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Cyclists and the 2022 Highway Code

By Peter Lorence, a serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

I represent many individuals and families whose lives have been shattered by death and serious injury on our nation’s roads, due to entirely avoidable collisions.  

The government’s 2020 consultation to update The Highway Code to improve road safety was therefore welcomed by me and my colleagues. In preparing our response to the consultation, we reflected on our clients’ experiences and how their life changing incidents could have been avoided.

These changes have largely been adopted and the new Highway Code will be effective from 29 January 2022, incorporating updates to improve road safety, with particular attention placed on vulnerable road users.

I’ve already commented on the changes generally and the role of The Highway Code

These changes have prompted an array of opinions in the press and on social media, many of which stem from apparent confusion about the rules and their purpose. However, as noted by Peter Walker in The Guardian, some of these changes merely formalise “standard good sense and courtesy”. What is also telling is the degree of outrage about the supposed changes, yet some of which were already enshrined within the existing Highway Code. This only goes to highlight the lack of familiarity with the prior Code, let alone this update. 

What’s changed?

Hierarchy of road users

Previously The Highway Code had guided for all road users to be considerate towards each other, applying this principle to pedestrians and drivers equally. This therefore placed children walking to school on an equal footing with lorry drivers when considering their responsibility for their own safety as well as the safety of others. 

The new hierarchy of road users places those who can do the greatest harm with the greatest responsibility to reduce danger to others. This is designed to protect the most vulnerable people on our roads.

The new rules place emphasis on this hierarchy applying most strongly to drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger vehicles, vans, minibuses, cars and motorcycles.  Likewise, cyclists have a greater responsibility to reduce dangers posed to pedestrians.

Rules for drivers and motorcyclists at junctions

We see too many collisions as a result of vehicles turning across the paths of cyclists at junctions; drivers may fail to check for the presence of cyclists before committing to their manoeuvre, even when cyclists have been alongside them when doing so. 

The new Rule H3 is designed to protect cyclists from this happening; it sets out that when turning into or out of a junction, drivers should not cut across the path of any other road user. 

This includes where there is a cycle lane at the nearside. Road users are expected to stop and wait for a safe gap before beginning their manoeuvre. Drivers are directed to not turn at junctions if it would cause a cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve, just as they would do with a motor vehicle. 

If there is a flow of cyclists, drivers and motorcyclists should also stop and wait for a safe gap before attempting their manoeuvre. This includes when cyclists are approaching, passing or moving off from a junction, as well as when moving past or waiting alongside stationary or slow-moving traffic and when travelling around a roundabout.

Rule 67 has also been revised, setting out for cyclists to only pass to the left of large vehicles when they are stationary or slow moving and to only do so cautiously, in case the driver has not seen them. Particular care must be taken when approaching junctions, especially if a large vehicle could be turning left. 

At Rule 76, further guidance is provided for cyclists, highlighting that, when at junctions, large vehicles may have to move to the right before turning left and that the vehicle’s rear wheels may come close to the kerb whilst turning.

Cycle Paths

Rule 13 has been updated to reflect that certain cycle tracks may be shared with pedestrian footpaths, as well as routes shared by horse riders and horse drawn vehicles. Cyclists are therefore reminded to respect the safety of pedestrians along these routes, as well as to take care not to obstruct or endanger them.

When riding in spaces shared with pedestrians and horses, new Rule 63 now states that cyclists should take care when passing pedestrians and horses, especially children, older adults and the disabled. Cyclists are guided to slow down and let them know that they are there by calling out politely or using a bike’s bell. Further guidance highlights that pedestrians may be deaf, blind or partially sighted which means that they may not hear or see a cyclist approaching.

Rules 61 and 140 have also been revised to reflect that the use of cycle lanes / routes is not compulsory. This is not a new rule. Previously, the rule had stated that the routes should be used unless it was safe to do so. The revised rule now clarifies that whilst cycle routes can make a cyclist’s journey safer and easier, cyclists can exercise their judgement and are not obliged to use them.

Riding in groups

Previously, Rule 66 had stated for cyclists to never ride more than two abreast and to ride in single file on narrow or busy roads, as well as round bends.  This rule has now been revised to provide clarity, stating that cyclists can simply ride two abreast when it is safe to do, but to be aware of drivers and to allow them to overtake when it is felt safe to do so.

