A road safety organisation has blasted a “lack of communication” from the government after it made “sweeping” changes to the Highway Code. IAM RoadSmart, the trading name of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), said low awareness of the changes, which come into force on January 29, could cause drivers to break the rules inadvertently.

As of Saturday, the updated Highway Code will include no fewer than four new rules and 49 changes, including the requirement for drivers to give way to pedestrians at a junction. The new rulebook will also include a ‘Hierarchy of Road Users’, which puts the onus on drivers to keep more vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, safe.

While IAM RoadSmart says it has “welcomed” some of the changes, but fears many drivers will not be aware of the rules when they come into force. Neil Greig, the director of policy and research at the charity, said communication about the changes would be vital to the success of the schemes.

Helmet and bike lying on the road on a pedestrian crossing

“There is very little evidence from trials or pilot schemes that the new hierarchy or rules will help people feel safer undertaking active forms of travel, which has huge benefits in terms of personal health, local communities and the environment,” he said. “The vast majority of people won’t have read the Highway Code for many years, meaning it is absolutely essential that changes are communicated in a simple, memorable and timely fashion. Unfortunately, this has not been the case so far, meaning there is now huge potential for more conflict on the roads rather than less.

“IAM RoadSmart will continue to inform its members and the wider public about such changes, but the government must also do more to effectively raise awareness of changes coming in just under a week's time, ensuring Britain’s world leading road safety record is not put at risk.”

Group of cyclists and their support car in Northumberland UK

And the IAM isn’t the only organisation to express concerns. Craig Carey-Clinch, the executive director of the National Motorcyclists Council (NMC), said a lack of consultation with bikers had meant motorcyclists’ needs were not adequately reflected.

“Consultation with motorcycle user groups during the early development phase of the new code was absent, so the new Code very much reflects inputs and changes in relation to support for other active travel modes,” he said.

“As a result, the new rules do not fully reflect the needs of motorcyclists as vulnerable road users. The NMC is also concerned about the creation of a transport mode hierarchy, as this can give the impression that some road user groups are responsible for keeping others safe, when it is absolutely vital for road safety that 100 percent of road users take responsibility for their own safety 100 percent of the time – this approach would reduce conflicts on the road and ensure that safety is improved for all.”

Roads minister Baroness Vere said the rule changes would make sure the UK's roads became safer, and the Department for Transport (DfT) would make sure road users became aware of the new rules, referencing a new Think! public information campaign.

"I’m proud to say we have some of the safest roads in the world, but I’m determined to make them safer still for everyone," she said. "These updates to The Highway Code will do just that by bringing the rules into the 21st century, encouraging people to respect and consider the needs of those around them, and ensuring all road-users know the rules of the road."