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Why changes to the Highway Code can go further

RNIB supports the Department for Transport (DfT)’s proposed changes to the Highway Code, which aim to improve road safety for vulnerable road users, but we believe it can do more.

An accessible street layout featuring tactile paving, separated cycle lanes and Pelican crossings

We welcome proposed changes to the Highway Code; especially, the addition of a principle saying vulnerable road users would be given priority. However, we think further changes should be made to promote the safety and independence of blind and partially sighted pedestrians, including at bus stop bypasses and borders.

The importance of accessible streets

Blind and partially sighted people consistently tell us that barriers to journey-making, including streets and transport, are one of the biggest issues they face. Being able to make walking journeys is fundamental to maintaining independence, getting exercise, staying connected with family and community, and accessing work and key services such as healthcare.

The key points in the DfT's proposals, along with RNIB’s relevant responses, include:

A ”Hierarchy of Road Users”

A proposed new principle for the Highway Code is to introduce a “hierarchy of road users”, with disabled pedestrians given greater priority. This would require road users who can do the greatest harm to have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others. We’re also glad that road users are reminded that “people you encounter may have impaired sight, hearing or mobility, and may not be able to see or hear you.”

Zebra crossings

The proposed changes also strengthen the code around zebra crossings, with a proposal for drivers and cyclists to be told “you should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing”. This would change the existing code, where drivers and riders are only required to give way to pedestrians who have begun to cross.

Zebra crossings are inaccessible for many blind and partially sighted people, as pedestrians need to see that a vehicle is stopping, before stepping out to cross. A stronger priority for pedestrians waiting to cross, could give some blind and partially sighted people more confidence when they need to use this type of crossing.

Bus stop bypasses and borders

We are concerned that no mention is made of pedestrian priority at bus stop bypasses or borders. In our view neither of these designs enables blind or partially sighted people to navigate with confidence, as they require pedestrians to cross a cycle lane to get to a bus stop or to board a bus.

Blind and partially sighted people tell us about the difficulties they have with these designs, as it can be hard or even impossible to hear cyclists approaching when deciding whether to cross a cycleway. We believe that a stronger priority for pedestrians at these sites (along with accessible signal-controlled crossings), would help protect the safety, independence and confidence of blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

Our response to the DfT

We’ve responded to the DfT with our view on the proposed changes, and we hope the outcome will be a robust and improved Highway Code. We support the aim of the review, to promote considerate behaviour and instil a culture where vulnerable road users are accepted as having priority. And it’s important that new rules to achieve this are taken seriously, with appropriate and consistent enforcement measures.

Find out more about our campaigning for Inclusive Journeys.