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The RHA has expressed "serious concerns" over proposed changes to the Highway Code that it said would leave HGV drivers legally liable in the event of a collision.

The DfT's three key proposals are that all drivers give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road, that cyclists be given priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead, and that a new 'Hierarchy of Road Users' be introduced.

But in an updated statement following fears first raised last week, the RHA said the changes would 'undermine the simple principal that we are all responsible for the safety of ourselves and all others when using the roads'.

Instead, they would 'put more responsibility for other road users onto the users of the largest vehicles'.

'In our view this responsibility translates into legal liability,' the statement claimed. 'The extent of the change to liability and how this impacts a presumption of responsibility in the event of a collision is not explained in the consultation. It simply places more responsibility on the driver of the largest vehicle.

'The current Highway Code makes legal liability clear,' the RHA continued, 'where it says “The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under Traffic Acts [see The road user and the law] to establish liability. This includes rules which use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.”

'The new Code says: “The hierarchy does not remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly.” However, the other changes demonstrate that some road users under the new hierarchy will have less obligation than others.'

The RHA said it was 'concerning' that the change removes the advice in the current Highway Code “...that all road users are aware of the Highway Code and are considerate to others".

'In effect,' it said, 'lorry & bus drivers have more responsibility (and liability) for road safety than say car or vans drivers. Car and van drivers have more responsibility (and liability) for road safety than cyclists.'

The RHA called for all road users to exercise a 'duty of care' with 'a responsibility for their own and others' safety when using the roads.'

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'Everyone needs to use the roads with care and consideration for themselves and everyone else. The hierarchy undermines this simple straightforward and practical principal,' it said.

'It lessens the responsibility of some road users and increases liability and responsibility of others. The proposal seems to make some road users partially responsible for the behaviour of other road users based solely on the size of vehicle or device used on the roads. This is inappropriate. The law should govern behaviour by any road-user. The size of vehicle distracts from poor behaviour exercised by any road-user. When the RHA responds to the consultation we will reflect these concerns.'

The RHA also raised concerns over a proposal to extend pedestrian priority which it said was a major change for road users in the UK.

It also raised concerns over proposals to give cyclists right of way at junctions when overtaking or undertaking turning vehicles.

'The new rule for drivers & motorcyclists says, “Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause a cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve...”. It continues, “You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary. This includes when cyclists are: approaching, passing or moving off from a junction, moving past or waiting alongside stationary or slow-moving traffic...”

'This rule gives a right of way to any cyclist passing up the inside of a left turning vehicle or overtaking a right turning vehicle on the outside,' the RHA explained. 'For example, a car, van or lorry driver intending to turn left, indicating to do so, will be required to give way to a cyclist coming from behind going straight ahead - undertaking on the nearside.

'This is a major change in basic road rules which makes the vehicle in front responsible for the behaviour & safety of a following road user. We believe that giving cyclists a right of way to pass inside of a left turning vehicle or outside a right turning vehicle is dangerous and irresponsible. Cyclists exercising this right of way will put themselves in grave danger. The RHA will be responding to seek changes to ensure no right of way will be given to any vehicle passing another in this way.'

Commented RHA policy director Duncan Buchanan: “Creating a hierarchy undermines the simple principal that we are all responsible the safety of ourselves and all others when using roads. The current Highway code rightly emphasises that it is a shared responsibility and does not need different responsibilities for different roads users.

“What is really frightening is the proposal to give a right of way to cyclists undertaking or overtaking vehicles at junctions," he continued. "Following such a rule will put cyclists in grave danger, and I believe the proposal is irresponsible.”

The RHA said it would respond directly to the consultation, which closes on 27 October, but urged all road users to respond as early as possible.