Changes to the Highway Code in GB later this month will NOT immediately be incorporated into NI’s separate Highway Code

Social media posts have been circulating – in my Facebook timeline at least – that detail upcoming changes to the Highway Code.

Many shared the graphic above and some referred back to newspaper articles – like this one from the Guardian – that explained:

“Much of the British public is unaware of sweeping changes to the Highway Code that are due to come into force at the end of January, prompting claims that transport ministers are “missing in action”.

“The revamped code establishes a hierarchy of road users, which means those who pose the greatest risk to others have a higher level of responsibility. This means someone cycling will have greater responsibility to look out for people walking, while someone driving will have greater responsibility to look out for people cycling, walking or riding a horse.”

Sounds good, certainly from the perspective of considerate car drivers, cyclists, pedestrians … and horses. From 29 January 2022 (subject to Parliament’s final approval):

  • When a car is turning into a road or exiting a road, they should stop to let pedestrians cross.
  • Drivers should open car doors using the “Dutch reach” method (with the opposite hand from the door they are opening, so you reach across yourself, twisting around, and looking out the window to see if you’re about to open the door into the path of an oncoming cyclist).
  • Drivers should leave at least 1.5m gap when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph; a greater gap when overtaking at higher speeds.
  • Cyclists will have greater responsibility to look out for people walking.

But will these changes apply to Northern Ireland?

No.

Certainly not immediately.

Northern Ireland has its own Highway Code which, according to the NI Direct website, is “based on the Great Britain version” but has some differences.

“Although Northern Ireland road safety legislation continues to be brought into line with that in Great Britain, there are some differences which it has been necessary to reflect in this issue. For example, many Northern Ireland road users may not be familiar with equestrian crossings or trams.”

A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson told Slugger O’Toole that in regard to the changes coming into force across England, Scotland and Wales:

“The Department is aware of the changes to the Highway Code for Great Britain currently being implemented and will consider whether corresponding amendments are required for the Northern Ireland Highway Code.

“A review of the Highway Code will be considered as part of the work on the new Road Safety Strategy, the consultation on which was launched on 15 November 2021.”

The Department for Infrastructure Road Safety Strategy consultation closes on 10 January 2022, and is trying to determine a framework to enhance existing work to save lives and prevent injuries so that Northern Ireland continues to have one of the lowest death rates in Europe. While amendments to the Highway Code are one of the expected outcomes, the specific changes about to be launched in Great Britain are not part of the consultation.

The Department for Transport consulted across Great Britain on their changes  between 28 July and 27 October 2020. Therefore the Department for Infrastructure has had some time (albeit during a pandemic) to consider them in advance of their implementation across the rest of the UK.

So cyclists, pedestrians – and horses – will need to wait a little longer for the hierarchy of road users to become a mandatory part of road safety, and for the Dutch Method of door-opening to be enforceable.

In the meantime, maybe we could all get ahead and practice reaching across our bodies to open the car door, and being more mindful of other less well protected road users.

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