What I want to see in the new Highway Code

On 1 March 2021, the government launched a public consultation on its review of the Highway Code with the aim of improving safety on motorways and high-speed roads. Ronnie Cohen comments on the proposals and makes some of his own.

This consultation closed on 29 March 2021. Many of the proposed changes to the Code improve clarity, brevity, make greater use of bullet points and images and reflect updates to the regulations and to road transport (e.g. smart motorways).

I have submitted my views on the proposals and gave Highways England, which is responsible for them, credit for improvements where credit is due. Every time I disagreed with a proposed rule, I explained what changes I would like to see. There are also a few major changes I would welcome in the revised Highway Code.

For the sake of consistency, the new Highway Code should express all short distances in metres only without the use of conversions. Given almost 50 years of metric education and the widespread use of metres in British society, most people should be familiar with metres. Britons are expected to know how long a metre is. The government uses metres in its social distancing guidelines for limiting the spread of COVID-19 and there are no reported problems with the exclusive use of metres.

The current version of the Highway Code is inconsistent on conversions of metres. It includes imperial conversions in some places and omits them in others. I would drop the use of feet completely except for showing and describing signs that must display feet and inches (e.g. restriction signs).

Metres are converted to feet and car lengths for stopping distances. The use of car lengths for stopping distances is used nowhere else in the Highway Code. I don’t think that asking drivers to learn and remember stopping distances in three different measurement units is helpful. Why overload us with superfluous information?

The new Highway Code should explain the meaning of the information displayed on driver location signs and marker posts. And, yes, don’t shy away from saying that they show distances in kilometres from fixed reference points on the road network. The UK Department for Transport (DfT) has kept drivers in the dark about these emergency features on the motorway despite the fact that they are there for our benefit. The location reference information is very useful for drivers. It helps to see how far they are from the start of the motorway and see distances between points on the motorway by working out the differences between numbers shown on different marker posts and driver location signs. When your car breaks down on a motorway and you are stuck in the middle of nowhere, you surely want to know where you are.

There is almost nothing written about them in the Highway Code. Wikipedia and the AA do a much better job than the DfT of explaining driver location signs to the general public. I welcome the proposed rule 275 which says marker posts and driver location signs should be used during an incident to report the location to the emergency services. However, it merely tells drivers to quote the numbers and letters on them. It does not explain what these numbers and letters mean. Why do we have to search online to find out their meaning? Why can’t we find this information in the Highway Code?

I have proposed changes to measurement units on SOS phone signs only. I suggested that they show metres and kilometres instead of yards and miles to make them consistent with driver location signs and marker posts. This may require authorisation by the Secretary of State for Transport.

Driver location signs are located at 500 metre intervals and marker posts are located at 100 metre intervals. The use of metres and kilometres on the SOS signs will help drivers to visualise the distance to the nearest emergency phone by using the sight of the marker posts.

When the SOS sign is shown in metres, the driver just needs to knock off the last two digits to get the number of marker posts to pass to reach the emergency phone. When the SOS sign is shown in kilometres, the driver just needs to multiply the figure by ten to work out the number of marker posts to pass to reach the emergency phone.

Only the dual unit versions of height, width and length restriction signs should be shown in the new Highway Code to reflect the current regulations. Dual units on new and replacement restriction signs became mandatory in TSRGD 2016. Imperial-only restriction signs are being phased out and should no longer appear in the Highway Code.

You can find the government’s consultation at Review of The Highway Code to improve safety on motorways and high-speed roads – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). This web page contains links to two documents; one is a summary of the consultation proposals and the other is a detailed document with original and proposed rules.

Driver Location Signs:

6 thoughts on “What I want to see in the new Highway Code”

  1. I sent in a reply noting that the suggest way to visualise a distance of 96 metres (safe stopping distance at 70 mph) as per the Highway Code is to visualise 24 car (assuming that each car is 4 metres in length). Car have certainly got bigger over the last few decades, so this is no longer valid, anyway who can visualise 24 cars (as opposed to 20 cars or 3o cars) when they are parked in a row in front of you?

    I suggested that the ideal measure on a motorway is to use the location marker posts which are at 100 metre intervals (55 yard intervals in Northern Ireland).

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  2. 70 mph would be 112 km/h and if the signs were changed the new limit would be 110 km/h. A slightly slower speed would shorten the distance. But yes, using driver location signs in metres is an excellent way to visualise 100 m, especially since any distance is hard to visualise when moving and at a fast pace. I wonder though if the driver location signs in Northern Ireland are really 50 m. Why would they be 55 yards anyway? In a situation where imperial is used, wouldn’t they favour 50 yards? It seems to me that 55 yards disguises the true 50 m.

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  3. @Daniel wrt the ’55 yards’ thing in Northern Ireland… there was initial horror that I was passing the markers more quickly than I should have been and it was only after looking more closely and doing some research that I discovered that they are (or at least were at the time) marked in such a way as to indicate they were marking miles and not km – there were 32 of these little posts over a 1 mile distance where on the mainland you would expect 16 over a similar distance.
    To be honest I could almost believe that this is an intentional feature in order to ensure the Unionists have a clear visual indication that they’re not using metric like they do south of the border and that changing them might have been seen by some as a rabbit hole that nobody wanted to go down and with the current developing situation I can’t see this as being anybody’s priority.

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  4. Daniel, the 112 km/h debate raged in South Africa in the 1970’s. In 1971 the 70 mph speed limit was replaced by a 120 km/h speed limit. This lasted until November 1973 when there was a fuel crisis and the speed limit was dropped to 80 km/h.

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  5. In October last year I responded to an invitation to comment on aspects of the Highway Code relevant to safety of pedestrians and cyclists. This is one proposed section that caught my interest.
    . . . give motorcyclists, cyclists, horseriders and horse drawn vehiclesat least as much room as you would when overtaking a car(see Rules 211 to 215). As a guide:
    ─leave a minimum distance of 1.5 metres at speeds under 30 mph
    ─leave a minimum distance of 2.0 metres at speeds over 30 mph
    ─for a large vehicle, leave a minimum distance of 2.0 metres in all conditions
    ─pass horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 15 mph and allow at least 2.0 metres space
    ─allow at least 2.0 metres space where a pedestrian is walking in the road (e.g. where there is no pavement) and you should pass them at low speed . . .
    I responded as follows.
    I agree generally with the proposed new rules but the current mix of metric and imperial units makes things cloudy. I accept that for as long as speed limits are posted in mph, the Highway Code must refer to them as such. I am not objecting to the use of metric units for distance in this wording, because metric is the way we should be going. However at present nearly all distances are signed on roads in imperial. This is not helpful towards judging distances in metric. It is high time the Government drew up a proper plan to phase all signage over to metric.

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  6. Given that the yard does not exist in the real world of highways engineers and has not done for over half a century with any sign that relates to yards, the distance has to be measured in metres.
    I started work at the City Engineers Department in Nottingham in August 197o and when I arrived, everybody in highways design and maintenance was already working in metres. Bear in mind that many of the staff at that time were in their 60’s and I never heard anyone complain about going metric.
    In my view, inches, feet and yards should be dropped immediately from all new road signs any official documents, if any, that may still use these obsolete units.
    Surely by now, the metre is so well known I doubt if many people would even notice the change.

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