20 Apr 2022
by Dr Sandra Macdonald-Ames, Jane Glyn

It is usual for regular changes, clarification, and the odd word change but new introductions will have wide implications for drivers.

The changes are designed to provide much greater protection to vulnerable road users, with drivers of larger vehicles required to display greater responsibility. Known as the Hierarchy of Road Users it places pedestrians at most risk, followed by cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists, cars and taxis, vans and minibuses, and finally HGVs and buses.

Pedestrian priority

We do not have ‘right of way’ in the Highway Code but ‘priority’. Previously vehicles would have priority at junctions, for example, when turning from a major road into a minor (side) road over other road users. Unless a pedestrian was standing on the road they would be required to wait. Under the new rules drivers must give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a side road. A driver now has to stop on a main road until pedestrians have finished crossing. This is where road risk could change.

How many times have you followed another driver who has signalled to turn left, slowed, and then turned off? You are expecting them to make the move and as such your foot is already going down on the pedal to make progress past. But now that driver could signal and stop on the main road unable to turn due to the presence of a pedestrian or a cyclist intending to go straight on. This is likely going to result in an increase in rear end collisions and adverse driver behaviour through anger or frustration. 

Alternatively at the same junction the driver may start to turn only to find a pedestrian already in their path. This lack of understanding can create frustration, stress and anger in some drivers depending on their personality. By being in this temporary state our vision becomes tunnelled, we lose awareness of everything else around us (signs, directions, traffic) and the red mist comes down. Negative reactions might be flashing headlights, blasting the horn, yelling, speeding round them and down the road at an inappropriate speed.

Device use

There are further changes this spring which will clamp down on mobile devices. 

If you made a list of what your ‘phone’ does, calls might be low on the list in some cases. Currently calling or texting on a handheld phone while driving or riding carries a minimum £200 fine and six penalty points. For those drivers who have held a licence for less than two years the result is automatic licence revocation.

New changes now make use of a handheld mobile phone illegal, including taking phone calls, playing games or searching playlists. This is a blanket rule, regardless of whether a driver is driving, stopped at traffic lights, queuing in traffic or supervising learner drivers.

Motorists will still be allowed to use a hands-free phone provided it is in a cradle and a handheld phone to make payments such as at a road toll or drive-through.

Highway Code risk action

When did your organisation review or write a policy on use of mobile devices for drivers. When were policies last updated? Have recent changes been taken into account?

A policy should always reflect legislation as the minimum expectation, plus a demonstration of an organisation’s highest standards and best practices.

What is company policy on hands-free calling? While it may not be a breach of mobile phone law, it could be a distraction. 

This opens a whole new possibility for offences for not just the driver but an organisation too. Are drivers expected to keep in contact, answer calls from managers or transport planners, use the phone for updates on deliveries and collections during a shift? While it may be inferred that drivers should not use the phone, is that written down? What is actually happening when service level agreements or key performance indicators need to be met?

Safe driving relies on everyone being aware and understanding the new rules. The problem is that drivers’ do not tend to look the Highway Code and may not be aware of the changes within it. Up-to-date knowledge creates an important understanding and hopefully appropriate behaviours.

Assisted driving technologies

Ultimately the only way to stop adverse driving behaviours is to remove the driver, and we are already moving towards self-driving cars. The more we get wrong or have the capacity to break the rules, the more technology is developed to prevent us doing so.

While it may have seemed science fiction a few years ago, 2022 will possibly see the introduction of further assisted driving technologies.

Automatic lane keeping systems (ALKS) allow a vehicle to keep in a single lane, with the driver able to easily take back control where needed.

The Government has proposed introduction on the UK motorway network following a recent public consultation. This may reduce human error, known to be a major contributor to any collision. However the danger is that a driver can become less alert and may not be always fully aware of their surroundings. If this moves us one step closer to reducing injuries and fatalities on our roads, while opening possibilities to those unable to drive currently through disability, it must be a good thing.