New pedestrian-friendly Highway Code rules may hinder runners

TR's Paul Halford believes forthcoming changes on the UK roads could lead to confusion

runner on road

by Paul Halford |

Changes to the Highway Code coming into force from this Saturday could have implications for most runners. Even the trail-lovers among us have to run on the roads occasionally at least.

In short, the Code will put those at most risk at the top of the hierarchy. In principle, this is good news for walkers, runners and cyclists.

One of the biggest changes as far as pedestrians are concerned is that, when they are crossing or waiting to cross at a junction, other traffic should give way. It is currently the case that motor vehicles and cyclists should give way only to anyone already crossing.

Of course, increasing safety for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as encouraging drivers of motor vehicles to take more responsibility and be aware of those more vulnerable can only be a good thing. However, I am not sure this particular rule will make it any easier for runners - at least not in the short term until there is greater awareness and acceptance.

When I'm running on the road and coming up to a junction, my approach has always been to wait or go around cars. I'll commit early to what I'm going to do: I might speed up or slow down. I'll stop and wait if I have to. Sometimes, just to keep moving, I'll run up and down a side road until the car passes and there's a gap.

So, when a motorist messes up my plan by giving way or slowing down, it can be a little annoying. Particularly if I've already stopped, I don't want to delay that car's occupants and maybe those of the ones behind them by their also stopping for me.

Therefore, when it comes to this change on Saturday, I fear there will be even more waiting and confusion. More drivers will be inclined to give way but we certainly can't rely on it. The authorities have been criticised for their lack of communication, so some won't even be aware of the change.

Technically speaking, when you're running, are you even "waiting" to cross and, therefore, should they stop? Certainly, any pedestrian would be unwise to assume drivers will let them out. Runners, in particular, cannot guarantee the driver has even seen them.

As an aside, the point of this rule is supposed to be pedestrian safety. However, given pedestrians will - as they do now - have to look both ways and take responsibility for their own safety, does it really have this effect? I would suggest the rule adds to politeness but not to safety.

So, from this weekend, I will continue to speed up, slow down or plot my way around the traffic rather than expect them to give way. The only difference as I'm concerned from Saturday will be more politeness from drivers that goes unappreciated by me. More trying to catch each other's eyes, more drivers wondering if I saw their gesture to let me go, more waiting around by all parties.

Perhaps the changes will over time create a much better dynamic on the roads, but in the shorter term, I can see this particular rule not making anything easier for runners. Indeed, most of the feedback I have seen from runners is that they will continue to give way to cars and it would be foolish to take chances.

After all, even though you might have a right to cross the road, getting hit by a tonne or two of metal still hurts.

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