Road users are a varied group and have different needs. Some are vulnerable and it’s your responsibility to know how to conduct yourself on the road to ensure everyone’s safety. The vulnerable road users section will cover:

  • Road users which are classed as vulnerable.
  • How you can help keep other road users safe.

Vulnerabilities come in many different forms.  You may think of vulnerable road users as the elderly, infirm or disabled.  You should also consider; all pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders.

This is because these users aren’t protected by the bodywork of a car in the same way that you are. People may also be classed as vulnerable road users due to their inexperience, size, speed or unpredictable behaviour.  It is important that you stay calm and considerate at all times in order to ensure road safety. Some of these road users may have slower reactions, particularly if they are learning, disabled or older.  By making allowances and staying calm, you can help make the roads as hazard free as possible.

Other drivers

Other drivers may be vulnerable road users for a number of reasons. Those who are inexperienced such as learner or older drivers, may have slower reactions or be observant of the road around them.

When you’re travelling in fast-moving traffic you may occasionally experience a slow moving vehicle in front. If this occurs you should slow down and gradually increase the distance between yourself and the vehicle in front. This will give you more room to slow down or stop if necessary, reducing the risk of the rear-end shunts.

Learner drivers and newly qualified drivers

Learner drivers are more prone to making mistakes, such as stalling at a junction. Statistics show that 17 to 25-year-olds are the most likely to be involved in a road traffic incident. This may be down to over-confidence, a lack of experience and poor judgement. You should remember your experiences as a learner, be patient, kind and ready to slow down or stop if necessary. Doing this makes the roads a pleasant and safer place for all.

You should be aware that learners may not necessarily be in a car from a driving schools. Anyone can teach somebody to drive as long as they; are over 21, have held, and still hold, a full licence for that category of vehicle for at least three years and don’t charge – even petrol money – unless they’re an approved driving instructor (ADI). It is advisable to take lessons with an ADI to ensure that you’re taught the correct procedures. Supplementing this with practice with a friend or family member, however, is a great way to get more road experience.

Pedestrians

You will encounter people walking on or besides the road every day that you travel. So much so that you may come to take them for granted. However, pedestrians are one of the most vulnerable users on the road as they have no protection.

Pedestrians sometimes have the right of way, such as when they’re already crossing after you’ve turned into a side road, so you shouldn’t assume that they will move for you. Instead wait patiently until they’ve finished crossing. Be aware that this may take longer for elderly pedestrians or those with young children.

Pavements or footpaths generally offer protection from passing traffic but in some instances, particularly on country roads or if the footpath is closed, it may be necessary for pedestrians to walk in the road. Road signs can help identify if this is likely. If pavements are unavailable then it is advisable for you to walk on the right-hand side of the road, facing oncoming traffic, so that you’re able to see approaching vehicles. However, pedestrians will not always follow this advice, so always be cautious and careful not to drive too near the edge of the road.  This applies to both individual pedestrians and also larger, organised groups. If the group is walking at night then they should have a person at the back of the walk with a bright red light and a person at the front with a bright white light. This should help you spot them.

Buses carrying pedestrians

If a bus has stopped on the other side of the road you should use caution and be aware that pedestrians may come from behind the bus and cross the road, or dash across the road from your left to catch the bus.

Buses and coaches carrying schoolchildren show a special sign in the back. This is to warn you that they may stop often, and not just at normal bus stops. See the below section on children for more information on driving safely near children

Pedestrian crossings

Some roads have pedestrian crossings on them, which allow people to cross the road safely. These can take a variety of forms; make sure t you know the different types and how they work. As you approach a pedestrian crossing, you should be prepared to slow down and stop. Regardless of the type of crossing, you should never park on or one, such as on the zigzag lines either side of a zebra crossing. Doing so makes visibility for pedestrians and drivers limited and the roads less safe.

If you see someone’s feet when looking between the wheels of the parked cars, a ball bouncing out into the road or a bicycle wheel sticking out between cars, then somebody may be about to cross the road. You should slow down and be prepared to stop.

Children

Children are particularly vulnerable road users for a variety of reasons; they can be unpredictable, they may take longer to cross the road, they’re less likely than other pedestrians to look before stepping into the road and they can become easily distracted. Take your time and stay vigilant when driving near children or schools.

A school warning sign may have flashing amber lights underneath it. This is to show that children are often in the area and likely to be crossing the road on their way to or from school. You should slow down until you’re completely clear of the area.

Some pedestrian crossings near schools are manned by a school crossing patrol or lollypop lady at peak times. They will stop the traffic by stepping out into the road with a stop sign. You should be prepared for the signal and MUST obey it.

