Spiderman’s Uncle Ben was not the first to coin the phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Some say it goes back as early as first century Rome, and even then was borrowed from one of Ancient Greece’s great thinkers.
Apart perhaps from some latter day dissent among Spidey’s various arch nemeses, I can’t imagine this was ever a particularly controversial notion. If you polled 100 members of the public on any high street in the UK and put it to them that someone is allowed to walk around their town with a loaded handgun, many, if not all, would agree that such an individual should be held to a higher level of responsibility for the other human beings around them.
The most recent update of the Highway Code is due to bring a raft of changes into force on 29 January 2022 based on the very same premise: “…those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others.” So why is it that there is a furious backlash from motorists against the way we are now advised to behave when sharing our roads? Why i s there a perception there is an unfair bias in the new rules towards cyclists in particular?
I will leave it to other lawyers, many of whom have already done so, to write very competent summaries of the changes, what they mean and comparing them to the outgoing rules. Not wishing to upset my learned colleagues, I would simply refer you, as a starting point, to Cycling UK’s website on their campaign to change the rules during the consultation, and related pieces – just click here to disappear down the rabbit hole: A safer Highway Code for cyclists | Cycling UK
On the whole, as with any good superhero, the changes are not completely perfect. But the good they will bring will far outweigh any underlying flaws.
The biggest problem is that the public were not informed about the changes via a national campaign. The large majority have no idea they are coming into force, or understand the significance of failing to follow them. The other horrifying development this week, as word has finally leaked out in the national press, is that a great many motorists say they have no intention whatsoever of reading the rules, or, by extension, of following them! If this isn’t a marker of how poor we are as a nation of drivers in understanding how vulnerability on our roads affects so many lives, I don’t know what is. I would contend that something must be done to address this.
My proposed solution is simple, but I doubt it will be popular among the motoring fraternity: there should be compulsory theory tests for all licensed motorists every five years with the motorist's licence suspended until it is passed.
I appeal to all my fellow motorists and indeed anyone who isn’t at the top of the new road safety hierarchy (including cyclists) – READ THE RULES. Then find your inner superhero and look after those more vulnerable than you on the roads. Be more like Spidey. Who knows, you might take to wearing Spandex and feeling more at one with your superpowers, and cyclists, as a result.
Part two of this blog, detailing the new rules, will follow soon.