The Highway Code – here’s what’s changed

The Highway Code – here’s what’s changed

The Highway Code has been updated from the 15th September 2021 as part of a new Department for Transport safety plan for road users. The amendments and new laws cover the use of ‘smart’ motorways in particular. So here’s a look at what’s changed and what this might mean for UK motorists:

What is the Highway Code?

The Highway Code was first published in 1931 and provides comprehensive guidance on using the UK’s road network safely and legally – whether you’re a driver, pedestrian, cyclist or even an equestrian!

Most drivers probably remember coming across it for the first time when they took their driving test as you must show you can apply the Highway Code both in theory and in practice before getting your licence.

Change highlights

A total of 33 amendments are being made to the existing rules, with two new laws being introduced.

The changes are, in part, intended to give clearer guidance to drivers using the somewhat controversial ‘smart’ motorways.

Smart motorways use the latest technology and traffic management methods to increase vehicle-carrying capacity and reduce congestion on some stretches of motorway.

In many instances, this involves using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane rather than a safety lane. As a result, motorists who break down whilst on a smart motorway could be faced with more difficulties than usual.

The amendments include:

  • Clearer advice on where to stop in an emergency
  • ‘Red X’ lanes – lanes that have been closed with a sign showing an ‘X’ will be more obviously marked and drivers given greater encouragement not to use them
  • Clearer guidance on the use of emergency areas, such as refuge bays
  • Tips on how to best navigate variable speed limits in areas of motorway congestion
  • Highways England’s recent ‘Go left’ campaign – which helps drivers to know what to do if they break down – given prominence
  • Improved guidance on the main causes of safety-related incidents, such as driving while tired, unsafely towing another vehicle or trailer, driving too close and navigating roadworks

It’s hoped that the two new laws will also improve signs and the layouts for the places to stop if you break down and for the emergency services to use – the ‘Emergency areas’ and ‘Places of relative safety’

Clearer and safer?

The head of road safety at Highways England, Jeremy Phillips, believes the updates and new laws will “produce clearer guidance on how to use our motorways and major A-roads, which will make journeys even safer”.

All road users will certainly hope that’s the case and that the amendments mean driving on smart motorways becomes less nerve-wracking.

Find out more

To see more in-depth detail and the results of Highways England’s consultation that informed the changes, you can visit

And for guidance on what to do if you break down on a motorway or other high-speed road, see Highways England’s ‘Go left’ campaign