The Highway Code and the Law

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I recently read an article in my local  newspaper, The Daily Echo, of a grandmother ("the Grandmother") who was upset following an accident where her grandson ("the Grandson") had been knocked off his motorcycle by a woman driver ("the Driver") who had ignored a "no right turn" sign. 

The Grandson's motorbike was written off and he suffered a nasty injury in the form of a broken ankle. As a result, he is now having to get around on crutches whilst his injury heals and had nightmares, which has had a direct effect on his ability to work. The incident was witnessed and the police attended. However, to the Grandmother's dismay the Driver was not prosecuted as the police advised her that the Highway Code ("the Code") had no legal bearing as it is a "code of practice", not law. The question was raised by the Grandmother "Why is it necessary to pass the Code test in order to get a licence to drive or ride motorised vehicles?"

The reason is that the Code is a list of the rules and regulations of the roads. All new drivers will need to have a good knowledge of these rules and regulations when driving. Having a good working knowledge of the Code helps drivers make safe, legal decisions in everyday driving situations. So what is the Code and what bearing if any does it have on the Law?  The Code is said to be recommended reading for everyone and applies to England, Scotland and Wales. Many of the rules within it are legal requirements and if they are disobeyed they could mean the person is committing a criminal offence. This may result in a fine or penalty points on your licence, or even being disqualified from driving. Although failure to comply with other rules within the code will not in itself lead to prosecution,  the purpose of the Code is to provide people using the highway with advice on how to drive safely and to protect both drivers and other road users.

In addition, under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 "A failure on the part of a person to observe a provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind but any such failure may in any proceedings (whether civil or criminal, and including proceedings for an offence under the Traffic Acts, the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 or sections 18 to 23 of the Transport Act 1985) be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings."

So the Highway Code may not be a direct law but breaching it can certainly lead to civil and criminal action, and all of us should benefit from being aware of it.       

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