Last week it was ‘operation red meat’, designed to recapture wavering Tory voters. This week something very different: changes to the Highway Code are coming into effect, which threaten to upset the not-insignificant number of car owners. Sure enough, the Alliance of British Drivers, the trade union for Mr Toads, has complained bitterly. Responding to a new clause reminding that cyclists and pedestrians have the right to use any part of the road, the Alliance complains: ‘This is a recipe for anarchy and accidents. It is unworkable. Greater clarification is needed as it appears to give pedestrians total control over the entire road network.’
More sanguine voices might conclude that actually, the changes to the Highway Code are a good idea, long overdue, and will challenge the sense of entitlement felt by many motorists. You see it all the time, drivers hooting at pedestrians because they have the temerity to walk along a stretch of road that has no pavement, thereby making an incursion into a space which they perceive to be wholly reserved for motorists. Then there are those who bawl at cyclists who have exercised their right to ride in the road rather than in a joke cycle lane obstructed by lampposts and bus shelters.
At last, the Highway Code appears to have caught up with standards of behaviour that would be treated as normal in any other sphere of human activity, by calling for ‘those who can do the greatest harm to others to have a higher level of responsibility to reduce the danger’. In other words, HGV drivers have a higher responsibility towards safety than car drivers, who in turn bear more responsibility than cyclists, who in turn have greater responsibility than pedestrians. This, according to the Alliance, will ‘create or exacerbate resentment and ill feeling between different classes of road user and may lead to irresponsible attitudes by cyclists and pedestrians’. More likely it will simply remind motorists who are driving a two-tonne vehicle that they have a duty of care to try not to mow down a child who runs into the road — even if, of course, children shouldn’t be running into the road.
Hoorah, too, for the new rule that states motorists driving into side roads must give way to pedestrians crossing those roads. It will greatly civilise the streets, making it a lot more pleasant to walk around. No one set out to turn our towns, cities, villages and rural roads into dangerous hellholes. It just happened as motorists assumed the right to highways which were never designed for motor traffic. It was the exercise of raw power: drivers of motor vehicles lording it over the rest of us because they could.
Motorists do have plenty of reason to gripe about current government road policies: smart motorways (which give broken-down motorists a brief taste of what life feels like for many people who live beside busy roads) and excessive fines for minor incursions into bus lanes and box junctions etc. But there is nothing unreasonable about the changes to the Highway Code, which are merely a small rebalancing in the relationship between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians — and an example of how Conservative governments can and should promote civilised values.
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