Highway Code 2021 changes – full list of the 35 rules you’ll need to know

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Edits to the Highway Code will see 33 rules being changed, and two new rules introduced, as well as creating a “hierarchy of road users” putting pedestrians at the top. The revisions by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps have been presented to the House of Lords, but what new rules will you need to know?

Planned updates to the Highway Code are expected to get parliamentary approval this Autumn, ahead of a new edition of The Code being published.

In their response to a review of the proposed changes, the Department for Transport says, “Everyone has an equal right to use the road, and they should do so in a safe, considerate and responsible manner.

“It is therefore important that The Highway Code keeps pace with change and reflects the safety needs of the most vulnerable road user groups.”

These proposed changes form part of the Department for Transport’s £338million investment strategy to encourage cycling and walking across the country.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “These proposals should make cycling and walking safer and this is to be welcomed. A concerted effort must now be made to communicate the changes to drivers because as we know, many do not read the Highway Code for long periods after passing their test.

“Ultimately, the aim should be to ensure that everyone using the roads understands the new rules because any confusion is likely to lead to avoidable collisions.”

The full Highway Code is more than 150 pages long, with in excess of 300 rules. So, what are the new Highway Code rules for 2021?

What are the main changes to the code?

In total, 33 rules will be amended, and two new rules will be introduced.

There are four main changes to the code for drivers to be aware of:

  1. The introduction of a “hierarchy of road users”: putting the road users most likely to be seriously harmed in a collision at the top of the hierarchy. Therefore, pedestrians – especially children, older and disabled adults – are at the top of the hierarchy. Top-down, the hierarchy goes: pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders, motorcyclists, cars and taxis, vans and minibuses, large passenger and heavy goods vehicles. In the Government’s consultation, 79 percent of the 21,000 consulted support this concept.
  2. Clarification on giving way to pedestrians crossing, or waiting to cross, the road.
  3. Establishing safe passing speeds when overtaking cyclists and horse riders, and giving them priority when travelling straight ahead at junctions
  4. Improving guidance for motorway driving, particularly if there is an incident or breakdown.

What new rules will be introduced?

Two new rules introduced see enhanced guidance on emergency areas. This follows concerns about fatalities on smart motorways where there is no hard shoulder.

New rule 270 has been proposed, reading:

Emergency areas are located along motorways with no hard shoulder or where the hard shoulder can be used as an extra lane (see Rule 269) and MUST only be used in an
emergency. They are marked by blue signs with an orange SOS telephone symbol and may have orange surfacing.
Follow the requirements and advice in

  • Rule 277 if your vehicle develops a problem on the motorway
  • Rule 278 to re-join the carriageway from an emergency area.

New rule 275 has been proposed, reading:

If you need to stop your vehicle in the event of a breakdown or incident, try to stop in a place of relative safety. A place of relative safety is where you, your passengers and your vehicle are less likely to be at risk from moving traffic. The safest place to stop is a location which is designed for parking. On motorways and other high-speed roads, the safest place to stop is a service area. Other places of relative safety include

  • lay-bys
  • emergency areas (see Rule 270)
  • hard shoulders (see Rule 269).

Be aware that hard shoulders provide less protection than other places of relative safety because they are so close to high-speed traffic.

You and your passengers should, where possible, keep well away from your vehicle and moving traffic. Otherwise moving traffic could collide with your vehicle, forcing it into you and your passengers.

Full list of proposed changes to the Highway Code

The 33 proposed changes to the code are listed below. These are abbreviated versions of the full proposed wording, which can be found here.

Rule 91

Get sufficient sleep before embarking on a long journey

  • if you feel sleepy, stop in a safe place. Do not stop in an emergency area or on a hard shoulder of a motorway.

Rule 97

It is recommended for emergency use that

  • you have a mobile telephone containing emergency contacts (e.g. breakdown assistance)
  • you have high-visibility clothing

Rule 98

Before towing you MUST ensure that both your vehicle and your trailer is in a roadworthy condition. This includes checking that all tyres are legal, the trailer braking system is in full working order and all trailer lights are working correctly

Rule 124

You MUST NOT exceed the maximum speed limits for the road and for your vehicle. A speed limit of 30 mph (48km/h) generally applies to all roads with street lights (excluding motorways) unless signs show otherwise.

Rule 126

Stopping Distances

Allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on high-speed roads and in tunnels where visibility is reduced. The gap should be at least doubled on wet roads and up to ten times greater on icy roads

Rule 138

On a dual carriageway with three or more lanes, you may use the middle lanes or the right-hand lane to overtake but you should return to the middle lanes and then the left-hand lane when it is safe to do so.

Rule 234

Before entering fog check your mirrors then slow down.

If ‘Fog’ is shown on a sign but the road is clear, be prepared for a bank of fog or drifting patchy fog ahead. Even if it seems to be clearing, you can suddenly find yourself in thick fog.

Rule 240

You MUST NOT stop or park on the carriageway, an emergency area or a hard shoulder of a motorway except in an emergency

Rule 253

Prohibited vehicles. Motorways MUST NOT be used by pedestrians, holders of provisional motorcycle licences, riders of motorcycles under 50 cc (4kW), cyclists, horse riders, certain slow-moving vehicles and those carrying oversized loads (except by special permission), agricultural vehicles, and powered wheelchairs/powered mobility scooters.

Provisional car licence holders MUST NOT drive on the motorway unless they are accompanied by a DVSA Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) and are driving a car displaying red L plates (or D plates in Wales) with dual controls.

