posted 2 years ago

Who Has Greater Rights, Somebody Driving a BMW or a Skoda?

Guest article by the executive editor of, Carlton Reid.

The Highway Code has lots of fiddly facts, but all can be boiled down to two basic concepts. “Always be considerate towards others,” is the first, and has been in the Highway Code since its inception in 1931. The second is “whatever is in front of you travelling the same way has priority.”

And that goes for whatever is in front of you, whether that’s a horse, a car, a bus, somebody on a bike, somebody on foot, or a roadside disposals operative tipping rubbish into a bin lorry. The impatient idiot in the video below clearly doesn’t know the first thing about ceding priority. The bin man was in front of the driver on the road, and therefore had priority. The motorist should have waited a few seconds – mounting the pavement in an attempt to squeeze by was stupid, rude and illegal.

I was reminded about priority earlier today by an angry woman in a car behind me. I was on my bicycle, riding fast and overtaking a slower cyclist while riding in the middle of the lane to speedily complete my manoeuvre. There was a pedestrian-island ahead, the sort of pinchpoint that can be lethal to cyclists, with some motorists willing to take all sorts of giddy risks to reach such build-outs first (these dangerous little accelerations are known in cycling circles as MGIF, “must get in front”). As I was “in the way” the woman behind me couldn’t get past; keeping us both safe.

Thing is, I wasn’t “in the way,” I was ahead of her, I therefore had priority. From the silent-to-me mouthing to her passenger I assumed she was expressing the opinion that a mere cyclist shouldn’t hold her up; she deemed her progress to be far more important than mine. But what if I had suddenly morphed, Transformer-like, into an HGV? She wouldn’t have tried to squeeze in then. As an HGV she would have understood I had priority, yet as a puny-in-comparison cyclist I had the exact same priority. 

But this isn’t a cyclists-vs.-motorists thing. When I’m in my car I have to frequently cede priority to others, and I can’t say it bothers me. Note I use the word “priority” and not the misleading term “right of way”. On the road, there’s no such thing as “right of way”. A “right of way” is a term used to describe the “legal right, established by usage or grant, to pass along a specific route through grounds or property belonging to another” – you know, things like footpaths, bridleways and other highways open to all. To believe you have the “right of way” on the road is to believe in superior rights where none exist. Who was greater rights, somebody driving a BMW or a Skoda? Neither, of course, they have equal rights. Compared to “right of way” priority is simple – whomever got there first has priority.

If more motorists (and cyclists) understood priority there would be a lot less angst out there.

Carlton Reid drives a Nissan Note (it’s his wife’s car, really) and is the executive editor of and author of Roads Were Not Built for Cars.