NMC Warns That All Road Users Have Responsibility for Their Own Safety Under New Highway Code

New hierarchy of road users does not confer some road users new rights over others

January 27, 2022

With the new Highway Code coming into force this coming Saturday (29th January 2022), which introduces a new traffic hierarchy, the National Motorcyclists Council is today reminding vulnerable road users, that the new hierarchy does not award them status which puts them above the law, or divorces them from responsibility for looking after their own safety on the road.  Changes to the highway code have not increased the burden on drivers or riders – or given them anything that they didn’t have before. The situation is fundamentally the same.

Although any advice for road users to watch out for the safety of others is always welcomed, had motorcycling organisations been properly consulted from the beginning of the process leading to the new Code, they would have opposed the hierarchy concept. This is due to concerns that awarding hierarchical status risks giving a sense of entitlement to some road user groups over others. The highways are instead a public resource where rights and responsibilities under the law apply equally to all who use it.  To create a hierarchy that remotely implies or can encourage some user groups to think that they have a lesser personal responsibility because others have a greater responsibility, could lead to negative unintended outcomes.

The Department for Transport has reacted to feedback on this point by stating that the hierarchy does not diminish personal responsibility. This clarification is welcomed, but the NMC feels that the need to say this underlines that the hierarchy could indeed lead to such a belief.

Craig Carey-Clinch, NMC Executive Director said: The motorcycling community has expressed concern about the proposed changes to the Highway Code since the public consultation into changing the code was first published.  This was around two years after the process of changing the code had commenced, during which time, motorcycling groups were not consulted.  A key concern is that changes designed to increase the safety of vulnerable road users have not benefited from input or advice from motorcyclists in their initial drafting.  This is particularly concerning given that motorcyclists are statistically the most vulnerable road user group and by far the most likely to face traffic incidents, the majority caused by other road users. In any case, the Highway Code applies to all road user groups, so any changes should have included inputs from all road user groups.  

“Our roads already suffer from much tribalism and lack of care for fellow road users. The NMC fears that the hierarchy could lead to these tensions being exacerbated, leading to greater confusion and conflict which could result in more, not less, risk on our roads.  Motorcyclists are already acutely aware of the need to take personal responsibility for their safety.  This is why the concept of defensive riding is widely accepted and promoted by the motorcycling community.

“The changes are guidance, not changes to the law.  Now that the new Highway Code is being rolled out the NMC seeks a close and full involvement in the development of the forthcoming THINK ‘communications drive’  to ensure that unintended negative consequences for safety that could arise from the new Code are avoided.”

The House of Lords is debating a ‘Motion to Regret’ the changes to the Highway Code on January 27th. NMC member, the Motorcycle Action Group has provided Peers with a briefing in advance of the debate, outlining the key issues of concern.

The Government has published further details about the Code here, with the key message of "Check the changes, let’s keep each other safe".


Notes to Editors

1. Details about the new Highway Code can be found here .

2. For Further information please contact Craig Carey-Clinch 07979 757484 | craig@uknmc.org

3. National Motorcyclists Council members are: The Auto Cycle Union, the British Motorcyclists Federation, IAM RoadSmart, the Motorcycle Action Group, Plantec Assist, the National Motorcycle Dealers Association and the Trail Riders Fellowship

Picture credit: gov.uk