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Highway Code changes welcomed by walking and cycling groups in Inverness

By John Davidson

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The proposed changes to the Highway Code are aimed at getting more people walking and cycling.
The proposed changes to the Highway Code are aimed at getting more people walking and cycling.

Pedestrian and cycling groups have welcomed proposals to update the Highway Code as part of ambitious plans to boost walking and wheeling.

The UK government this week announced a series of changes to help instil active modes of transport into everyday life for more people.

They include new design guidance for cycle infrastructure and a European-style bold vision for cycling and walking, headed up by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – though these aspects will only apply in England.

The consultation on changes to the Highway Code – to help improve safety for vulnerable road users including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders – will apply across England, Scotland and Wales.

A key feature of the proposals is the idea of a ‘hierarchy of responsibility’, with road users who cause the greatest harm having a greater responsibility to reduce the threat they pose to others.

There are also proposed changes at zebra crossings and junctions to give pedestrians priority and additional narrative on the dangers of speeding. At the heart of the proposed changes is the belief that “the purpose of the Highway Code is to promote safety on the road, whilst also supporting a healthy, sustainable and efficient transport system”.

Among the other main changes are: clarifying existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements, to advise that drivers and riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road; providing guidance on cyclist priority at junctions to advise drivers to give priority to cyclists at junctions when travelling straight ahead; and establishing guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists and horse riders.

Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, said the changes were needed to encourage people to walk and cycle more.

Brian Mackenzie, chairman of the Inverness Living Streets group, welcomed the aim of the proposed changes and hoped the design elements would ultimately also be applied in Scotland.

He said: "The general tone of these documents is excellent. Putting pedestrians at the top is key to it. I'm presuming that Transport Scotland will be bringing out something similar, and hopefully along the same lines and with the same sort of emphasis."

Jenni Wiggle, the charity's interim CEO, said: “The Highway Code currently treats all road users – from children walking to lorry drivers – as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people’s safety. However, people walking cause the least road danger but are often left paying the price.

“Pedestrians account for a quarter of road deaths, with the latest figures showing increases among vulnerable groups: children and older people. Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm, such as the drivers of large motor vehicles, should also take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose."

Highland Cycle Campaign also praised the bold thinking behind the proposals.

A spokesman said: "The proposed changes to the Highway Code clarify and explain existing good cycling behaviour, such as riding in primary position when appropriate and giving room to pedestrians and horse riders. Importantly, they also give clear guidance to drivers on overtaking distances for different vehicles and at different speeds.

"Overall, the changes are to be welcomed and we hope they will help to improve the relationship and understanding between different road users.

"However, the best way to get more people walking and cycling is to build better infrastructure where people feel safer to get around on two wheels or on foot – and this was clearly shown during lockdown when more people made the most of the quieter roads to walk and cycle more."

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