What do the new Highway Code changes mean for electric bike riders?

On Saturday 29 January 2022, a newly updated Highway Code comes into effect. In the build up, there has been extensive coverage about how this affects all road users as the government aims to help improve road safety for all.

Among the key changes is the establishment of a new ‘hierarchy of road users’ and clearer guidance on priorities and how we use certain types of highways. These updates have implications for all road users, including electric bike riders. The good news is that they offer everyone more clarity around the causes of some common misunderstandings and conflicts on the public highway.

Here, we’ve put together the main points that directly affect e-bike riders and how you ride.

What is the new ‘hierarchy of road users’?

The new ‘hierarchy of road users’ arranges everyday users of the public highway in order of those at most at risk. In this case, pedestrians sit at the top of the hierarchy, with horse riders and cyclists closely following.

Hierarchy of road users illustration
At the other end of the scale, lorries, buses and cars are deemed to be at lower risk, but have the potential to cause more harm or injury to those further up the hierarchy if an accident involving them were to happen.

This does NOT mean that cyclists have a right of way over car drivers, or that pedestrians have a right of way over cyclists, for example. Instead, it remains the responsibility of all public highway users to behave responsibly, and implies that an increased duty of care falls to those further down the hierarchy.

What are the other key updates to the Highway Code for cyclists?

There are several other important updates in the Highway Code, aimed mostly at clarifying already established rules.

Pavements have been reinforced as for the use of pedestrians only. This means that cyclists are not allowed to use them, and instead should use legal roads and cycle paths.

Zebra and parallel crossings:
On zebra crossings, drivers of any vehicle, motorcyclists and cyclists must give way to pedestrians wanting to cross, or already crossing.

On parallel crossings, drivers of any vehicle, motorcyclists and cyclists must give way to pedestrians or cyclists wanting to cross, or already crossing. Parallel crossings are different from zebra crossings because they include a cycleway alongside the black and white stripes.

Both cyclists and drivers should treat junctions much like they would a zebra crossing.

- If a pedestrian is waiting to cross, other traffic should give way to them to enable them to do so.

- If a pedestrian has already started crossing, they have a clear right of way. Other traffic should give way to them.

Two people riding a e-bikes on a cycle path

Cycle tracks and bridleways:
Even without motorised vehicles present, the new hierarchy of road users continues to apply. This means that:

- Cyclists should give way to pedestrians on cycle tracks and to horse riders on bridleways.

- Cyclists are encouraged to ride with care when passing pedestrians or horse riders – you should slow down, make yourself known in plenty of time and make sure that there is plenty of space to overtake.

- All road users should NOT ‘cut’ back in front of the person or object that you’ve just overtaken. This applies to cyclists when overtaking pedestrians and horse riders, as well as drivers and motorcyclists when overtaking cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians.

Top tip: As a cyclist, there is no absolute advice on how and when you should make yourself known to a pedestrian or horse rider if you want to overtake. We recommend assessing each situation in turn with care:

- If you want to overtake a pedestrian, simply leaving plenty of space and ringing your bell (if you have one) as you approach can often be the best way.

- If you want to overtake a horse rider, taking greater care and ensuring that you have made yourself known before attempting to pass is a good idea. Often, horse riders will acknowledge you and wave you through, minimising the chances of frightening the horse. Remember, horses that are ridden on public highways will be used to being ridden on the left, so always pass them on the right.

A woman riding an e-bike on a cycle path

On the road:
- Pedestrians can use any part of a road or cycle track, as well as the pavement, unless there are signs prohibiting it.

- Cyclists are allowed to ride in the middle of a lane to help ensure that they’re seen on quiet roads, in slow moving traffic and on the approach to junctions. Keep at least half a metre away from the kerb in busy traffic.

- Cyclists can pass slow moving or stationary traffic, but to be careful and give as much space as possible to maximise the chances of being seen. It is always worth taking extra care if trying to overtake on the inside (left) of a slow moving or stationary vehicle. If in doubt, do not attempt to pass. Large vehicles often have stickers warning against cyclists moving up the inside due to large blind spots and the potential need to turn left – it is sensible to follow this advice.

- Drivers and motorcyclists should not cut across cyclists or horse riders when turning into or out of a junction, or changing direction or lane.

- Drivers and motorcyclists should give other motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as would normally be given to a car when overtaking.

- Drivers are advised to use the ‘Dutch reach’ method, using their left hand to open a door on their right-hand side. This may improve the chances of drivers seeing cyclists and other traffic approaching from behind.

- Cyclists can ride two abreast when it’s safer to do so (e.g. in larger groups, or when you’re accompanying children or a less experienced rider).

Cyclists are encouraged to drop down to single file or stop to enable other traffic to overtake more easily when they think it’s safe to do so. Drivers are encouraged to be considerate to road users riding in groups.

Are the Highway Code changes different for electric bike riders?
No. Cyclists riding UK-legal electric bikes are categorised as ‘cyclists’, the same as riders on traditional bikes. If you are riding a UK-legal electric bike, you are NOT considered a motorcyclist.

What do the Highway Code changes mean for electric scooter riders?
Right now, use of privately-owned e-scooters on the public highway remains illegal and use of rental e-scooters are subject to specific trial regulations, so e-scooters are not included in the latest Highway Code update.

If and when e-scooter legalisation happens, it is highly likely that a new update to the Highway Code will be introduced, alongside new laws governing their use.

Is the Highway Code the law?
The Highway Code itself is not law, but many of the inclusions within it are law. It is considered essential reading for all public highway users.

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