Following the Highways England consultation the Department of Transport laid the proposed amendments before both Houses of Parliament on 21 June 2021 for a 40 day period.
The proposed changes in relation to vulnerable road users (considered under the separate Department of Transport consultation) are subject to further amendment to take account of the feedback received.
The Department of Transport has indicated that the wording of some of the rules will be changed where appropriate to reflect the need for all road users to behave responsibly. Several concerns were raised about the proposal to give way to pedestrians waiting at a junction with the main concern being that this was confusing and could result in more accidents. The wording of this is being reviewed.
These will then similarly be laid before parliament.
Subject to parliamentary approval, work will then be carried out with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to update The Highway Code (both in its online format and the production of a new hard copy).
Whilst the hierarchy of road users is not an entirely new philosophy the growing concern amongst motorists and insurers is that pedestrians may take more risks on the road in light of the rule changes. There will also be the concern that claims bought by vulnerable road users do not form part of the new OIC portal rules which would reduce damages and costs.
The communication of these rules is extremely important and the education of all road users is going to be key. Despite the changes, the government have made it clear that the new rules do not detract from the need for all road users to ensure the safety of themselves and those around them.
We envisage that there may well be a slight shift in the way that courts adjudge liability particularly when cyclists and motorists are involved. We expect that claimant’s pleadings will be amended to keenly reflect the changes to the code but we do not envisage drastic changes to outcomes when these matters reach trial. Evidence collation from an early stage is going to be key to defending claims bought by vulnerable road users. Photographs from the accident scene along with detailed locus reports and independent witness statements are all key items of evidence to assist a defence.
Motor liability as we know it is changing. There are a number of factors which will be impacting the use of our roads in the near future including the increased use of electric vehicles and various other vehicle safety measures such as blind spot warnings and the forward collision warning. The changes to The Highway Code therefore cannot be considered in isolation in terms of how motor liability will be affected. It is to be noted that The Highway Code does not consider the impact of electric vehicles as it was not within the remit of the consultation.
The changes to The Highway Code bring new responsibilities to the driver in many situations – those involving speeding and tailgating shall continue to be areas frequently exercised in the courts both in criminal trials and civil actions. It is reassuring to see The Highway Code is being reviewed and adapted to respond to modern society and the incorporation of new technologies (a recent example being a consultation on proposals to include a section on automated vehicles).
Related item: Autonomous vehicles update