Grant Shapps said that proposed changes to the Code to clarify priorities and create a hierarchy of road users are expected to receive parliamentary approval this autumn and a new version of the Code will be published early next year.
At the moment pedestrians are only given priority if they are already crossing a road into which a car is turning or are already on a zebra crossing. Under the changes, drivers will also be expected to give priority to anyone waiting to cross at a junction or at a zebra crossing.
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The updates to the Code will also give cyclists travelling straight ahead priority over vehicles turning at junctions and establish clear guidance on safe passing speeds and distances for drivers overtaking cyclists and horse riders.
Mr Shapps also confirmed that a proposed hierarchy of road users would be introduced to the Code. This would mean that “road users who can do the greatest harm will have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others”.
The changes will apply in England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland has its own Highway Code.
The updates are being made to improve safety for vulnerable road users but during the consultation some concerns were raised that they could encourage pedestrians and cyclists to take more risks in certain circumstances, “believing the onus for their safety rests with others”. Haulage industry groups also raised fears that operators of larger vehicles may be blamed for incidents even when they were not to blame.
The Department for Transport said that the hierarchy “does not detract from the requirements for everyone to behave responsibly” and confirmed that it would consider changes to the wording to clarify all road users’ responsibilities.
The changes, which were subject to a consultation early this year, were confirmed as part of an additional £81m for the Government’s previously announced “active travel” programme to boost walking and cycling. The money will go towards hundreds of miles of new cycle lanes and funding schemes to encourage walking.
Grant Shapps said: “Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment. As we build back greener from the pandemic, we’re determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone.
“This £338 million package marks the start of what promises to be a great summer of cycling and walking, enabling more people to make those sustainable travel choices that make our air cleaner and cities greener.”
Stephen Edwards, interim chief executive at Living Streets, welcomed the changes to the Highway Code.
He said: "The Highway Code currently treats children walking to school and lorry drivers as if they are equally responsible for their own or other people's safety.
"These changes will redress that balance.
"People walking cause the least road danger but are often left paying the price.
"Road users who have potential to cause the greatest harm should take the greatest share of responsibility to reduce the danger they pose.
"Whether we choose to also drive or cycle, we are all pedestrians. These proposed revisions will benefit us all."