2021 updates to The Highway Code

10 Nov 2021 by Megan Maxwell

Significant changes have been made to The Highway Code – including 33 updates to the rules and two new laws added.

Highways England first introduced The Highway Code in 1931, with revisions made to keep up with the evolutions of English roads. The newest of changes went into effect in September 2021 to ensure motorway’s and high-speed roads are safer than ever.

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said:

“Although our motorways and major A-roads are already among the very safest in the world, this new guidance will help road users be even safer.

“It includes clear, practical information such as how variable speed limits work and advice about where to stop in an emergency. This will help drivers use our roads safely and feel safe doing so, and I urge all drivers to read it.”

To make things easier, we have added in some of the new, additional or revised text for the Highway Code 2021 in bold:

Rule 91

Get sufficient sleep before embarking on a long journey.

If you feel sleepy, stop in a safe place. Do not stop in an emergency area or on a hard shoulder of a motorway.

Rule 97

Before setting off. You MUST ensure that you have a valid licence and insurance to drive the vehicle you intend to use.

You SHOULD ensure that:

• You have planned your route and allowed sufficient time for breaks and possible delays.

• You have sufficient fuel or charge for your journey, especially if it includes motorway driving.

It is recommended for emergency use that:

• You have a mobile telephone containing emergency contacts (e.g. breakdown assistance), and have high-visibility clothing.

Rule 124

A speed limit of 30mph (48km/h) generally applies to all roads with street lights (excluding motorways) unless signs show otherwise.

Rule 126

Stopping Distances:

  • Allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on high-speed roads and in tunnels where visibility is reduced.
  • The gap should be at least doubled on wet roads and up to ten times greater on icy roads.
  • Tailgating is where the gap between you and the vehicle in front is too small for you to be able to stop safely if the vehicle in front suddenly brakes.
  • Tailgating is dangerous, intimidating and can cause collisions, especially when driving at speed. Keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front gives you time to react and stop if necessary.
  • Dangerous and careless driving offences, such as tailgating, are enforced by the police.

Rule 138

On a dual carriageway with three or more lanes, you may use the middle lanes or the righthand lane to overtake but you should return to the middle lanes and then the left-hand lane when it is safe to do so.

Rule 234

Before entering fog, check your mirrors, then slow down.

If ‘Fog’ is shown on a sign but the road is clear, be prepared for a bank of fog or drifting patchy fog ahead.

Rule 230

You MUST NOT stop or park on:

  • The carriageway, an emergency area or a hard shoulder of a motorway except in an emergency.
  • A pedestrian crossing, including the area marked by the zig-zag lines.
  • Clearway; taxi bays; cycle track
  • A tram or cycle lane during its period of operation
  • Roads marked with double white lines, even when a broken white line is on your side of the road, except to pick up or set down passengers, or to load or unload goods.
  • An urban clearway within its hours of operation, except to pick up or set down passengers.
  • Red lines… unless otherwise indicated by signs. Any vehicle may enter a bus lane to stop, load or unload where this is not prohibited.

Rule 253

Provisional car licence holders MUST NOT drive on the motorway unless they are accompanied by a DVSA Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) and are driving a car displaying red L plates (or D plates in Wales) with dual controls.

Prohibited vehicles. Motorways MUST NOT be used by pedestrians, holders of provisional motorcycle licences, riders of motorcycles under 50 cc (4kW), cyclists, horse riders, certain slow-moving vehicles and those carrying oversized loads (except by special permission), agricultural vehicles, and powered wheelchairs/powered mobility scooters.

Rule 257

Amber flashing lights. These signals warn of a hazard ahead. You should:

• Reduce your speedbe prepared for the hazard.

• Only increase your speed when you pass a signal that is not flashing, or a sign displaying a national speed limit or the word ‘END’, and you are sure it is safe to do so.

Rule 258

Red flashing light signals and a red ‘X’ on a sign identify a closed lane in which people, stopped vehicles or other hazards are present. You:

• MUST follow the instructions on signs in advance of a closed lane to move safely to an open lane.

• MUST NOT drive in a closed lane. Where the left lane is closed at an exit slip road, this means that the exit cannot be used.

Rule 261

You MUST NOT exceed a speed limit displayed within a red circle on a sign.

Rule 263

Unless directed to do so by a police or traffic officer, you MUST NOT:

• Reverse along any part of a motorway, including slip roads, hard shoulders and emergency areas.

Rule 264

Keep in the left lane unless overtaking.

• If you are overtaking, you should return to the left lane when it is safe to do so.

Rule 266

Approaching a junction. Look well ahead for signals, signs and road markings.

Rule 269
  • Hard shoulder (where present). You MUST NOT use a hard shoulder except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers or a traffic sign.
  • Hard shoulder (where used as an extra lane). The hard shoulder is used as an extra lane on some motorways during periods of congestion.
  • A red ‘X’ or blank sign above the hard shoulder means that you MUST NOT use the hard shoulder except in an emergency.
  • You can only use the hard shoulder as an extra lane when a speed limit is shown above the hard shoulder.
  • Where the hard shoulder is being used as an extra lane, emergency areas are provided for use in an emergency.

Rule 270

Emergency areas are located along motorways with no hard shoulder or where the hard shoulder can be used as an extra lane (see Rule 269) and MUST only be used in an emergency.

They are marked by blue signs with an orange SOS telephone symbol and may have orange surfacing.

Rule 271

You MUST NOT stop on any carriageway, emergency area, hard shoulder, slip road, central reservation or verge except in an emergency, or when told to do so by the police, traffic officers, an emergency sign or by red flashing light signals.

Do not stop on any part of a motorway to make or receive mobile telephone calls, except in an emergency.

Rule 275 (NEW RULE)

If you need to stop your vehicle in the event of a breakdown or incident, try to stop in a place of relative safety… where you, your passengers and your vehicle are less likely to be at risk from moving traffic.

The safest place to stop is a location which is designed for parking. On motorways and other high-speed roads, the safest place to stop is a service area.

Other places of relative safety include lay-bys; emergency areas; hard shoulders.

Be aware that hard shoulders provide less protection than other places of relative safety because they are so close to high-speed traffic.

You and your passengers should, where possible, keep well away from your vehicle and moving traffic.

Otherwise moving traffic could collide with your vehicle, forcing it into you and your passengers.

Also, exit your vehicle by the side furthest from traffic:

  • Put on high-visibility clothing if you have it.
  • Get behind a safety barrier where there is one.
  • DO NOT stand in a place where your vehicle could be forced into you if moving traffic collides with it.
  • DO NOT return to your vehicle even if it’s raining, cold or dark.
  • Remain alert and aware of vehicles or debris coming towards you.
  • DO NOT place a warning triangle on the carriageway.
  • Animals MUST be kept in the vehicle or, in an emergency, under control on the verge.

Rule 283

If you are involved in an incident or collision or stop to give help:

  • If possible, stop in a place of relative safety.
  • Ask drivers and passengers to stop smoking.
  • Contact the emergency services on 999.
  • DO NOT move injured people from their vehicles unless they are in immediate danger.
  • DO NOT remove a motorcyclist’s helmet unless it is essential and you are trained to do so.
  • Be prepared to exchange details.

Now you are aware of the new driving laws and regulations that have come into force for the Highway Code, you can take steps to make sure you stay on the right side of law. This will help to keep you and other road users safe.

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