Ronnie Cohen reviews the 2015 Edition of the The Official Highway Code to comment on what has changed since the last edition and what has remained the same.
This review includes comments on the use of measurement units within the guide and how they relate to official traffic signs.
In June 2015, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), an executive agency of the Department for Transport (DfT), published the sixteenth edition of The Official Highway Code, to celebrate 80 years of the driving test, which was introduced in 1935. The previous edition of The Official Highway Code was published in 2007.
My overall impression of The Official Highway Code is that it is printed on high quality paper, contains excellent colourful graphics and makes good use of sections, paragraphs, headings, fonts, bold text and colour. It is thinner than the last edition because it uses thinner paper, the kind of paper used for some good-quality magazines. The use of bold red capital letters for “MUST” and “MUST NOT” is excellent for alerting drivers to rules where punishable offences apply for breaking them.
So what has changed since the last edition?
Not a great deal. Here I summarise all the important changes I could find compared to the previous edition of the Code.
Some changes reflect devolution of some transport issues and it was essential that drivers know where rules differ between parts of the United Kingdom. On page 29, the Code tells readers about Scotland’s lower legal limits for alcohol and drugs compared to England & Wales. Anyone driving to Scotland must know about them. On page 30, the vastly expanded section on alcohol and drugs is welcome. The information on drugs includes both illegal drugs and medicines. On page 40, there are two rows that show different speed limits for goods vehicles with a laden weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes, one for England & Wales and one for Scotland.
On page 48, the words, “MUST NOT”, in bold red capital letters, were added for throwing objects out of a vehicle, indicating that this is now a punishable offence. Annex 2, called “Motorcycle licence requirements”, has been rewritten with better information about licence categories for mopeds and motorcycles. Annex 3 includes changes to subsections on Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) vehicles. Annex 7, called “First aid on the road”, has been rewritten with extra useful information. These changes are clear, concise and well-structured.
There was one change where I found a mistake. The sentence in the MOT subsection of Annex 3 was OK except for the tense. On page 121, the Code states, “From November 2012, motor vehicles manufactured before 1960 will be exempted from an MOT requirement, although they can still be submitted for a test voluntarily.” (my emphasis). This appears in a guide published in 2015!
So what has NOT changed since the last edition?
There is no change in measurement usage since the last edition.
Most places in the booklet express speeds in miles per hour followed by kilometres per hour in brackets. However, there are several exceptions. On page 90, the booklet says that, “On leaving the motorway or using a link road between motorways, your speed may be higher than you realise – 50 mph may feel like 30 mph.”. Curiously, no equivalent is given in km/h. Annex 2, called “Motorcycle licence requirements”, shows speeds in km/h followed by mph in brackets. No metric conversions are shown in descriptions of any imperial speed and distance signs in the Traffic Signs section (pages 106-113).
Most references to short distances use metres followed by feet in brackets. However, there are numerous exceptions and inconsistencies.
The Vision section about ability to read number plates in good daylight expresses the reading distance in metres only. The “Seat belt requirements” table on page 32 shows two rows with a child’s height expresed in metres, one with no imperial conversion and the other showing the equivalent in feet and inches. The next section expresses height in metres followed by feet and inches in brackets.
The Speed Limits table shows speed limits for buses, coaches and minibuses not exceeding 12 metres in overall length. Again, no imperial conversion is given. Also, only metres are used for vehicle and overhang lengths in Vehicle Markings section (page 117). However, the DfT does not allow any metric-only vehicle length dimension sign unless it is accompanied by an imperial vehicle length dimension sign. However, the DfT allows imperial-only vehicle dimension signs with no metric equivalent.
The section on Typical Stopping Distances uses metres and feet. This is also the only section in the booklet that also gives conversions in car lengths based on a notional average car length of 4 metres. On the same page, drivers are told, “If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.”. No imperial conversion is given there.
One of the motorway rules expressed near the bottom of page 91 states, “try to stop near an emergency telephone (situated at approximately one-mile intervals along the hard shoulder)” (no metric conversion given). The use of “one-mile intervals” in the DfT’s advice is not consistent with the use of metres in the rest of the booklet nor with the kilometre-based driver location signs used on motorways.
All short distances in the booklet are given in metres, feet or both. However, neither of these measurement units are authorised on distance signs, which must be expressed in yards, miles and fractions or a mile.
One subsection called “Overhead electric lines” under the Level Crossings section expresses clearance in metres followed by feet and inches in brackets yet in another subsection called “Overhead electric lines” under the Tramways section, clearance is in metres only. However, the DfT does not allow metric vehicle height signs without an imperial one alongside them but allows imperial vehicle height signs to appear alone. They also allow dual height signs. The overhead electric cable warning sign shown on page 109 is in feet and inches only.
The measurement anomalies in the latest edition of The Official Highway Code remain. The measurement disconnection between The Official Highway Code and the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (TSRGD), which regulates official traffic signs, remains. Clearly, there is a lack of joined-up thinking at the DfT on measurement units. Apparently, when it comes to measurement usage, confusion reigns at the DfT.