Jeremy Clarkson and the motoring fraternity have been quick to slam the recent changes to the Highway Code as madness...
…and based on the headlines, even as a keen cyclist, it is easy to agree. However, having read the detail, perhaps the changes are not all so bad, and most of the madness seems to be in the way that the changes have been interpreted by some cyclists and pedestrians.
Certainly, there is a further shift towards ‘strict liability’ on motorists although that arguably just reflects the way judges have interpreted the previous laws in recent years with motorists virtually always to blame when there is an accident with a cyclist, whatever the circumstances. The changes also make it clear that cyclists are similarly responsible if they hit a pedestrian.
Recommending cyclists use the middle of the road seems controversial but again, the detail says this is on quiet roads and as they approach a junction where it is unsafe to be overtaken. Likewise, the recommendation of riding two abreast is qualified with the direction to let drivers overtake.
But it does seem mad to give pedestrians priority when crossing roads at all junctions. That may be ok in urban low speed areas but is hardly sensible for junctions on faster roads, where obviously the motorist should slow down, but it is still possible (or it was) to take some turns at speed.
We now seem to have a generation so transfixed by their phones they do not do the basics of the old Green Cross Code. Stop, look and listen, although admittedly the listening bit is now harder with electric vehicles.
The code does rank the vulnerability of road users and the need to respect more vulnerable users but to me should also make it clear not only how vulnerable the vulnerable are but also that roads are frequented by many idiots, both motorists and cyclists, and having respect and possibly a bit of fear is no bad thing.
I learnt a couple of salutary lessons in my teenage years one being a moment of madness on my father’s part when he suggested that my first driving lesson as a 15-year-old should be to reverse his car out of the garage. When there was no response to my tentative press on the accelerator, I floored it and we shot out of the garage. If I had gone right, I would have wiped out the caravan, straight on could have caused carnage on the pavement or road, but fortunately I veered to the left and destroyed the garden wall. I am not advocating this approach, but it was a good way of learning you are in control of a lethal weapon.
Another valuable lesson was when cycling over the crossroads on the Old Shoreham Road at Portslade. I went through the lights on amber, but a sixth sense kicked in and I stopped just in time as a lorry, which must have jumped the lights, hurtled past. Having ‘but I had priority’ on my gravestone would have been of little comfort.
Those responsible for the changes obviously mean well, but there are already reports of cyclists abusing the new rules by deliberately blocking motorists and it is not hard to see tragedy arising from drivers’ frustrations.
Insurers will of course ‘pick up the tab’ (which means motorists will) and they will likely make the situation with HGVs worse. The price of insurance is already an issue for haulage companies, particularly those operating the largest vehicles within the busy cities where despite cameras all round the vehicles cyclists still find the blind spots.
And I haven’t even got on to suicidal delivery cyclists or those dreadful E-scooters!