Employers who have staff that are required to drive as part of their work need to ensure that they communicate the implications of sweeping changes to the Highway Code as part of their policy for managing work-related road safety.
In total, nine sections of the code have been updated, with 50 rules added or updated, including a new risk-based ‘hierarchy of road users’. The changes came into force on Saturday, 29 January.
Road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart, which welcomes some of the changes, has said that one of the most important is the placing of more responsibility on the drivers of larger vehicles to look after more vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart’s director of policy and research, told IOSH magazine: ‘The government has waited until the very last minute before issuing information about the new code and that is simply unacceptable. Very few drivers read the Highway Code and all road users need to know what is expected of them so a major campaign is needed to communicate changes in a simple, memorable and timely fashion’.
According to the Department for Transport, the introduction section of the code has been updated to include three new rules about the ‘hierarchy of road users’, placing the most at-risk road users in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy. There is still a requirement, however, for all road users to behave responsibly.
Neil says that employers should look out for official radio and social media campaigns in mid-February and again in May.
People crossing the road at junctions is one of the key changes flagged by the government. Under the new rules, a pedestrian waiting to cross a side road has priority and other traffic should give way.
The updated code also confirms that if pedestrians have started to cross the road and traffic wants to turn into the road, the people crossing have priority and traffic should give way.
People driving, riding a motorcycle or cycling are also required to give way to people on a zebra crossing and people walking and cycling on a parallel crossing.
Drivers also need to be aware of changes that affect other road users as these can impact on their own driving.
Cyclists are now advised to keep at least 0.5 metres away from the kerb edge (and further where it is safer) when riding on busy roads with vehicles moving faster than them. Cyclists in groups are allowed to ride two abreast, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders, but are asked to be aware of people driving behind them and allow them to overtake, for example, by moving into single file or stopping when it is safe to do so.
Importantly, the code also includes updated guidance on safe passing distances and speeds for drivers or motorcyclists when overtaking vulnerable road users. These include:
- Leaving at least 1.5 metres (five feet) when overtaking people cycling at speeds of up to 30 mph, and giving them more space when overtaking at higher speeds.
- Passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allowing at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) of space.
- Allowing at least 2 metres of space and keeping to a low speed when passing pedestrians walking in the road, for example, in areas where there is no pavement.
The code says that drivers must wait behind vulnerable road users and not overtake them if it’s unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances.
Drivers should also be aware that the updated code does confirm that cyclists can pass slower-moving or stationary traffic on their right or left.
It advises cyclists to proceed with caution as drivers may not be able to see them, especially on the approach to junctions and when they pass large vehicles.
Drivers should be particularly aware that cyclists have priority when going straight ahead at junctions. Unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise, cyclists have priority over traffic waiting to turn into or out of a side road.
It is also important that people driving or riding a motorcycle know that they must give priority to people cycling on roundabouts.
The updated guidance makes it clear that they should not attempt to overtake people cycling within that persons’ lane and allow people cycling to move across their path as they travel around the roundabout.
Importantly, they are also reminded that people cycling, riding a horse and driving a horse-drawn vehicle are still allowed to stay in the left-hand lane of a roundabout when they intend to continue across or around the roundabout.
The government advises people driving that they should take extra care when entering a roundabout to make sure they do not cut across people cycling, riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle who are continuing around the roundabout in the left-hand lane.
Neil says that hidden in the depths of the new Highway Code are some other sections which employers might find useful to share with their drivers. New tips on weekly car checks, electric vehicle charging and using smart motorways all contain useful information.
IOSH said it welcomes the changes, as work-related road traffic accidents are a significant cause of preventable death and injury.
It is reminding employers that they have clear duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to manage occupational road risks as part of their wider OSH management responsibilities.
Organisations should ensure that they produce and effectively communicate a policy for the management of work-related road safety with their staff, IOSH adds, recognising it as an investment and not a cost.
Road safety policies should cover a number of key factors, including driver suitability, fitness and training; and realistic timescales for journeys to prevent stress or pressure to take risks. Employers also need to control the risk from ‘driver distraction’ such as prohibiting phone-use and eating while driving, and include this in their driver policy.
IOSH added that self-employed workers and small firms are particularly at risk because they are less likely to have the resources to develop a road safety policy.
The Department for Transport’s provisional estimates for reported road casualties in Great Britain for the year ending June 2021 note that there has been a 11% decrease in reported road deaths and a 9% decrease in casualties of all severities compared to the year ending June 2020.
However, the government also acknowledges that the downward trend has been influenced by the lockdown measures imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As businesses continue to recover and road transport numbers increase accordingly, campaigners have advised employers to ensure the Highway Code amendments are communicated effectively as part of their road safety policies.
‘IOSH supports the changes in the Highway Code, which aim to improve hazards that impact on all road users, including those at work,’ said Ruth Wilkinson, head of health and safety (policy and operations) at IOSH.
‘IOSH encourages all organisations to familiarise themselves with the new changes and communicate them in a timely manner to all workers,’ she added.