The highway

The Highway Code

The Highway Code is issued with the authority of Parliament. The Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 refer specifically to the Highway Code and Highway Code for Northern Ireland respectively.

Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements. If you disobey these rules, you're committing a criminal offence. You can be fined, have penalty points put on your licence or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases, you can be sent to prison. Such rules are identified by the use of the words 'MUST/MUST NOT'. In addition, the rule includes an abbreviated reference to the legislation that creates the offence. An explanation of the abbreviations can be found in 'The road user and the law' of the Highway Code.

If you don't comply with the other rules of the Code, it won't, in itself, lead to a prosecution. This includes rules that use advisory wording such as 'should/should not' or 'do/do not'.

The Highway Code contains rules not only for motorists but also for pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders and even covers herding of animals and the use of powered wheelchairs.

The motorway

Motorways are 'special roads' that are designed for high-speed traffic and to which special regulations apply.

As traffic travels more quickly on motorways, the law specifies that it can't be used by certain types of vehicles such as: pedal cycles, motorcycles under 50cc, motorised wheelchairs or mobility scooters not exceeding 254kg unladen weight, certain slow-moving vehicles, agricultural vehicles, animals, and pedestrians. There are number of rules that are specific to motorways, such as:

  • You must drive on the carriageway only, not on the hard shoulder or central reservation (unless told to do so).
  • You must observe one-way driving on the carriageway and not try to reverse or do a U-turn on the carriageway.
  • You must not stop on the carriageway or on the central reservation or verge.
  • You can only stop on the hard shoulder in an emergency. The following would be emergencies:
    • The vehicle has broken down or has a mechanical defect.
    • The vehicle has run out of fuel or water.
    • There has been an accident or illness.
    • The driver or passenger needs to help someone in one of the emergencies mentioned above.
  • You must not walk on any part of the motorway except in the emergency situations mentioned above.
  • You must not drive on the right-hand lane of the motorway if you're driving any of the following (unless you have to overtake an exceptionally wide load):
    • A vehicle drawing a trailer;
    • A goods vehicle with a maximum laden weight of over 7.5 tonnes; or
    • A bus or a coach longer than 12 metres.
  • You must not drive on the motorway if you're a learner driver.

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