The Highway Code is the rulebook for drivers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a learner, a qualified driver, a Formula 1 racing driver even – you still have to obey the Highway Code while ever you drive on British roads.
The Highway Code deals with pretty much any everyday situation imaginable on UK roads. It tells you how to know what the speed limit is in a given area; stopping distances (i.e. the distance it takes from when you put your foot on the brake to the car coming to a complete stop) in different weather and road conditions; the legal requirements for seatbelts and the wearing thereof…
As you can see, it covers most aspects of driving. There’s also a whole section on road signs, because with the best will in the world, no driver will ever be able to remember the meaning of every single road sign – and while some are self-explanatory, some aren’t.
It can get pretty confusing, so the Code is broken down into 9 main sections: the Introduction; Rules for drivers and motorcyclists; Techniques and Advice; Using the Road; Extra Care on the roads; Adverse Weather; Waiting and Parking; Motorways; Breakdowns and Accidents; and Roadworks.
We’ll look at each section in more detail, because the titles aren’t always that clear. But you’ll need to have a good knowledge of each section, whether you think it’s relevant or not.
The Introduction is fairly self-explanatory, and deals with a brief explanation of the basic rules of the Highway Code and the words they use in the Highway Code, just to make sure no one misunderstands.
The Rules for drivers and motorcyclists is also fairly easy to grasp, and focuses on regulations like whether you’re considered fit to drive, the rules regarding seatbelts, alcohol limits and how you should adapt your car and driving for when children are on board. This is a fairly important section, as it looks at the main health and safety points of driving.
Techniques and Advice is a worryingly generic heading, but this deals with the requirements of your car: the correct number of headlights and brake lights; the signals you’ll need for different manoeuvres; speed limits; and how to keep control of your vehicle. This section focuses on one of the most fundamental aspects of driving, so it definitely deserves a thorough read.
Using the Road is, again, quite straightforward, and looks at the rules you need to follow when you’re actually driving on roads. We’re talking rules about roundabouts, pedestrian crossings, overtaking, junctions… it’s a fairly comprehensive list, and one you need to know inside out.
Users requiring Extra Care on the Roads is both long-winded and confusing, but this section basically deals with road users who might not be as quick, as alert or as skilled as you are. That means pedestrians, cyclists, older drivers and other learner drivers. You need to know how to handle your own vehicle in a way that doesn’t cause problems for them or for you, and you need to know what to do if they cause you a problem.
Driving in Adverse Weather sounds ominous until you replace the word ‘adverse’ with ‘bad’. This part explains the dangers that bad weather such as heavy rain, snow or ice can pose, and the rules regarding how you should react when faced with these conditions. This includes altering your speed, driving style and awareness.
Waiting and parking is a useful section, for two reasons: one, road users seem to spend an inordinately large amount of time waiting, either outside a friend’s house or in vast queues of traffic; and two, because the rules regarding parking and waiting are annoyingly finicky.
The part on Motorways might seem a little irrelevant at the moment, as learner drivers aren’t allowed on motorways, but once you’ve passed then you’ll be free to traverse the M6 and M25 as much as you please – and when it comes to motorways, it’s always a good idea to know what you should be doing. High speeds, multiple lanes and confusing road signs are bad enough; throw in a smattering of ‘I don’t know what to do!’ and you’ve got problems. Best, then, to swat up on this now.
The last two sections of the Highway Code are pretty easy to follow, thankfully: Breakdowns and Incidents (they’re not accidents anymore, because sadly it’s always someone’s fault) looks at how you should react if you break down, if you’re involved in an incident or if you happen upon an incident (the golden rule being ‘Do NOT gawp out of the window as you drive past’). This is fairly crucial knowledge, as often it’s motorists who don’t know what to do in these circumstances who are injured more severely or who cause further problems for other road users.
The Roadworks information looks at what the various signs mean, what you should do when driving through or past roadworks (going slower is usually on the cards) as well as the protocols for level crossings, tramways and other oddities.
There are also a few pages, usually at the very front or back, devoted to Road Signs. You need to know these off by heart. Most of them are fairly obvious, so it won’t take long, but some are quite obscure. These are popular questions in the Theory Test and it’s also vital that you know what they mean when you start driving yourself, otherwise you risk putting yourself and others in danger.
As you can see, the Highway Code covers most aspects of driving. Most of what’s in there is good, sound advice, and there’s no way on earth you can justify not reading the full Highway Code at least once, unless you want to be considered a dangerous driver.
Of course, there’s no way anyone can learn the entire book, unless they’re ridiculously clever, have a photographic memory, or very little social life – so don’t attempt it. For the purposes of your theory test, take the time to just look at some of the facts in the Highway Code, and you’ll realise that many of them are simply common sense. Certainly, when you compare the Highway Code to the questions you get asked in the mock theory tests, many of them you’d get right simply by guessing.
That said, there are some sections of the Highway Code that you do need to learn. Stopping distances are invariably misleading and can’t be guessed; hand signals for indicating are obsolete thanks to the invention of automatic indicators, but are still classed as being important to learner drivers on the off chance that you might drive your granddad’s 1948 Ford T. Never mind that other drivers won’t have a clue what you’re doing with your arm out of the window.
There are a number of ways to read up on the Highway Code: there are several hundred versions of it on sale in stores, both on the high street and online. You can look up individual questions or facts online simply by using a search engine, but we’d recommend having a hard copy of the full Code. That way, if you ever need extra information, you’ve got it to hand. There are loads of gift packs available, which parents or relatives often buy for new drivers, or else you can buy an individual book for around £7.