Highway Code Confusion

As proposals for a revised Highway Code are finalised Venson survey reveals drivers’ misconceptions about the current rules of the road

  • Just 27% of respondents knew that motorists do not have to stop at a zebra crossing if a pedestrian is waiting to cross
  • 45% hold the incorrect belief that internal lights must be switched off whilst driving
  • 79% believe that undertaking on the motorway is always illegal
  • Only half (53%) knew the legal implications of deliberately or accidentally splashing a pedestrian by driving through a puddle

Changes are expected to be made to the Highway Code in early 2022 which will introduce a ‘hierarchy of road users’, with more vulnerable users such as pedestrians and cyclists prioritised. The move is part of a £338 million Government package to further boost active travel across the UK. However, research carried out by Venson Automotive Solutions has revealed that a worrying number of people do not know enough of the current Highway Code, giving cause for concern that new changes could create greater confusion and road chaos.

According to the Venson survey, just one in three drivers (27%) know that vehicles are only required to stop at zebra crossings if pedestrians are already on the crossing. If Parliament approves the proposed Highway Code changes, drivers will have to give pedestrians greater priority by stopping to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross as well as those already on the crossing. 74% of Venson survey respondents agree this would be a good change.

Another popular new rule would require cyclists to move into single file to allow vehicles to pass (60% agreed with this rule). The least popular proposed new rule would allow cyclists to pass slower moving vehicles on either side, including when approaching junctions – just 26% agreed this rule should be brought in.

“Knowing the Highway Code is essential in making our roads safer places,” commented Alison Bell, Marketing Director at Venson Automotive Solutions. “However, there is clearly confusion about what is and isn’t law.  Take for example undertaking, there are circumstances where undertaking is necessary, such as a congested road, but only if it’s safe to do so. One cause of undertaking is middle-lane hogging, an offence in itself that’s punishable with an on the spot £100 fine and three penalty points. One of the new proposed changes in the law next year that’s likely to catch people is out, is using of the horn to invite pedestrians and cyclists to cross the road.”

“Depending on the severity, and whether or not the rules are legal requirements, breaking the rules of the Highway Code could lead to prosecution, points on your licence, fines or even a custodial sentence. Generally, if a rule states something ‘must’ or must not’ be done it is backed up by law and pleading ignorance is no excuse,” continues Bell.  “Learning the existing and incoming rules deserves every driver’s time.  However, for businesses operating a fleet of vehicles it’s especially the case, as they have a Duty of Care to ensure company drivers are aware of their responsibilities, and the upcoming changes to the rules – whether they agree with them or not.”

Venson Automotive Solutions Survey results:

Which of the following are true?

79% It is illegal to overtake on the left of a vehicle on a motorway or dual carriage (FALSE)
45% It is illegal to have the interior light on in your car whilst driving (FALSE)
35% You must let bus drivers out at bus stops (FALSE)
29% It’s okay to break the law to let an emergency vehicle past (FALSE)
53% It is illegal to splash a pedestrian whilst driving through a puddle at the side of the road (TRUE – Road Traffic Act 1988)
27% Traffic does not have to give way at a zebra crossing until a pedestrian has moved onto the crossing (TRUE – Highway Code rules 19 and 195)

New changes to the Highway Code are being proposed, including priorities at crossings and junctions and cyclists in relation to vehicles. Please tick all those you agree with.

74% You should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing and pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing.
60% Cyclists should ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake and it’s safe to let them do so. When riding in larger groups on narrow lanes, it’s sometimes safer to ride two abreast.
58% Don’t turn at a junction if it causes a cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve.
51% At a junction, you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you’re turning.
50% You should remain behind cyclists and motorcyclists at junctions, even if they’re waiting to turn and are positioned close to the kerb.
47% Don’t wave or use your horn to invite pedestrians or cyclists to cross; this could be dangerous if another vehicle is approaching.
33% When traffic lights are red and there is an advanced stop line, cyclists may cross the first stop line to position themselves in front of other traffic but mustn’t cross the final stop line.
26% Cyclists may pass slower-moving or stationary traffic on the right or left, including at the approach to junctions.

The latest version of the Highway Code can be downloaded here, a revised version is due to be published in Spring 2022