The most misunderstood road rules for motorists including how pedestrians now have right of way

Earlier this year, The Highway Code underwent changes to become more pedestrian-friendly and less motor-centric.

By Leanne Clarke
Monday, 16th May 2022, 10:30 am
54% of motorists are unaware that pedestrians have right of way
54% of motorists are unaware that pedestrians have right of way

However, despite these rules coming into force more than three months ago, Vanarama’s new research has revealed that many motorists are unaware of the rule changes, and other Highway Code rules that have been in place for a while, putting them at risk of penalty points, fines and more.

As of January 29, pedestrians have priority over vehicles and cyclists when crossing road junctions, meaning when cars or bikes are turning into or out of a junction, they must stop for people on foot – even if they haven’t begun crossing.

However, after surveying 2,000 motorists, only 46% correctly recognise pedestrians as having right of way at junctions. What’s more, two in every five UK drivers (40%) believe that pedestrians only have priority when already crossing – making for a significant risk when crossing the road.

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The rule changes may seem trivial, but as there’s a considerable safety risk to pedestrians and liability rests on those behind the wheel, you run the risk of careless or dangerous driving – with unlimited fines, 11 penalty points and even two years’ imprisonment.

Most motorists are unaware that cyclists can now lawfully pass them on both sides – putting them at risk of unlimited fines, 11 penalty points and even jail

Almost three in five (57%) Brits are also unaware that cyclists are now permitted to pass or overtake vehicles on both the left- and right-hand sides.

To ensure the safety of themselves and other road users, drivers should now be aware of cyclists approaching them on both sides – when stationary or in moving traffic. Mirrors and blindspots should be routinely checked.

Not being aware of cyclists passing on your left could fall under careless and inconsiderate driving or even dangerous driving in extreme circumstances. Such a ruling could result in unlimited fines, up to 11 points and even two years’ imprisonment.

Similarly, three in five Brits are unaware of where cyclists should be positioned on a road.

Another new rule we saw introduced regarding cyclists is that they should now position themselves in the middle of the lane. Shockingly, Vanarama’s findings have revealed that three in 5 (61%) of UK drivers aren’t aware of this.

This is perhaps down to previous versions of The Highway Code not specifying road positioning, which has caused friction between cyclists and drivers who have different assumptions of what the rules are.

One in five drivers don’t know when they have priority

On narrow sections of road, for example, single-lane chicanes that are used to slow traffic, drivers will often find signs that outline which side of traffic has priority (as shown below).

While 79% of Brits understand these signs, 9% thought it meant no overtaking, 8% thought it indicated a one-way street, and 4% thought it meant oncoming traffic is travelling slower. In all, more than a fifth (21%) of Brits weren’t clear on this rule.

A white arrow pointing up to the left of a smaller red arrow pointing down indicates that you have priority and oncoming traffic should give way, while the reverse (a right-sided white arrow pointing down) tells you that the oncoming traffic has right of way.

One in six Brits are unaware that triangle road signs give warnings

It can be a tough task keeping up to date with the many UK road signs and their meanings, but one simple characteristic can simplify it somewhat – the shape of a sign.

However, our results show that many motorists and road users aren’t even aware of the relevance of a sign’s shape. One in six (16%) are unaware that triangular signs provide warnings on hazards such as a sharp bend.

Circular signs give orders, such as speed limits. Red borders give instructions on what you are prohibited from doing, like speed limits which cannot be broken within the law, while blue-bordered circular signs tell you what you can do, such as turning left or right ahead. Rectangular signs give information, for example, bus lanes and congestion charge zones.

Over a third of motorists don’t know what a no-stopping sign means

Vanarama’s survey findings have revealed that 37% of motorists don’t know what a no-stopping sign is in the UK. This sign (as shown below) is to prevent stopping on a road which can cause danger or be an inconvenience to traffic.

Perhaps more alarming is that many will misinterpret these rules – 23% wrongly mistook the sign as a no-parking sign, 8% believed it meant a bus lane was ahead, and 7% thought it warned of construction works.

Top tips to improve your knowledge of the most misunderstood road rules

To help motorists improve their knowledge of road signs and rules, Vanarama have shared their top tips below:

Learn the difference between the road sign shapes

UK road signs feature three basic shapes, with each of them serving a different purpose:

Circular signs – these give orders which you must follow by law. If it has a red border, it’s telling you what not to do. If it has a blue border, this is an instruction. For example, only turn left or right ahead.

Triangular signs – these give warnings and tend to have red borders. Common triangular signs alert drivers of a bend, roundabout or traffic lights ahead.

Rectangular signs – these give information. For example, bus lanes, charging zones or lane restrictions. The colour blue is used on motorways, green on primary roads, and white on minor roads.

Know the difference between the ‘no stopping’ sign and the ‘no waiting’ sign

Vanarama’s research found that 37% of Brits don’t know what a no-stopping sign is. As you could break the law by accidentally parking near this sign, it’s important to know what it looks like. It’s a red cross over a blue background, whereas the ‘no waiting’ sign features a single red diagonal stripe over a blue background.

Keep up to date with The Highway Code

As the survey results have shown, it’s important to keep up to date with The Highway Code or you could be breaking the law without realising. New road signs or road rules are introduced yearly, so drivers that passed their driving test a few years back (or even cyclists) need to keep up to date to prevent an accident.

Look up signs you aren’t sure of

If you’ve driven past a sign that you aren’t 100% certain of, once you’ve pulled up safely, look up The Highway Code to see what it was telling you. Their comprehensive guide to road and traffic signs is a good start.