Facebook Groups like the Ulster Roadwatch Community, newspapers like The Impartial Reporter, and the BBC News website have been sharing information inferring that the changes apply right across the United Kingdom.

What is The Highway Code?

The Highway Code is a compilation of rules and guidance to promote safety on the road and reduce road casualties.

Many of the rules in the Highway Code are legal requirements – they can be identified by the words ‘must’ and ‘must not’ – and if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence, which may lead to a fine, penalty points on your driving licence, disqualification, or imprisonment.

Failure to comply with other advice in the Code – identified by wording such as ‘should’ and ‘should not’ or ‘do’ and ‘do not’ – will not directly cause someone to be prosecuted. But the Code may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability.

Does The Highway Code apply right across the UK?

The Northern Ireland Highway Code is based on the Great Britain version of the Highway Code, which applies in England, Scotland, and Wales.

There are some differences: the Northern Ireland version omits sections about equestrian crossings and trams.

Is The Highway Code changing?

Yes. In Great Britain some changes came into effect on 29 January 2022.

The latest version of the Highway Code in Great Britain establishes a hierarchy of road users. Those who pose the greatest risk to others have a higher level of responsibility.

So cyclists need to look out for pedestrians. Drivers must look out for anyone walking, cycling, or riding a horse.

  • When a car is turning into a road or exiting a road, the driver 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.
  • Cyclists should ride in the middle of their lane (rather than close to the kerb), or stay two abreast, to maximise their visibility to motor vehicle drivers.
  • 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.

And will these changes soon apply in Northern Ireland too?

Certainly not immediately.

Earlier in January, a Department for Infrastructure spokesperson told Slugger O’Toole:

”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 closed on 10 January 2022. The revised strategy will 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.

The Department for Transport consulted across Great Britain on their changes between 28 July and 27 October 2020. However, while amendments to the Highway Code in Northern Ireland are one of a number of potential outcomes of implementing the new Infrastructure Department’s strategy, the specific changes launched in Great Britain did not form an explicit part of the recent consultation by the Department for Infrastructure.