What you need to know about the changes to the Highway Code

Posted 17th December 2021

On the 14th September 2021, two brand new rules and changes to 33 existing rules in the Highway Code came into effect. With 15 changes in the last six years alone, the Highway Code is regularly updated to reflect changes in the law, and all kinds of motorists – from learners to seasoned pros – can benefit from keeping up-to-date with the changing guidelines.

The changes mainly relate to the development of smart motorways and new guidelines for safety in the case of breakdown or emergency. Grappling with a 23% rise in traffic since 2000, the government is now moving away from the concept of “dynamic” hard shoulders and committing to the creation of refuge areas every three quarters of a mile along motorways.

These refuge areas are also better signposted and more visible, with a bright orange floor to alert motorists’s attention to their location. These changes have been heralded as a “victory for common sense and safety”, as many were concerned about the increased risk represented by “confusing” dynamic hard shoulders, which operated as a live lane in some instances but were closed if someone needed a place of refuge in a breakdown.

There has been broader discussion and some controversy around smart motorways, but the hope is that with new guidance and investment in safety measures that our motorways will be able to cope with ever-increasing road users without the need to add new lanes, which could create disruption and have profound environmental implications.

Our role at Hi-Way Services in applying road markings and conducting road maintenance is a key element in maintaining the safety and usability of Britain’s road network. As such, we are always interested in changes to the Highway Code, and most particularly where it is related to our work.

Some changes which impact or involve road markings include:


Rule 270: New guidance on emergency areas

Rule 270 has been created to ensure that motorway users are aware of emergency areas, how to recognise them, the circumstances in which they should be used and where they will find them.

Reappropriating hard shoulders and replacing the role they used to serve with orange-floored ’emergency refuge areas’ is becoming increasingly common on Britain’s motorway network. Acting as a safe haven for stranded vehicles on busy roads, they include SOS phone boxes and are located on motorways that either do not have a hard shoulder, or a hard shoulder that is sometimes used as an extra lane.


Rule 266:  An update regarding directional road markings

Directional road markers can be extremely helpful to road users, adding an extra layer of information that minimises confusion and supports other road signage. The update to Rule 266 in the Highway Code has been made to ensure that people understand road markings may also be used to indicate directions on the approach to some junctions.


Rule 269: Updated hard should information

The hard shoulder (which is often indicated using a thick white line, chevron markings and/or a red floor) has, as we explored above, gone through some changes in recent years on many motorways.

The Highway Code has been updated to reflect these changes, reinforcing the fact that:

  • The hard shoulder is for emergency use only.
  • On certain motorways, the hard shoulder can be used as an extra lane in busy periods. In this case, there will be signs to indicate to road users when the hard shoulder is acting as another lane and the speed at which they can travel along it. The hard shoulder cannot be used as a lane unless a speed limit is shown.
  • In cases where motorway supervisors have the option to use the hard shoulder as an extra lane, there will be extra emergency refuge areas for the safety of road users.


Rule 271: Adding clarity regarding emergency areas

Many of the updated rules in the Highway Code relate to driver sleepiness and the importance of being fully rested, awake and alert when in control of a vehicle. In addition to this, Rule 271 makes it clear that emergency refuge areas must only be used in the event of an emergency.

This may be stating the obvious, but the rule exists to reinforce to motorists that refuge areas should never be used as rest stops or a place to get some sleep, even if they feel tired or the motorway isn’t busy.



For more information relating to the updates and new rules in the Highway Code, which includes guidance relating to the road-worthiness of vehicles, towing, speed limits for motorhomes, signage and more, please see the government website.

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