What is The Highway Code?

March 01, 2024 by

The Highway Code is essential reading for all road users, as it collects together all the laws and rules governing driving, riding and walking into one official guide.

In this article, we’ll explain what The Highway Code is, where you can access it and why you need a thorough understanding of it to be a safe road user.

What is The Highway Code?

The Highway Code is the official collection of rules, regulations and guidelines that every road user must adhere to if they want to use Britain’s public highways safely and lawfully. It was first published in 1931 and is regularly updated to adapt to changes in road and vehicle usage.

The primary aim of The Highway Code is to promote safety on the road, but it also help to support a sustainable and efficient transport system.

Many of the rules in the Code – which you can spot by the use of the words MUST/MUST NOT –  are based on laws: if you disobey them, you’re committing a criminal offence. This could lead to a fine, penalty points on your licence, a driving disqualification or, in the most serious cases, a prison sentence. The rule also includes a reference to the legislation that created the offence. 

Failure to comply with the other rules of the Code – which use advisory wording such as should/should not or do/do not – won’t lead directly to a prosecution, but it may be used in evidence in any court proceedings to establish liability.

It’s important to know (and apply) the rules in The Highway Code, as this will make you a safer driver, enabling you to contribute to improving road safety and a reduce road casualties.

You need a good understanding of The Highway Code to pass your driving theory test before you can progress to driving on the road

What does The Highway Code cover?

 The Highway Code has over 300 pages of information covering everything you need to know to be a safe road user.

It starts with an introduction covering who The Highway Code is for, its wording, consequences of breaking the rules, self-driving vehicles and the hierarchy of road users (Rules H1 to H3). This wealth of information is broken down into manageable sections:

  • Rules for pedestrians (1 to 35).
  • Rules for users of powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters (36 to 46).
  • Rules about animals (47 to 58).
  • Rules for cyclists (59 to 82).
  • Rules for motorcyclists (83 to 88). 
  • Rules for drivers and motorcyclists (89 to 102). This set of rules covers vehicle condition, fitness to drive, alcohol and drugs, what to do before setting off,
    vehicle towing and loading, and seat belts and child restraints.
  • General rules, techniques and advice for all drivers and riders (103 to 158).
  • Using the road (159 to 203). General rules, including overtaking, road junctions, roundabouts, pedestrian crossings and reversing.
  • Road users requiring extra care (204 to 225). Rules for drivers when around road users who require extra care, including pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists, other road users and other vehicles.
  • Driving in adverse weather conditions (226 to 237). 
  • Waiting and parking (238 to 252). 
  • Motorways (253 to 274). This section includes rules for signals, joining a motorway, lane discipline, overtaking, stopping and leaving the motorway. 
  • Breakdowns and incidents (275 to 287). 
  • Road works, level crossings and tramways (288 to 307). 
  • Light signals controlling traffic, including traffic light signals, flashing red lights, motorway signals and lane control signals.
  • Signals to other road users.
  • Signals by authorised persons. 
  • Traffic signs, including signs giving orders, warning signs, direction signs and information signs.
  • Road markings.
  • Vehicle markings. 
  • Annex 1. You and your bicycle. 
  • Annex 2. Motorcycle licence requirements. 
  • Annex 3. Motor vehicle documentation and learner driver requirements. 
  • Annex 4. The road user and the law. 
  • Annex 5. Penalties. 
  • Annex 6. Vehicle maintenance, safety and security. 
  • Annex 7. First aid on the road, including dealing with danger, getting help, helping those involved, and providing emergency care.
  • Annex 8. Safety code for new drivers. 
  • Other information. Metric conversions, useful websites, further reading, the blue badge scheme and code of practice horse-drawn vehicles.

Where can I find a full copy of The Highway Code cover?

You can find an online version of The Highway Code at the government’s gov.uk website. 

You can also buy a physical copy from most high street bookshops or order one from the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Alternatively, there is a Highway Code app, available via Apple’s App Store or Google Play, depending on the operating system of your phone or tablet. 

What is the best way to learn The Highway Code?

We’ve already established that every road user needs to learn The Highway Code, so the next question is what is the best way to learn it. 

Of course, we all learn differently, so the method that works best is your decision, based on how you know you learn information the most efficiently. Perhaps reading a hard copy of the book works best for you, or maybe listening to the audiobook version helps it sink in better.

Alternatively, you could download The Highway Code app, which is more interactive and engaging, and can also track your progress.

Online Highway Code quizzes are a good way to test your knowledge, so we’d suggest finding these online resources and taking tests regularly to keep you on your learning toes. Enlist friends and family to test what you’ve learned, perhaps getting them to focus on areas that you know you need to improve upon.  

Finally, make sure that the version of The Highway Code you’re using is up to date, to ensure you’re learning the latest possible information.

The Highway Code is essential reading for all road users, and is updated regularly

Is The Highway Code law?

The Highway Code isn’t a law, but a collection of rules and best practices. However, many of the rules contained in The Highway Code do represent laws passed by Parliament.

Let’s take an obvious example: You might make a misjudgement and find yourself driving through a red traffic light, covered by Highway Code rule 109, which states that ‘You MUST obey all traffic light signals’.

The law that you’re actually breaking in this example is covered by The Road Traffic Act 1981. How you’re charged will depend on whether you drove through a red light deliberately or by mistake, but you could be charged with either careless or inconsiderate driving (section 3 of the RTA 1988), or dangerous driving (section 2 of the RTA 1988).

Do I need to understand The Highway Code to pass my driving test?

A good knowledge of The Highway Code will make passing both parts of the driving test easier (theory and practice), because it’s designed to promote road safety. 

The first part of the multiple-choice driving theory test is only about the information in The Highway Code, so make sure you know it thoroughly before sitting the test. During the practical driving test, meanwhile, you’ll also need to show a working knowledge of The Highway Code to the examiner while. you’re driving.