Road Positioning

Whilst new to The Highway Code, cyclists have long been guided as part of Bikeability training to ride in the centre of their lane, which is known as the primary position. The new Rule 72 now also details where in the road cyclists can ride, depending on the situation. 

Contrary to some recent press coverage, the rules don’t suggest that cyclists can ride in the middle of the road; it clarifies that cyclists can ride in the centre of their lane, to ensure that they are as visible as possible. This can be done on quiet roads, as well as in slower moving traffic or on the approach to junctions. 

Cyclists are only expected to move to the left to enable faster traffic to overtake when it is safe to do so. If on busy roads, cyclists should allow traffic to overtake when it is safe to do so, but also maintaining a 0.5 metre distance from the kerb edge.

Rule 73 also clarifies that at junctions, when safe to do so, it is recommended cyclists should proceed as if they are a motor vehicle, positioning themselves in the centre of their lane, to ensure that they remain visible and to avoid drivers from attempting to overtake when it would be dangerous to do so. 

Rule 170 reiterates this, directing drivers to remain behind cyclists at junctions, even if they are waiting turn and are positioned close to the curb. Further clarification is provided at Rule 178 on the importance of large vehicles stopping sufficiently behind the first white line at a junction, to ensure that drivers can see where cyclists may be waiting, allowing for any blind spots in front of their vehicles.

At roundabouts, Rule 186 now ensures that cyclists should be given priority, noting that they will be traveling more slowly than motor vehicles. Drivers should not overtake them within their lane and should allow them to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout. It is also reiterated from the prior Highway Code that even if a cyclist intends on continuing around a roundabout, they may remain in the left-hand lane, but should signal accordingly.

Safe Passing Distances

Close passing represents a serious danger to our most vulnerable road users. We’ve seen cases of people on bicycles being clipped by fast moving traffic, resulting in catastrophic injuries; we’ve also seen those cycling in our city centres be dragged under the wheels of vehicles that have attempted to pass them, but done so too closely. 

Rule 163 now prescribes safe passing distances for when overtaking cyclists and other road users. This includes guiding on at least a 1.5 metre space when overtaking a cyclist at speeds of up to 30mph. More space is expected when overtaking at speeds in excess of 30mph. 

Extra care should be taken in poor weather. The guidance also sets out that drivers should not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet the clearances set out. This is reiterated at Rule 212, which now guides for drivers overtaking cyclists to leave least as much room as they would when overtaking a car.

In addition to setting out safe passing distances, the new Rule 72 reiterates the right for cyclists to ride in the centre of their lane, to ensure that they remain visible. Cyclists are only expected to move to the left to allow faster vehicles to overtake when it is safe to do so. At junctions or on narrow roads, cyclists can maintain their central position where it would be unsafe for a driver to overtake.

Safely passing parked vehicles and the Dutch Reach

When cycling by parked vehicles, the risk of doors being opened into a cyclist’s path is a real danger and a common cause of collision. Previously The Highway Code had warned only for cyclists to watch out for doors being opened. 

Rule 67 has now been revised to provide guidance on the safe distance to pass parked vehicles. It now suggests leaving a door’s width or one metre when doing so, as well as to watch out for pedestrians stepping into their path.

For those opening the doors of parked vehicles, Rule 239 has also been updated to include what is often known as the “Dutch Reach”. When you are able to do so, you should open your vehicle door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening. 

For example, if you are in the right hand seat, you would use your left hand to open the door. In doing so, this forces you to turn your body and your head, better enabling you to check over your shoulder and your blind spot. This better enables those in vehicles to check whether it is safe to open their door, reducing the chance of opening their door into someone’s path.


These changes are largely very welcome and I was proud to take part in the Government’s consultation. In preparing our consultation response, we reflected on our clients’ stories and how the life changing incidents they suffered could have been easily avoided had these changes been made sooner. Nevertheless, we celebrate these changes which represent an important step towards eliminating deaths and serious injuries on our roads.

To ensure that the Government’s objective of improving road safety is achieved, however, this requires a co-ordinated public awareness campaign, to ensure that all road users are made aware of The Highway Code in its entirety.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in helping people and their families following road accidents at our road traffic accident claims section.


To ensure that the Government’s objective of improving road safety is achieved, however, this requires a co-ordinated public awareness campaign, to ensure that all road users are made aware of The Highway Code in its entirety.”