The Highway Code was updated on 29 January 2022. It introduced a hierarchy of road users based on vulnerability and aimed to give priority to the most vulnerable road users. Ronnie Cohen comments.
Last year, the Department for Transport ran a public consultation on changes to the Highway Code. I responded to the consultation and gave them my suggestions for improvements, especially in the use of measurements. Most of them were not adopted. However, the one about dropping conversions to feet was partially adopted. They dropped a few imperial conversions for very short distances. I welcome that. This was undoubtedly influenced by the official social distancing advice being given in metres only. Here I give my own opinions about making improvements to latest version of the Highway Code.
In the Highway Code 2022, they do not give conversions for metres for the shortest distances except for some conversions of body height and some other places where metres appear alone. In a lot of places, the supplement metre measurements with feet. They can be consistent and drop all conversions to feet.
For stopping and thinking distances, they also use car lengths as well as metres and feet. The DfT states that the average car length is 4 metres. Drop the feet and car lengths. Instead of car lengths, they can tell drivers to use the 100 metre distance between marker posts on major roads as a reference for comparing stopping and thinking distances. Unlike car lengths, the distance between one marker post and the next is always the same.
In Rule 92, the Highway Code states “You MUST be able to read a vehicle number plate, in good daylight, from a distance of 20 metres (or 20.5 metres where the old style number plate is used).”. Drop the rule in brackets. Why exactly 20.5 metres and not 20? Are drivers expected to get a measuring tape to measure a distance of exactly 20.5 metres? Surely, any eyesight test with a number plate will be read at an estimated distance of 20 metres.
In Rule 95, the DfT uses an archaic spelling for micrograms. Why? Replace “microgrammes” with “micrograms”.
In several places, the DfT uses the common “cc” for cubic centimetres. They should replace all instances of “cc” with “cm³”. This is the correct symbol for cubic centimetres.
In Rule 253, we see “50 cc (4 kW)”, giving the misleading impression that kilowatts are a conversion for cubic centimetres. The watt (where kilowatts are derived) is the unit of power whereas cubic centimetres express volumes.
Rule 270 is about emergency areas. In this section, an image is shown with an SOS sign and a distance of 300 yards. If that were given in metres, a driver could divide this figure by 100 to work out how many marker posts to pass to reach an emergency phone. Obviously, this would require changes to the road sign regulations to make this legal.
In Rule 277, drivers are given some instructions so they know what to do in an emergency. One of them relates to marker posts and driver location signs. This one tells drivers to “quote the numbers and letters on marker posts or driver location signs which are located along the edge of the road”.
Why doesn’t the DfT explain what these numbers and letters mean? Location information is useful to drivers and is there for their benefit. The AA and Wikipedia do a much better job than the DfT to explain what they mean. In DfT publications intended for the general public, they fail to explain what the information means on marker posts and driver location signs. Is it because the DfT doesn’t want drivers to know that they show kilometres? Is this the DfT’s dirty little secret that the general public is not supposed to know? Could it be that it would undermine their public opposition to the use of metric units on British road signs? No wonder there is such widespread ignorance about them.
Here is a quote from the Direction Signs section:
“‘Countdown’ markers at exit from motorway (each bar represents 100 yards to the exit). Green-backed markers may be used on primary routes and white-backed markers with black bars on other routes. At approaches to concealed level crossings white-backed markers with red bars may be used. Although these will be erected at equal distances the bars do not represent 100 yard intervals.”
Why is there inconsistency in the placement of marker posts (at intervals of 100 metres), ‘countdown’ markers at exit from motorway (at intervals of 100 yards) and white-backed markers with red bars near level crossings (at unspecified intervals)?
The changes I recommend to the Highway Code 2022 are constrained by the need for the Code to reflect the road regulations. The measurement mess in the Code reflects the mess of mixed units on British road signs. If we want to further progress, we need to make more progress on metricating British road signs.
The new version of the Highway Code was published online on 29 January 2022. A printed version is due to be published in April 2022. You can find the online version at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code.