The Code is set to change at the end of January with eight completely new rules and further amendments to 49 more but road safety charity IAM Roadsmart says the Department for Transport has failed to properly publicise the changes.
Its director of policy and research, Neil Greig, warned that the new rules designed to better protect road users would have little impact if the public weren’t better informed of them.
He said: “The vast majority of people won’t have read the Highway Code for many years, meaning it is absolutely essential that changes are communicated in a simple, memorable and timely fashion.
“Unfortunately, this has not been the case so far, meaning there is now huge potential for more conflict on the roads rather than less.”
The new rules focus on creating a hierarchy of road users that places greatest responsibility for other people’s safety on those who have the potential to do most harm. That means pedestrians and cyclists are at the top of the new hierarchy and drivers of the largest vehicles such as HGVs and buses, are at the bottom.
Mr Greig added: “The Government must do more to effectively raise awareness of changes coming in just under a week’s time, ensuring Britain’s world leading road safety record is not put at risk.”
Motorcyclists groups have also claimed that the new Code ignores the needs of bikers.
Craig Carey-Clinch, executive director of the National Motorcyclists Council, said: “Consultation with motorcycle user groups during the early development phase of the new code was absent. As a result, the new rules do not fully reflect the needs of motorcyclists as vulnerable road users.
“The NMC is also concerned about the creation of a transport mode hierarchy, as this can give the impression that some road user groups are responsible for keeping others safe, when it is absolutely vital for road safety that 100% of road users take responsibility for their own safety 100% of the time.”
Despite such concerns, bodies representing other vulnerable road users have welcomed the new hierarchy of road users.
Alan Hiscox, director of safety at The British Horse Society (BHS), commented: “The BHS welcome these crucial changes to the Highway Code. They are a significant step forward for equestrian road safety and will help protect vulnerable road users, making the roads safer for everyone.”