As with road crossings you shouldn’t wait or park on yellow zigzag lines outside a school. This is again because a clear view of the crossing area outside the school is needed by drivers and riders on the road and pedestrians on the pavement.

Older and disabled pedestrians

Older people on the road are vulnerable as they tend to have slower reflexes and may have hidden disabilities. If you see an elderly person ahead about to cross the road, you should be careful as they may have misjudged your speed or distance and may need extra time to cross the road.

If they have begun crossing or are at a pedestrian crossing remember that they have the right of way. Be patient and allow them to cross in their own time.

Older people are more likely to have certain disabilities and loking out for clues of these can help keep everyone safe. A pedestrian who is blind may have a white stick or guide dog, a person who is both deaf and blind may be carrying a white stick with a red band and may also have a guide dog with a red and white checked harness. A person with hearing difficulties may have a dog with a distinctive yellow or burgundy coloured coat. In the event of encountering any people with these additional needs you should take extra care as they may not be aware of vehicles approaching, or aware later than other road users would be.

A slow-moving vehicle can be indicated by a flashing amber beacon on top of it. This is not mandatory for all vehicles but a powered wheelchair or mobility scooter used by a disabled person MUST have one in use if they are travelling on a dual carriageway with a speed limit that exceeds 50 mph.

Cyclists

After pedestrians you are probably most likely to encounter cyclists. They are required to follow the same Highway Code as drivers, but due to their lack of speed they are more vulnerable than other vehicles.

Cycle routes

In order to ensure that traffic flows freely and safely, in some areas you may find special cycle lanes or shared cycle and pedestrian routes. These are marked by signs.

When approaching traffic lights, you should be aware that advanced stop lines are sometimes marked on the road so that cyclists can stop in front of other traffic. This mean that you may have to stop further back than you would at other sets of lights and wait at the first white line.

Overtaking cyclists

Cyclists can seem unpredictable as they have to react to things that drivers don’t, such a swerving to avoid an uneven road surface or manhole cover or being blown of course by a gust of wind.  Therefore, it’s imperative that if you’re overtaking a cyclist you give them as much room as you would a car.

A cyclist may be planning to turn right if they are travelling at a low speed, or keep glancing over their shoulder to check for traffic. You should learn to recognise these clues and hold back and give them plenty of room to complete their planned manoeuvre. If you’re just about to be turn left you should hold back and wait until the cyclist has passed the junction before you turn, NEVER overtake.

Cyclists at junctions

You will sometimes come into contact with cyclists at junctions. When you’re emerging you should look carefully for cyclists travelling down the side of your vehicle and emerging from junctions.

When you’re at a roundabout, you should be aware that a cyclist may decide to stay in the left-hand lane, regardless of the direction they’re planning to take. This is due to the fact it allows them extra room to see and complete their manoeuvre. You should hold back and give them plenty of room to enter and exit the roundabout.

Look carefully for cyclists at junctions too, as they may be easily hidden by other vehicles, street furniture or other roadside features, such as trees.

Motorcyclists

Motorcyclists share many of the same vulnerabilities that cyclists do. They can be unpredictable and may also be hard to see due to their size. They’re usually fast-moving too, so they can be very vulnerable in a collision.

As with cyclists, motorcyclists may swerve to avoid uneven surfaces, or be affected by a gust of wind. Therefore, you should remember to leave enough room while overtaking, double check for them at junctions and give them extra space to complete their manoeuvres.

You should be cautious of the fact that motorcyclists may; filter between lanes, cut in just in front of you or pass very close to you. You should keep checking all of your mirrors to make sure you see them and can anticipate their next move.

If you’re unsure of what a slow-moving motorcyclist ahead is planning to do, you should stay behind them. This helps protect you and other road users in the event that they change direction suddenly.

In order to improve their visibility and ensure their safety, motorcyclists may employ tactics that other road users don’t such as wearing bright clothing and riding with dipped headlights, even during daylight hours, wearing safety equipment, such as a helmet and wearing leather clothing. If there’s been an accident and a motorcyclist has been injured, never remove their helmet unless it’s absolutely necessary. Instead you should get medical assistance as soon as possible.

Horses

Horses and their riders are a common hazard, particularly in rural areas as they may behave in unpredictable ways.  They may become frightened by the noise and speed of vehicles and could bolt. Therefore, you should always drive slowly and carefully near animals and give them plenty of room. Do not rev your engine as the sound could frighten the horses who are easily startled.

If you wish to overtake them make sure it’s safe before driving past slowly whilst leaving plenty of room.

As with cyclists horse riders may keep to the left at roundabouts, even if they’re signalling right. Stay well back and give them plenty of time and space.