Five Highway Code facts you didn’t know

Tristan Young

17 Feb 2022

An updated version of The Highway Code is on the way, but do you remember everything that’s in the existing book? Here’s five points you probably don’t know.

When was the last time you read The Highway Code? Odds are it was just before you passed your driving test and you haven’t looked at it since.

As the official rulebook for the road, The Highway Code is updated every few years to take into account new developments, new policy and new technology so that road safety is improved. For instance the latest Highway Code, published earlier this year, now includes new guidance on the hierarchy of road users which aims to protect the most vulnerable, plus new rules around parking on pavements.

Anyone with a driving licence will probably remember the broad principles of the code and the most important rules either from the Code and their driving test, there are lots of useful and important tips get forgotten.

We’ve assembled five interesting facts that you probably don’t know and that may just give you the spark to pick up a copy and see what else you’ve forgotten.

1. The difference between ‘should’ and ‘must’

Before you even get to the rules the introduction of The Highway Code points out one of the most important facts. The book contains an amazing amount of information with some points being advice and others being legal requirements. As the Code states: “Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence. You may be fined, given penalty points on you licence or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases you may be sent to prison.”

To make it ultra-clear which rules are legal requirements, they are labelled with the words ‘MUST’ or ‘MUST NOT’, in capitals and in bold.

The guide goes on to point out: “Although failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, The Highway Code may be used in court proceedings under the Traffic Acts to establish liability. This includes rules which use advisory wording ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.”

Consider yourself warned.

2. Who can stop your vehicle

We all know the police have the authority to stop your vehicle. And they’ll do this, where possible by attracting your attention with their lights, siren or horn and directing you to pull over by pointing to the side of the road and/or using their left indicator. “You MUST then pull over and stop as soon as it is safe to do so.”

You then also have to switch off your engine.

However, the police aren’t the only authority that can pull your vehicle over; Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) officers also have the power to stop you. DVSA officers will do this in the same way the police will. Interestingly, The Highway Code does not say that you have to turn off your engine in this case.

3. Using your horn

Some rules aren’t as clear-cut as others and how and when you can use your horn is one of them.

You may know that you should never sound your horn “aggressively” or as a rebuke and you should only use it as a warning to other road users of your presence. But did you know, according to the code you “MUST NOT use your horn while stationary on the road” or “when driving in a built up area between the hours of 11:30pm and 7:00am”?

That’s clear, but it goes on to say: “except when another road user poses a danger”.

In that case you’ll have to use your own judgement.

4. Slow moving traffic

There’s a fair amount of advice in The Highway Code about what to do in slow moving traffic, some of it’s obvious, such as never getting too close to the car in front and not changing lanes to the left to undertake. But there are two points that seem to get ignored.

Firstly you should “leave enough space to be able to manoeuvre if the vehicle in front breaks down or an emergency vehicle needs to get past”. And secondly, leave enough room to “allow access into and from side roads as blocking these will add to congestion”.

5. Parking near junctions

This author’s favourite point (mainly because he observes it on a daily basis) is where you should not park, specifically “opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space”.

The Highway Code also says drivers should not park “near the brow of a hill or hump bridge”, opposite a traffic island or another parked vehicle, on a bend, “where the kerb has been lowered to help wheelchair users and powered mobility vehicles” and “in front of an entrance to a property”.

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Tristan Young

17 Feb 2022