What is the Highway Code and why is it important?

We look at everything you need to know about the Highway Code...

What is the highway code and why is it important-

Regardless of whether you are a driver or not, you will have heard of the Highway Code. It’s probably one of the most important documents for every road user in the UK.

If you are a driver, a cyclist, a motorcyclist, a horse rider or a pedestrian, the Highway Code applies to you. All the time, day and night. Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements and failure to follow this code could end up in fines, points on your licence or total disqualification. So, the Highway Code is a bit of a big deal. So much so, that recently the Queen herself was reported to the police for breaking it. 

But, what is it? And why is it so important?

In this article we look at everything to do with the Highway Code including it’s history and why it’s so important.

What is the Highway Code?

Firstly, what actually is the Highway Code?

The Highway Code applies to England, Scotland and Wales and is essentially the law of the road. It contains the rules on everything from rules on powered wheelchairs to first aid on the road. Everything you could possibly want to know about how to go about being safe on the road be that as a pedestrian, driver or horse rider is contained in the Highway Code.  

As we said above, many rules in the Highway Code are laws unto themselves and if you disobey them then you will, in turn, be breaking the law. This could result in you being prosecuted. However, failure to comply with the other rules in the Highway Code will not result in prosecution, but you should still follow all of them.

Interestingly, the Highway Code may be used as evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts to establish liability. This means you could either be reliant on it or it can be used against you should you go to court for a traffic offence.

three highway code booklets on a white background

All in all, it’s a pretty important document. And one that we should all be following.

The History of the Highway Code

The Highway Code as first introduced in 1931 when there were 2.3 million cars on the road in Great Britain but 7,000 people were killed in road accidents each year. This is quite a difference to the 27 million vehicles on the road and half the amount of road deaths that occur each year in the present day.

The first edition of the Highway Code cost 1 old penny and contained just 18 pages of advice, including advice to drivers of horse drawn vehicles. It was also the only edition to carry advertisements. These included ads for the AA, Autocar Magazine and BP.

Of course since then it has been updated to reflect changes in technology and on road safety and traffic developments. There have been quite a few developments in the Highway Code since its first edition, for example;

 

  • The first colour edition in 1954
    • This also included the back cover to first aid guidance
    • It also contained the first triangular warning sign
  • The inclusion of motorways in the late 1950s
  • 3D illustrations in 1968
    • The price also rose to 6p
  • The introduction of the Green Cross Code in 1978
    • This edition also contained advice on vehicle security after high car crime statistics were released
  • A section containing advice on the new driving theory test in the 1990s
  • The Highway Code joined Twitter and Facebook in 2011
  • They launched an App in 2012

You don’t even have to have the physical version anymore, just download the app. So as you can see the Highway Code has come a long way.

What is in the Highway Code?

Everything. Absolutely everything is in the Highway Code. Well, everything there is to know about road rules and regulations in the UK. We aren’t going to write down everything that is in the Highway Code because we would be here forever and you could just read the Highway Code. But, we will go through the sections and the subsections to give you an idea about what it consists of;

Rules for pedestrians

This section contains things such as the Green Cross Code and how to approach certain situations. The subsections are under the following;

what is the highway code and why is it important?
  • General Guidance
  • Crossing the Road
  • Crossings
  • Situations needing extra care

Rules for users of powered wheelchairs and powered mobility scooters

This section contains rules on how to use powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters both on the road and on pavements. The sections include;

  • Powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters
  • On pavements
  • On the road

Pretty self-explanatory really.

Rules about animals

Everyone loves animals, and the Highway Code applies to them too. This outlines rules for animals you might see on the road, with sections such as;

  • Horse-drawn vehicles
  • Horse riders
  • Other animals
    • This section includes;
      • Dogs
      • Animals being herded
what is the highway code and why is it important?

