There’s a change coming to the Highway Code that’s going to affect every road user, from pedestrians to truckers. And the new rules will apply from the end of this month (January 2022). The Hierarchy of Road users philosophy is one that’s been put to good use in some European countries. By implementing it, some have managed to put a little downward pressure on more vulnerable road users getting seriously injured. So we British are jumping on the bandwagon, and this is what it means for us motorbike boys and girls.
The Hierarchy of Road Users is quite a simple prospect, really. The idea is that the less vulnerable (lorry drivers etc.), should have more responsibility for the safety of the more vulnerable (pedestrians etc.).
In the Hierarchy of Road Users, you have pedestrians, cyclist and horse riders at the top (the most vulnerable); it also looks as though horse-drawn vehicles will be lumped in with horse riders; putting them in the same vulnerability class. You’ve also got a bit of a sub-class at the very top, which is children, old people and disabled people. So as a ‘motorist’ of any kind, you’ve got to pay special attention to pedestrians. Oh and cyclist or anything with a horse involved. And you’ve got to pay extra-special attention to any kids, pensioners and/or disabled people.
Obviously there are tremendous difficulties in that; how do you know how old someone is, how do you know if they’re disabled. A lot of the time you don’t, so I don’t think it’s sensible to ask motorists to pay ‘more’ attention to a certain type of person. Or to put them higher in any ‘right of way’ hierarchy. Alas, that’s what they’ve done.
Zebra or not
But it’s not just about paying proper attention to the more vulnerable. It’s about giving way to them if they are crossing (or waiting to cross) a road which you are turning into or out of. And that’s not just if they’re on a zebra crossing. It also means the less vulnerable giving way to cyclists on roundabouts, and motorcycles at junctions, should they be in a vehicle deemed less vulnerable (like a car or anything bigger).
If you’re on a motorbike, you’re next on the list in the Hierarchy of Road Users. In the same way that we motorbike riders now have a bit more responsibility for the safety of pedestrians and the like, car, van, bus, lorry etc. drivers now have a bit more responsibility for our safety. Which can only be a good thing.
And in turn, lorry drivers have to look out for everything and anything that might be on the road. That’s partly because they are the least vulnerable, but also because they have the potential to do the most damage.
Whilst the Hierarchy of Road Users shouldn’t really change how we follow the rules of the road, it’s intended to make motorists a little more forgiving, and perhaps courteous. And I think it’s also aimed to give people a little direction when they find themselves in one of them weird Mexican stand-offs at a junction or mini-roundabout; you know the ones I mean, when everyone’s too hesitant and nobody just goes for it. Now, the lower in the new motoring food-chain you are, the longer you might have to wait for your turn.
As motorcyclists, we’re towards the more vulnerable end, and therefor the higher end of the Hierarchy of Road Users. But that doesn’t mean we can be blasé. We can’t take for granted that car drivers will suddenly start noticing us 100% of the time. And whilst the new ‘rules’ say we have greater responsibility to look after the safety of pedestrians and such, most motorcyclists are hyperaware of them anyway. That’s partly because clipping a pedestrian when you’re on your motorbike can be just as dangerous for you as it is for them. But also because as a motorcyclist, you’ve got to be hyperaware for your own safety anyway, because of the fact that you’re vulnerable. And I suppose noticing the other vulnerable road users is a side-effect of that hyperawareness.
So I suspect other than slowing down to let a few pedestrians cross the road every now and then, the new Hierarchy of Road Users won’t make much of a difference to motorcyclists. I wonder if it will make a real difference to anyone?