I'm a bit late to the show here, but sections of the highway code ARE law. You will note that a number of the rules begin with the word "must" and have an abreviation such as
Laws RTRA sect 17, MT(E&W)R 1982 as amended, reg 15(1)(b) & MT(S)R reg 13
following them. These sections are laws, of course they're not the exact wording of the statute books because we're not lawyers, but what they say IS law. What you say is true about the rules that begin with the word "should" and it irks me hugely when people claim they're directly law/not law.
I totally support the Highway Code as law (the advisories sections and mandatory sections). The problem is, it only works if everybody abides by it.
There are of course idiots on bikes that wilfully violate it and put themselves and others at risk. However, I have been in many situations myself where car drivers try to throw the rulebook (Highway Code) at cyclists yet have made it blatantly obvious they don't abide by it themselves.
A couple of examples:
Last Sunday I was cycling in the road where there was also a shared cycle path. A driver pulled up alongside, wound down his window and told me to get on the f**** cycle path. 1) Even if there is a cycle path, it doesn't mean we cannot cycle in the road if it is more practical to do so (but I always use the cycle path where I can). 2) It is also advised by law (but hasn't appeared in the highway code) that if you cycle faster than 18 mile per hour, you should consider using the road. (A very good point considering children use the shared cycle/pedestrian paths). 3) The car driver in question willingly put my safety at risk and violated rule 163 just so he could have a go at me.
When cycling, I try to cycle along the side of the road. I try to keep left to avoid causing an obstruction, but the DfT clearly states that if a road is narrow or of bad condition, you should move to the centre to take control of the road and prevent cars passing until it is safe for them to do so. I have tried this, and 9 out of 10 drivers will become hostile and bully you into submission directly violating the Highway Code simply because they have had to wait a few seconds.
Like I said, the Highway Code is only any good if all people abide by it, cyclists and drivers alike. But the self-focused attitude adopted by people (I deliberately avoided finger-pointing at transport types) sometimes makes it almost void. Common sense goes a lot further, unfortunately though, many don't seem to have any these days.
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