90 years of the Highway Code – and the most surprising road rules

 Ninety years ago this week, the first copy of The Highway Code was printed. The booklet urged all road users to be careful and considerate towards others, with a strong emphasis on safety.

When it was first published, there were 2.3 million motor vehicles on the road, yet more than 7,000 road users were killed every year.

The introduction of The Highway Code was one of the provisions of the wide-reaching Road Traffic Act 1930. Costing one penny, the first edition of the code was published on 14 April 1931. It contained just 21 pages of advice, including the arm signals to be given by drivers and police officers controlling traffic. The second edition, considerably expanded, appeared in 1934, and now illustrated road signs for the first time. During its preparation the Ministry of Transport consulted with the Pedestrians Association.

CLICK on Picture to look through the 1st Highway Code Published 14th April 1931

Further major revisions followed after the Second World War so that, for example, references to trams were still included in the 1954 version but disappeared after that (tramway rules returned to the Code in 1994, after the first modern tram systems in Britain had opened). Motorway driving was included in the fifth edition. The sixth edition, in 1968, used photographs as well as drawings for the first time, and also updated the illustrations of road signs to take the new ‘continental’ designs into account. The 70-page 1978 edition introduced the Green Cross Code for pedestrians and orange badges for unskilled drivers. The format was changed to a ‘taller’ size in the 1990s. An electronic Highway Code app followed in 2012.

Proposed changes, 2020

Between July and October 2020 the government consultated on proposed code changes to improve safety for vulnerable road users, particularly cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.[6] The main changes open for discussion were:

ensuring that road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others,

making rules on pedestrians clearer,

providing guidance on cyclist priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead, and

creating guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclist

A third of the original Highway Code focused on the various hand signals used by police and road users. Today, just a single page is devoted to hand signals.

Mirrors were not mentioned in the 1931 edition of the Highway Code, but drivers were advised to use their horn when overtaking other vehicles. Drivers of horse-drawn vehicles were told to ‘rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made’.

Needless to say, the Highway Code has changed a little since 1931. Colour was introduced to the book in 1954, followed by the inclusion of motorways in the late 1950s. Photographs and 3D illustrations were included from the sixth edition of 1968.

Depending on when you passed your driving test, it might be a while since you picked up a copy of the Highway Code. With this in mind, the team at Leisure Lakes Bikes has put together a guide to some of the Highway Code rules you may have forgotten.

The Highway Code states that you should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear. If you are overtaking vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past. On-the-spot fines and three penalty points await drivers caught flouting the rules.

Driving too slowly

You could be fined £100 and given three penalty points if you are deemed to be driving at a speed low enough to endanger other road users. If a court decides that you have been driving without due care and attention, the penalty could be increased to a £5,000 fine and nine penalty points.

Flashing your headlights to warn oncoming drivers of a speed camera is against the law. Anyone caught doing so could receive a £1,000 fine for ‘wilfully obstructing a constable in the execution of his/her duty’.

Red lights

Motorists and cyclists should stop at a red light. When an advanced red line is present, cyclists must still adhere to the same rules of the road. It is an offence to ride through an amber light, unless not doing so would likely cause a collision.

Snow on your roof

It is illegal to start your journey with snow on the roof. If it falls forward onto the windscreen, it can obscure your view, while a chunk of snow flying off your car could impede those following behind. Offending motorists are likely to be given a fine and three penalty points.

Careless and furious cycling

Should ‘death by dangerous cycling’ be an offence?

Careless cycling without due care and attention can result in fines of £1,000 and £2,500 for careless and dangerous cycling respectively. Furious cycling came into legislation in 1861 and applies to to drivers of vehicles or carriages who cause bodily harm to anyone by wanton or furious driving. A fine of up to £1,000 can be issued for cycling furiously, although you cannot be prosecuted for speeding on a bicycle.

Cycling on the pavement

It is an offence to drive a carriage on ‘any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers’. The rules apply to adults and children, but a child under the age of 10 (eight in Scotland) cannot be prosecuted.

You can buy a copy of the Highway Code by visiting the Safe Driving for Life website.

The current Highway Code