Rule 255

Signs and signals (see ‘Light signals controlling traffic’) are used to warn you of hazards ahead. For example, there may be an incident, fog, a spillage or road workers on the carriageway which you may not immediately be able to see

Rule 256

A single sign or signal can display advice, restrictions and warnings for all lanes. Lane specific signs and signals can display advice, restrictions and warnings that apply to individual lanes.

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Rule 257

Amber flashing lights. These signals warn of a hazard ahead. You should

  • reduce your speed
  • be prepared for the hazard
  • only increase your speed when you pass a signal that is not flashing, or a sign displaying a national speed limit or the word ‘END’, and you are sure it is safe to do so.

Rule 258
Red flashing light signals and a red ‘X’ on a sign identify a closed lane in which people, stopped vehicles or other hazards are present.
You MUST follow the instructions on signs in advance of a closed lane to move safely to an open lane

Rule 261
You MUST NOT exceed:

  • a speed limit displayed within a red circle on a sign
  • the maximum speed limit for the road and for your vehicle.

Speed limits are enforced by the police

Rule 262
The monotony of driving on motorways and other high-speed roads can make you feel sleepy. To minimise the risk, follow the advice in Rule 91 about ensuring you are fit to drive and taking breaks.

Rule 263
Unless directed to do so by a police or traffic officer, you MUST NOT

  • reverse along any part of a motorway, including slip roads, hard shoulders and emergency areas

Rule 264
Keep in the left lane unless overtaking.
If you are overtaking, you should return to the left lane when it is safe to do so (see also Rule 267 and Rule 268). Be aware of emergency services, traffic officers, recovery workers and other people or vehicles stopped on the hard shoulder or in an emergency area. If you are driving in the left lane, and it is safe to do so, you should move into the adjacent lane to create more space between your vehicle and the people and stopped vehicles.

Rule 266
Approaching a junction. Look well ahead for signals, signs and road markings. Direction signs may be placed over the road. If you need to, you should change lanes well ahead of a junction. At some junctions, a lane may lead directly off the road. Only get in that lane if you wish to go in the direction indicated by signs or road markings.

Rule 269
Hard shoulder (where present): You MUST NOT use a hard shoulder except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers or a traffic sign.
Hard shoulder (where used as an extra lane): You can only use the hard shoulder as an extra lane when a speed limit is shown above the hard shoulder.
Where the hard shoulder is being used as an extra lane, emergency areas are provided for use in an emergency.

Rule 270 (becoming Rule 271)
Do not stop on any part of a motorway to make or receive mobile telephone calls, except in an emergency.

Rule 275
If your vehicle develops a problem, leave the carriageway at the next exit or pull into a service area if possible). If you cannot, you should
Go left:

  • move into the left lane
  • pull into an emergency area or onto a hard shoulder if you can
  • stop as far to the left as possible, leaving space to exit your vehicle and with your wheels turned to the left
  • if you can, stop just beyond an emergency telephone
  • switch your hazard warning lights on
  • if it’s dark or visibility is poor, use side lights.

Rule 276 (becoming Rule 278)
To rejoin the carriageway after a breakdown from

  • a hard shoulder: build up speed, indicate, and watch for a safe gap in the traffic. Be aware that vehicles, obstructions or debris may be present on the hard shoulder
  • an emergency area: you MUST use the emergency telephone provided and follow the operator’s advice for exiting the emergency area. A lane may need to be closed so that you can rejoin the carriageway safely

Rule 278 (becoming Rule 279)
Disabled drivers. If you have a disability which prevents you from following the above advice in Rule 277 and Rule 278, you should switch on your hazard warning lights stay in your vehicle and keep your seatbelt on, call 999 immediately and ask for the police.
Alternatively, press your SOS button if your vehicle has one and ask for the police.
If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired it is recommended that you register for the 999 text service (emergencySMS.net) before making a journey.

Rules 279 and 280 (becomes Rule 280)
If anything falls from a vehicle on to a motorway or other high-speed road, DO NOT remove the obstruction yourself.
Stop in a place of relative safety (see Rule 275) and call the emergency services on 999.
On other roads, you should only remove obstructions if it is safe to do so

Rule 281
Warning signs or flashing lights. If you see emergency or incident support vehicles displaying flashing lights in the distance, be aware there may be an incident ahead (see Rule 219).
You should slow down and be prepared to move safely into another lane or stop.

Rule 282
You should focus on the road ahead when passing an incident because a lack of attention may cause a further incident, collision or congestion

Rule 283
If you are involved in an incident or collision or stop to give assistance

  • if possible, stop in a place of relative safety (see Rule 275)
  • put on high-visibility clothing if you have it

Rule 286
If you are involved in a collision which causes damage or injury to any other person, vehicle, animal or property, you MUST stop. If possible, stop in a place of relative safety.

Rule 288
When the ‘Road Works Ahead’ sign is displayed, take extra care and look for additional signs providing more specific instructions. Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front

Rule 289
Take special care on motorways and other high-speed dual carriageways.

  • Works vehicles may be used to close lanes or carriageways for repairs. Where large ‘Keep Left’ or ’Keep Right’ signs are displayed on the back, you MUST move over and pass the works vehicle on the side indicated and not return to the closed lane until you can see it is safe to do so.
  • Where a vehicle displays the sign ‘CONVOY VEHICLE NO OVERTAKING’, you MUST NOT pass the vehicle.

Rule 290
Road works may contain features that require extra care.
Breakdown advice. Where available, you should move your vehicle into a signed road works refuge location. Signs indicate where dedicated recovery services are provided.

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