Home Business Insights & Advice Are cyclists in the UK really any safer after the highway code changes?

Are cyclists in the UK really any safer after the highway code changes?

by Sarah Dunsby
4th Mar 24 3:39 pm

In recent years, cycling has surged in popularity across the UK as people embrace healthier, more sustainable modes of transport. However, concerns over cyclist safety persist, particularly in the context of sharing roads with motor vehicles.

In response to these concerns, changes to the Highway Code were implemented with the aim of enhancing cyclist safety. But the question remains: have these changes made a tangible difference?

Let’s delve into the topic to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures taken.

Changes to the highway code

The revisions to the Highway Code introduced several key amendments aimed at safeguarding cyclists.

Hierarchy of road users

The introduction of a hierarchical approach to road users in the UK represents a significant paradigm shift in the way road safety is conceptualized and regulated. This hierarchy, as outlined in the revised Highway Code, aims to prioritize the protection of vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians, over those operating larger, more powerful vehicles. Here’s a discussion of the UK hierarchy of road users:

Vulnerable road users

Pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians are considered the most vulnerable road users under the hierarchical framework. This recognition reflects the inherent risk they face when sharing road space with larger and faster-moving vehicles.

By prioritizing the safety of vulnerable road users, the hierarchy seeks to promote greater awareness, consideration, and caution among motorists. This includes giving way to pedestrians at crossings, providing adequate space when overtaking cyclists, and exercising caution around horse riders.

Motor vehicles

Motor vehicles, including cars, vans, buses, and trucks, occupy a lower tier in the hierarchical framework. While they play a vital role in transportation, their size, speed, and potential for causing harm necessitate a greater degree of responsibility and accountability.

Under the hierarchy, motorists are expected to exercise caution and vigilance when interacting with vulnerable road users. This includes adhering to speed limits, yielding to pedestrians and cyclists, and maintaining a safe distance when overtaking.

By acknowledging the dominance of motor vehicles on the roads while emphasizing the need for responsible driving behavior, the hierarchy aims to mitigate the risk posed to vulnerable road users and create a safer and more inclusive road environment.

Other road users

The hierarchical framework also recognizes the presence of other road users, such as motorcyclists, mobility scooter users, and agricultural vehicles. While not explicitly placed within the top tier of vulnerable road users, they are afforded consideration and respect under the hierarchy.

Motorcyclists, for example, are acknowledged for their increased vulnerability compared to drivers of enclosed vehicles and are encouraged to be mindful of their own safety as well as that of other road users.

Similarly, mobility scooter users and operators of agricultural vehicles are recognized for their specific needs and limitations, with motorists urged to exercise patience and understanding when sharing the road with them.

Cyclists’ responsibilities to road safety

The revisions also emphasized the need for cyclists to ride in a predictable manner, use designated cycle lanes where available, and exercise caution at junctions and roundabouts. By clarifying the responsibilities of both motorists and cyclists, the updated Highway Code sought to foster a safer environment for all road users.

Should a cyclist find themselves involved in an accident, it is essential that they report the incident to the police and also seek legal advice as to their rights for personal injury compensation. Cyclists often assume that the process may be complex, but a compensation claim needn’t be time-consuming or expensive when working with an experienced legal advisor.

Assessing the impact

While the intentions behind the Highway Code changes were noble, assessing their real-world impact is crucial in determining their effectiveness. One metric often used to gauge cyclist safety is the number of accidents and fatalities involving cyclists on the roads.

Initial data following the implementation of the revised Highway Code suggests a mixed picture. While some regions have reported a decrease in cyclist casualties, others have seen little to no change. Factors such as infrastructure quality, enforcement of road regulations, and public awareness campaigns play significant roles in shaping these outcomes. It also needs to be considered that many cyclists will not notify authorities of near misses and minor accidents, which may result in figures that fail to illustrate the true impact of the legislature changes.

Furthermore, the cultural shift necessary to truly prioritize cyclist safety may take time to materialize. Changing ingrained behaviors and attitudes among road users requires sustained effort and education. Therefore, while the changes to the Highway Code represent a step in the right direction, their full impact may not be immediately apparent.

Challenges and opportunities

Despite the challenges, there are opportunities to further enhance cyclist safety in the UK. Investing in dedicated cycling infrastructure, such as segregated cycle lanes and improved junction designs, can significantly reduce the risk of accidents. Moreover, increasing public awareness through targeted campaigns and educational initiatives can help foster a culture of mutual respect and understanding among all road users.

Collaboration between government agencies, local authorities, cycling advocacy groups, and the private sector is essential in driving meaningful change. By working together, stakeholders can identify and address the root causes of cyclist accidents, implementing comprehensive solutions that prioritize safety without compromising mobility.


The revisions to the Highway Code aimed at improving cyclist safety represent a positive step forward in addressing the challenges faced by cyclists on UK roads. While early indicators suggest some progress, there is still much work to be done to ensure that cyclists are afforded the protection and respect they deserve.

Continued investment in infrastructure, education, and enforcement is essential to create a safer environment for cyclists and all road users. By remaining vigilant and proactive in our efforts, we can strive towards a future where cycling is not only a popular mode of transport but also a safe and enjoyable one for everyone.

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