New research by The AA shows that the majority of drivers are broadly unaware of the updated rules of the road - does this create a potential headache for drivers and insurers?

Earlier this year, the government announced several substantial updates to the Highway Code - the guidelines and laws all UK road users must adhere to.

Despite having nine months to familiarise themselves with the new guidance, the majority of the public are 'broadly unaware' of the changes to the code, according to new research by The AA.

In a survey of more than 13,000 of their members, the motoring association found that 60% of motorists had not read the new laws. More than 1,000 respondents were completely unaware of the new rules. Another survey by the car dealership group Vertu Motors found that over half of drivers couldn't name one of the new guidelines.

What does this lack of knowledge mean for insurers and other motorists?

What are the changes to the highway code?

We summarised the changes to the code earlier this year, however, here's a quick reminder of the biggest changes for private and commercial motorists:

  • A new hierarchy of road users - Rules H1, H2, and H3 have established a new hierarchy of road users, where vehicles that have the potential to cause the most damage in a collision (e.g. HGVs, vans, passenger carrying vehicles such as minibuses) have a greater burden of responsibility.
  • Right of way at junctions - pedestrians waiting to cross a junction now have the right of way ahead of other road users. Cyclists must use special cycle facilities where available.
  • Overtaking - Drivers are now mandated to give specific distances, and slow their speed, when passing cyclists (1.5 metres at 30mph), horse-drawn vehicles (two metres at 10mph or slower), and pedestrians in the road (at least two metres at a slower speed)
  • In spaces that are shared between pedestrians, cyclists, horse-drawn vehicles and horse riders, motorists should slow their speed
  • Motorists must give cyclists the right of way at roundabouts and should not attempt to overtake at the junction. Horse drawn vehicles should also be given priority in the left hand lane entering the junction.

Who's at fault - drivers or government?

Tim Rankin, managing director of The AA Accident Assist service said that the group is “concerned that so many still haven't read the rules.”

He added:

"While we are pleased that many of the changes can be successfully recalled, we'd like more drivers to know the rules outright so they can keep themselves and others safe.”

"It is in everyone's interest to take every measure that helps avoid collisions and remove confusion from the road, so we urge those that still haven't read the updated code to do so as soon as possible."

This asks the question: has there been adequate communication from the government around these new guidelines? Louise Haigh MP, Labour's Shadow Transport Minister said the changes were “totally meaningless” without a comprehensive campaign to announce them.

There was perhaps an admission of guilt, when the Department for Transport rolled out a suite of road-side adverts in June, that called on road users to familiarise themselves with the updated code. The 'Travel Like You Know Them' campaign prompts citizens to learn the new code, it remains to be seen whether it will have a tangible impact on awareness.

Ultimately, the responsibility to learn the new guidance lies with every road user. It's worth noting that ignorance of motoring regulations is not an adequate defence for breaching them.

What does it mean for insurers, and their customers?

A lack of knowledge of the highway code could lead to more accidents on the road. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, collisions and fatal accidents are down about 11% according to Government data.

However, with more people travelling by car again this number may increase when data for 2021-2022 is published. A lack of knowledge of the new guidelines could compound this further; however with the added burden placed on vehicles likely to cause greater damage, there is an increased exposure to risk for these drivers.

Of course, this would likely mean insurers increasing their premiums to reflect these risks, potentially significantly increasing costs for both private and commercial vehicles.

Familiarising yourself with the new changes is crucial. You can order a copy of the Highway Code here, or purchase it at many high street book shops.