Fleet risks rise on UK roads as new traffic rules kick in

The UK has introduced substantial changes to the traffic rules to help protect vulnerable road users against motorised vehicles. This will require extensive driver training to increase awareness of these changes and the potential accidents and conflicts with other road users that may occur as a result. This has heightened relevance particularly since the number and different type of vulnerable road users have increased substantially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The changes

The updated Highway Code (opens a new window) that came into force end of January 2022 introduced a new “hierarchy of road users”. It allocates highest responsibility to reduce the risk of accidents to those road users who can cause the greatest harm.

New Highway Code introduced in the UK that changes the hierarchy of right of way.

The more vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, pedal cyclists and pedestrians, together accounted for over half (53%) of fatalities in 2020 and had the highest user casualty rates, according to UK government statistics (opens a new window) per passenger mile. Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) had the highest rate of other road user fatalities in 2020.

As part of the updated Highway Code, cyclists and pedestrians enjoy priority at crossings and junctions. The new rules strengthen pedestrians’ priority on pavements and when crossing (or waiting to cross) the road, introduces guidance on safe passing distances and speeds, whilst also ensuring cyclists have priority at junctions and when travelling straight ahead.

Traffic rules changeIllustration of traffic rules changes.

Source: Stills from an explanatory video by Cycling UK (opens a new window)

The increase in vulnerable road users

Pedal cyclist traffic increased by 46% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a report by the UK’s Department for Transport (opens a new window). It is not unreasonable to expect that the number of accidents involving vehicles and bicycles will rise when traffic returns to normal following the lifting of the restrictions introduced during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the new rules may increase the chance of rear shunt collisions between vehicles, with drivers failing to anticipate the chances of a turning vehicle having to unexpectedly or suddenly brake.

In addition to regular bicycles, the number of electric bikes (e-bikes), which give the rider more power and therefore speed, is also on the rise. E-bike sales in the UK rose to represent nearly a quarter of cycle sales value in 2020, according to a Mintel report (opens a new window) conducted alongside 2,000 UK consumers.

Furthermore, privately-owned e-scooters are now a common sight on roads and pavements in UK cities even though they currently can only be legally used on private land. In the first six months of 2021 there have been 258 e-scooter crashes in London alone, a 2,800% rise on the whole of 2018, according to Met Police data (opens a new window).

Taking action

To combat a potential rise in claims, drivers should receive training on the Highway Code changes to understand their responsibility for the safety of others.

Recommendations to fleet managers:

  • Communication to aid driver awareness is most effective when it is repeated over time as opposed to a one-off event.

  • Consider issuing a copy of the new Highway Code to your drivers as an introductory activity.

  • Use internal electronic communication to issue reminders of the main changes (e.g. cyclist priority at junctions and roundabouts) at timed intervals (e.g. weekly/monthly in the first 6 months of introduction).

  • Incorporate reminders into toolbox tops and other internal meetings.

  • Act quickly following a collision in order to reduce the cost.

  • Use every accident as an opportunity to learn, with a full investigation following any event.

  • Perform one to one’s following safety infractions or collision events.

  • Introduce performance appraisal.

Lockton is planning a series of roundtable events on this and other topical fleet subjects throughout 2022.

For further information, please contact:

Steve Vachre, Motor Practice Leader

T: +44 (0)161 828 3367

E: steve.vachre@lockton.com