Personal Injury

How changes to The Highway Code might affect cycling accident claims

Man cycling

Rebecca Cone

Litigation Executive

6 min read time
05 May 2022

New Highway Code rules could make cycling accident claims more straightforward.

When a cyclist is involved in a fatal or serious accident with another vehicle the most common contributory factor given is: ‘driver or rider failed to look properly.’

Following a cycling accident a claimant must successfully prove who was responsible for the accident, something which is not always straightforward.

But recent changes to The Highway Code could make it easier for drivers to be prosecuted over accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists. Bringing a civil claim for personal injury or loss of life could potentially be less challenging.

However, AA research suggests a third of drivers are unaware of the new rules.

New rules affecting cyclists

Changes to The Highway Code, which came into force in January 2022, aim to make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Those walking, wheeling and cycling are now recognised as the most vulnerable road users, making their safety of paramount importance. These changes include:

New hierarchy of road users

The new hierarchy of road users ensures that those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others.

At the top of this hierarchy are pedestrians, in particular children, disabled people and older adults.

Therefore, a person cycling assumes responsibility to look out for the safety of those walking. In the same way, a driver has responsibility for those walking, wheeling, cycling and horse riding.

Cyclist in wing mirror

Dutch Reach

The Highway Code now advises people to use the ‘Dutch Reach’ method when getting out of a vehicle.

Dutch Reach is simply the act of opening a vehicle door by using the arm which is closest to the centre of the vehicle when seated.

This action causes the person inside the car to look over their shoulder and out of the window to check for other nearby road users.

This simple habit will help to reduce the likelihood of the dangerous event that’s known as ‘car dooring’. In turn, this will reduce the risk of injury to people walking, wheeling, cycling and motorbiking.

Drivers to give way at junctions to cyclists

At a junction, people in vehicles who want to turn should not cut across people who are travelling straight ahead on cycles.

This applies whether there is a cycle lane in place or if a cyclist is travelling on a normal section of road.

Safer passing distances when overtaking cyclists

Drivers should leave a distance of at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists.

The areas of the UK with the most accidents

According to local authority data for 2020 these are the cycling accident hotspots :

  • Surrey – 493 accidents recorded
  • Hampshire – 376
  • Westminster – 348
  • Lambeth – 342
  • Southwark – 337
  • Kent – 318
  • West Sussex – 299
  • Tower Hamlets – 284
  • Hackney – 282
  • Lancashire – 268
  • Essex – 263
  • Leeds – 225
  • Norfolk – 225
  • Camden – 225
  • Cambridgeshire – 214
  • Oxfordshire – 211
  • Islington – 209
  • Hertfordshire – 200
  • Hull – 190

The Highway Code and The Law

Many of the rules of the Highway Code are legal requirements and if you disobey them you are committing an offence.

You may be fined, given penalty points or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases you may be sent to prison. Such rules are identified by the use of the words ‘must’ and ‘must not’.

Other rules use the advisory wording such as ‘should/should not, or ‘do / do not’.

Although failure to comply with these rules will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts to establish liability.

Will changes to The Highway Code affect personal injury claims?

Failure to comply with the Code can be used to establish liability in a civil claim. It may now make it easier for drivers to be prosecuted over accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.

The revised Highway Code gives cyclists and other vulnerable road users greater protection – this is a significant change and our personal injury lawyers will apply it when representing a client making a claim.

cycling accident

Contributory factors in fatal or serious cycle collisions

  • Driver or rider failed to look properly
  • Driver or rider failed to judge other person`s path or speed
  • Driver or rider careless, reckless or in a hurry
  • Cyclist entering road from pavement
  • Poor turn or manoeuvre
  • Rider wearing dark clothing
  • Loss of control
  • Travelling too fast for conditions
  • Not displaying lights at night or in poor visibility
  • Driver or rider impaired by alcohol

Highway Code Myths and Facts

Conflicting reports around the rule changes may have left some road users confused, so I’ve tried to separate some of the myths from the facts:

Cyclists are now being ‘allowed’ to ride in the middle of the road

Using the ‘primary position’ has been the advice of the Highway Code for years. It says cyclists should use the centre of the lane when approaching junctions or on narrow sections of roads, where a car overtaking would cause danger.

Cyclists do not have to use cycle lanes

Cyclists are not obliged to use bike lanes if one is provided. The Highway Code says cyclists “may exercise their judgement and are not obliged to use them”.

However, depending on the specific circumstances of an accident it may of course be open to a defendant to question the reasonableness of such judgement.

Cyclists are now allowed to ride two abreast

The old Highway Code version said cyclists should “never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads”.

The Code now states: “You can ride two abreast and it can be safer to do so, particularly in larger groups or when accompanying children or less experienced riders.”

Successful claims won by Hudgell Solicitors

Should you or a loved one be injured in a cycling accident which wasn’t your fault, you may be able to make a cycling accident claim for compensation.

Examples of our team supporting clients injured when cycling include:

  • £325,000 settlement for a woman whose husband died after being hit by a car.
  • £130,000 settlement to compensate a cyclist for his injuries when thrown from his bike after being hit by a careless taxi driver.
  • £15,000 settlement for a cyclist who was forced off the road by an overtaking car in London
  • £17,500 settlement for former BBC Radio producer and presenter Steve Redgrave who suffered broken collarbone when knocked off his bike on his way to work.
  • £48,500 settlement for a client after police initially said CCTV footage had shown him to be 50% to blame for the accident with an HGV that left him needing five operations on his hand.

Our team of cycling accident compensation experts have vast experience and expertise in supporting clients through the claims process.

We can offer expert advice not only on cycle accident compensation, but also on rehabilitation, and provision of access to specialist medical care and support services.

Damage to bikes and belongings, which can be expensive to repair or replace, and other financial losses are also fully addressed.

Read more: Cycling Accident Compensation Claims

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How changes to The Highway Code might affect cycling accident claims

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