By Colin Brown, Director of Campaigns and Public Engagement, MAG

The Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) welcomes any efforts to make the roads safer for all road users.  However, MAG raises concerns that the Highway Code review proposals and introduction of the hierarchy concept will result in the opposite effect.

MAG has challenged the decision to limit the scope of the review in such a way that motorcyclists are the only vulnerable road user group not given specific consideration.  We believe that the Department of Transport should be mindful of its duty of care to all road users, and that ignoring the group that they themselves point to as having the worst safety record is unacceptable.

As a result of the exclusive focus on cycling, walking and horse riding, we find that aspects of the proposals look set to increase risks specifically for motorcyclists.  Further, we believe that the overarching principle of the Hierarchy of Road Users will actually lead to increased casualties for all vulnerable road user groups.

The hierarchy principle

The stated goal of the Hierarchy of Road Users is to ensure that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others.  MAG makes no objection to the laudable aim to reduce danger and threat.  We do not, however, believe that the proposed mechanism will achieve the desired result.

In an environment that increasingly sees a visceral and tribal attitude between road user groups, any attempt to impose a hierarchy will increase divisions.  Further dilution of mutual respect, empathy and compassion is an inevitable result of the removal of equality on the road.  This is problematic for the promotion of responsibility and care for others’ welfare.

The claimed objective of the Hierarchy of Road Users is not to give priority to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders in every situation.  Priority is, none the less, being given in the name of equity, and in a way that will increase opportunity for conflict.  The simple advice to avoid placing oneself in harm’s way is overridden by the award of ‘right-of-way’ to the most vulnerable.

The claim that the hierarchy doesn’t detract from the requirements for everyone to behave responsibly is mistaken.  Stating that some road users bear greater responsibility inevitably implies that others bear less responsibility.  The nuance that personal responsibility – as opposed to responsibility toward others – is not affected by the hierarchy will be ignored.  Whilst academic debate may see the categorisation within the term ‘responsibility’, the majority of Highway Code students will not register this important distinction.

Whilst the concept of the Hierarchy of Road Users may be extremely attractive in a theoretical setting, the application in an imperfect real-world setting will be detrimental to the aims of the review.

In defence of defensive riding

Safety messaging for motorcyclists uniformly highlights the need to ride defensively.  This is a concept reinforcing personal responsibility for your own safety.  The object of defensive riding is to prepare and plan for the unexpected, the errors and even irresponsible behaviour of other road users.  Don’t place yourself in harm’s way whether you have right of way or not.  This central message is relevant to all road users.

The current hierarchy proposals for the Highway Code undermine this message.

We have explained one example of proposed rule changes that will increase the risk of collision here.

Motorcyclists hung out to dry

Despite the equity being afforded cyclists in the form of segregated road space and right of way, the motorcyclist is required to remain in the motorised traffic lanes.  As a vulnerable road user forced into ever closer proximity with larger vehicles, the hierarchy and associated rule changes are making motorcycling less safe.

The root cause of the issue here is not a desire on the part of the driver or rider to cause harm. Rather it is the poor design of the road layout that automatically introduces potential for conflict.  The risk introduced by this poor road layout is then further reinforced by the introduction of rules that increase rather than mitigate the risk created by that poor road layout.

The rules laid out in the Highway Code should reduce risk, not reinforce the shortcomings of poor infrastructure design.

Hierarchy or Trojan horse

The current Highway Code already includes an entire section headed “Road users requiring extra care”.  This section, covering rules 204 – 225, already sets out the responsibility for road users to give extra care to the four vulnerable road user groups.  Why then is there a need to introduce the hierarchy?

MAG believes that the hierarchy does not introduce a new safety element, nor a novel approach to responsibility.  Rather, the hierarchy simply achieves the application of privilege.  This principle can therefore be legitimately viewed as creating elitism that will simply fuel division and encourage irresponsible behaviour.  MAG is deeply opposed to any rule changes that create additional risk for motorcyclists.  In this case the increased danger from attitudes towards other road users will apply to all, and, due to their vulnerability, the casualty statistics for VRU groups will suffer most.

As we have already demonstrated, some of the proposed detailed rule changes will create new risks specifically to motorcyclists.

MAG’s proposal

Given that the detailed rule changes are all predicated on the hierarchy concept, MAG is calling for the current proposals to be scrapped in their entirety.

We propose that consideration of rule changes to reduce the threat to all VRU groups, including motorcycles, starts again with a blank sheet of paper.

The scope of the review must be extended to consider and eliminate potential erosion of the safety and equality of all road user groups.

New rules should focus on core messages of personal responsibility, and equality of respect and compassion for all road users.