who is calm and relaxed. Similarly and obviously a driver suffering from road rage is a hazard. Drivers should of course concentrate on staying calm and relaxed and they are at fault if they do not do so, but none of that alters the connection that there can be between an accident and an unnecessary speed limit and usually where there is such a connection, I suggest it's undetectable either statistically or any how else.

... I personally use this road often and have taken a special interest in what percentage of drivers observe the speed limit. I know that when I go through one of these speed limits, I am not talking about the one at Bradfield Combust but the speed limits at Sicklesmere and Alpheton at 30 miles an hour and I mean real 30 miles an hour not an indicated 30 miles an hour because I am one of those few drivers who knows what the errors in his speedometer are. Any time I do that I collect a queue behind me and it seems that those drivers who are keeping to the limit is mainly because they are in a queue. When a high percentage of drivers ignore a particular speed limit and I am not talking now about these particular limits themselves, I am speaking generally, when a high percentage of drivers ignore a speed limit everyone says how terrible that is and how awful drivers are. None of them stop to think, or if they do stop to think they don't say so publicly, if say 80 percent of drivers ignore a speed limit, there might be something wrong with that speed limit itself. In fact, if a high percentage of drivers ignore a speed limit it means that more than that high percentage disagree with the speed limit because of those drivers who keep to the limit it could be one of several other reasons. For instance, and the most important one perhaps, is fear of prosecution and points on their licence. It can be because the driver is in a queue as I've already mentioned where the leader is observing the speed limit or it could be, thank goodness, some people are just plain dutiful. So where we have a majority of drivers who ignore a speed limit it means that not only do those drivers disagree with the speed limit but a high proportion of those that keep to the speed limit disagree with it.

I believe that the A134 from Bury St Edmunds to Sudbury would become more reasonable and safer if the speed limits through Alpheton and Sicklesmere were increased to 40 miles hour preferably with a 50 mile an hour lead in from where the existing signs are and that the Bradfield Combust speed limit should have its 40 mile an hour section made shorter, replacing the existing end signs of the limit with a 50 mph lead in.