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Many drivers still don’t know Highway Code changes one year on, poll finds

Many drivers still don’t know the changes made to the Highway Code one year on, a poll has found.

In a YouGov poll carried out in January on behalf of Cycling UK, 25% of British adults asked were not aware of the changes to the Highway Code. Of those who were aware of the changes, 28% were able to correctly answer the question “how much space should a driver leave when overtaking people cycling at speeds of up to 30mph”.

Within this group, 30% of people who drive at least once a week gave the correct answer of 1.5 metres. A similar survey conducted in 2022 immediately following the changes to the Highway Code saw 33% of people who drive at least once a week, and were aware of changes to the Highway Code, giving the right response.

The Highway Code changed on 29th January 2022 after over 10 years of campaigning by Cycling UK. Improvements included clarity guidance on overtaking of people cycling, the introduction of a new hierarchy of road user placing pedestrians at the top and promotion of the ‘Dutch reach’, a way to open car doors which limits the risk to passing traffic, especially cyclists.

Cycling UK is calling on the Government to commit investment in a long-term awareness campaign about the changes which, if understood and adopted, will make the roads safer for everyone.

Sarah Mitchell, Cycling UK’s chief executive, said: “A year on since the Highway Code update, the lack of understanding and knowledge of the changes is alarming. If widely adopted, these changes can save lives and make the roads better for everyone – but if you’ve not passed your test in the last year, it’s unclear how you would know about them.

“We need Government commitment and investment in a long-term awareness campaign of at least three years to help change long-established driving behaviours. With more people looking for other ways to travel, whether for financial reasons, health or environmental, making our roads safer for its most vulnerable users is essential.”

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Edmund King, AA president, said: “It is vital both for cyclists and drivers that the well-intentioned changes highlighted in the new Highway Code one year ago are understood and respected by all road users. AA driving schools are doing this with new drivers but unfortunately this recent research seems to indicate that this is not the case amongst the general public, so more action is needed to promote these potentially life-saving changes.

“When the changes are spelt out to drivers, our surveys suggest that 89% of support the reasons for giving 1.5m space when overtaking.”

Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter and patron of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling and Walking Group, said: “It is not realistic for Government to expect decades of entrenched driving behaviour to change overnight. It took years for attitudes and habits to change over seatbelts, but they did in part thanks to a long-term public awareness campaign. We need a similar campaign to communicate the changes to the Highway Code, if we’re to make our roads safer and get more people cycling and walking.”

Rebecca Morley

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