27th September 2021

Sharing our roads safely in 2021

With the number of UK road users continuing to grow each year, it has become increasingly important that everyone shares our roads safely. March 2021 saw more than 38 million licenced vehicles in the UK – a 0.8% increase from the previous year. 

In July 2021, the Department for Transport released the ‘Sharing our roads safely’ report, which examined the attitudes that British road users have towards those who drive other vehicles to them.

This article will uncover the main findings, discuss proposed changes to the Highway Code that could improve safety conditions and explain what it means for HGV drivers. 

Attitudes towards sharing the road

The perception of vulnerability around certain road users was a big talking point in the report. Respondents were asked to identify the road users who they thought were most at risk of physical injury and, unsurprisingly, cyclists were considered the most vulnerable. 75% of respondents said they were at least ‘fairly concerned' about the personal safety of cyclists due to a lack of designated road space, poor visibility and low physical protection. 

However, some respondents took a different view and defined vulnerable road users as those at risk of unintentionally causing an accident or injuring others. These participants listed HGV drivers as vulnerable, with 57% stating they were at least ‘fairly concerned’ due to their faster driving speeds, greater vehicle mass and large blind spots. 


In other words, more than half of those surveyed suggested that trucks are among the most dangerous types of vehicles. While government data advocates this is not the case – the number of HGVs involved in personal injury road accidents has reduced by 71% since 2000 and cars have been responsible for over 150,000 more road accidents than HGVs in 2019 – changing this perception of HGVs and their drivers would go a long way to helping all road users feel safer.

Which drivers show the most concern for others?

Another prevalent theme in the report investigates road users and their level of concern towards keeping themselves and others safe on the road when using different modes of transport.

Cyclists and horse riders that also drove motor vehicles voiced the biggest concerns for sharing the road – likely due to their experience of the dangers from both perspectives. Similarly, van, lorry and bus drivers who cycle in their spare time (88%) were significantly more concerned about other road users than cyclists overall (75%). Cyclists who drive a vehicle at least three times a week (84%) were more concerned than those who get behind the wheel one to eight times a month (73%) –  indicating that the more a driver has experienced cycling first-hand, the more empathetic they generally are.

Overall, the report revealed that the majority (68%) of all road users are more concerned about the safety of others rather than their own. While there is a common misconception that HGV drivers don't care about other road users, this negative reputation precedes truck drivers. Across all modes of transport, the biggest concern came from the drivers of large vehicles – van, lorry and bus drivers (37% very concerned).

Tensions between sharing and responsibility

The government’s research also explored participants views around road sharing concepts to understand perceptions of current norms and how they would ideally want the roads to be shared. 

Attitudes towards sharing roads equally across different modes of transport were questioned with the first concept – do cars currently have, and should they continue to have, road priority?

The second asked if participants considered some modes of transport to have more road safety responsibility than others. 

Should cars have priority?

It was not surprising to see that many felt cars currently have priority on the roads, with a general acceptance of this as a cultural norm. But there was a high level of support (73%) for equal road sharing and responsibility for road safety. 

The drivers (62%) – particularly those who are not cyclists or pedestrians (66%) and horse riders (66%) – were more likely than all other road users to agree that cars should have priority on the road. Cyclists (36%) and pedestrians (32%) were more likely than drivers (29%) to agree strongly about equal road sharing.

The highest level of agreement for cars having priority, in fact, was among van, lorry and bus drivers (74%). This could further demonstrate this community's concern for other road users and keeping everybody safe.

Do certain road users have more safety responsibilities than others?

86% supported the idea that all road users should have equal responsibility towards road safety. Drivers were most likely to agree (88%) compared with cyclists (82%) and horse riders (74%). 

When forced to choose which type of road user should have the most responsibility for road safety, participants overwhelmingly chose car drivers (47%) or van, lorry and bus drivers (27%).


Response to proposed changes to The Highway Code

The research also investigated whether the proposed changes to the Highway Code are likely to improve understanding of the law and encourage road safety behaviours. Consideration was given to the communication of the proposed changes to ensure all road users become aware of the new regulations.

The participants were generally positive towards making changes to the Highway Code, driven by a desire and perceived need to make road sharing as safe as possible. Respondents welcomed improving consideration and mutual respect between different road users and felt many of the proposed changes had the opportunity to support this principle. 

Structural road changes and greater law enforcement were deemed effective ways to improve safety, but changes to the Highway Code were considered a step in the right direction. 

Follow this link to find out more about the proposed changes to the Highway Code. 

Conclusion

While these findings show that the public still perceives trucks as most likely to cause an accident and think lorry drivers should have more responsibility, we can also see that HGV drivers are some of the most considerate on the roads. This is supported by accident data showing that cars are more likely to be involved in accidents than HGVs.

Ultimately, safer roads are beneficial for everyone. While new regulations and changes to the Highway Code are a crucial aspect of this, finding ways to improve the perception of truck drivers will also go a long way to making other types of drivers feel more comfortable alongside them on the roads


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