Rules for cyclists

Love them or loathe them, cyclists share the road with us and the Highway Code applies to them as well. Some of the sections in this part include;

  • Road junctions
  • Roundabouts
  • Crossing the road
  • You and your bicycle

It contains information about what clothing to wear, rules on helmets and use of cycle lanes.

Rules for motorcyclists

Rules are similar for motorcyclists but sections include;

  • Motorcycle licence requirements

As well as general information on helmets and eyewear.

Rules for drivers and motorcyclists

This is an important part of the Highway Code as it outlines all information regarding driving for drivers and motorcyclists. This includes;

man in a suit being breathalyzed
  • Vehicle condition
  • Fitness to drive
  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Before setting off
  • Vehicle towing and loading
  • Seat belts and child restraints

General rules, techniques and advice for all drivers and riders

This section is for all drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders. This section includes;

  • Signals
  • Other stopping procedures
  • Lighting requirements
  • Control of the vehicle
  • Lines and lane markings on the road
  • Multi-lane carriageways
  • General advice

Using the road

This section includes;

  • General rules
  • Overtaking
  • Road junctions
  • Roundabouts
  • Pedestrian crossings
  • Reversing  
what is the highway code and why is it important?

Road users requiring extra care

The most vulnerable road users are horse riders, cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. This section contains;

  • Pedestrians
  • Motorcyclists and cyclists
  • Other road users
  • Other vehicles

Driving in adverse weather conditions

This is another really important part of the Highway Code as it’s vital that you know the rules to driving in adverse weather conditions. Not only are their laws that you should know but they also keep you and other drivers safe. This section includes information on;

what is the highway code and why is it important?
  • Wet weather
  • Icy and snowy weather
  • Windy weather
  • Fog
  • Hot weather

Waiting and parking

The bane of many drivers lives has it’s own dedicated section of the Highway Code. This section includes;

  • Waiting and parking
  • Parking
  • Parking at night
  • Decriminalised parking enforcement

Motorways

Naturally, it’s very important to know what to do on a motorway, particularly if you are a new or an inexperienced driver. This section includes everything to do with the motorway including;

  • Motorway signals
  • Joining the motorway
  • On the motorway
  • Lane discipline
  • Overtaking
  • Stopping
  • Leaving the motorway

Breakdowns and accidents

Breaking down or having an accident is less than ideal, so it’s important that you know what to do should the situation occur. This section includes;

  • Breakdowns
  • Additional rules for motorways
  • Obstructions
  • Incidents
  • Incidents involving dangerous goods
  • Documentation
what is the highway code and why is it important?

Road works, level crossings and tramways

This sections include;

  • Road works
  • Additional rules for high-speed roads
  • Level crossings
  • Tramways

Travel signs and signals

Knowing your travel signs and signals is basically the most important part of driving, otherwise how do you know where you’re going or what you’re supposed to be doing? This section includes;

  • Direction signs on roads and motorways
  • Information signs
  • Light signals controlling traffic
  • Road markings
  • Road signs giving orders
  • Road work signs
  • Signals by authorised persons
  • Signals to other road users
  • Vehicle markings
  • Warning signs

Annexes

This section includes the other bits that the other sections don’t cover, such as;

what is the highway code and why is it important?
  • You and your bicycle
  • Motorcycle licence requirements
  • Motor vehicle documentation and learner driver requirements
  • The road user and the law
  • Penalties
  • Vehicle maintenance, safety and security
  • First aid on the road
  • Safety code for new drivers

Why is the Highway Code important?

So, why is the Highway Code important?

Mainly because it keeps people safe. If everyone follows the code then pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, horse riders and drivers stay safe and avoid accidents. It means that everyone has the same rules to follow, basically.

Hopefully this has cleared a few things up about the Highway Code and what it entails. It’s important that you know the Highway Code to avoid accidents and, as some of it is law, penalties and potential fines or disqualification.

Now you know everything to do with the Highway Code, it's time to test your  road sign knowledge!  Click here to take our road sign test! 

Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin

Leave comments

Your email address will not be published.*



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top