Motoring 'bible' reflects changing face of Britain: Christian Wolmar finds the revised 'Highway Code' is as much a social document as a record of changed conditions on the roads since 1978

THE NEW version of The Highway Code launched yesterday, the only book that sells more than 'The Book', will provide future historians with countless titbits of about how life has changed since the last full revision in 1978.

For example, they will learn how advice on vehicle security has clearly not been heeded. The old version says 'over 1.5 million cars are broken into or stolen each year. That's one every 20 seconds.' It is now 2.5 million and every 13 seconds.

Two million copies are sold each year, mainly to driving-test candidates who, if they pass, probably never read it again. At 99p, the price has not kept up with inflation since the last price rise to 75p in 1987.

One possible source of confusion for the social historians will be the re-emergence of trams and the new prominence given to horse riders on the roads. There is a new section on tramways, which have reappeared in Manchester and will run next year in Sheffield. Motorists are warned that they 'must not enter a road or lane reserved for trams', and that it is not a good idea to park on tramlines.

Nine paragraphs of advice - up from one - are devoted to horse riders, a result of heavy pressure from the horse lobby: 'Make sure all tack fits well and is in good condition . . . You should also wear boots or shoes with hard soles and heels . . . When riding keep both feet in the stirrups.'

Drivers are faced with the new hazards of 20 mph speed limits and the proliferation of sleeping policemen. Cyclists in particular are told to take care of 'narrowings and other traffic calming features' but warned that they should ride over the hump rather than avoid it by going along 'a drainage channel at the edge of the road'.

The live policemen have changed, too. The fresh-faced young man instructing people to stop in the 1978 version has been replaced by a young black woman wearing a rather fetching fluorescent green plastic overcoat.

Car lamps, probably for some 'Euro' reason, are now car lights and all reference to hitch-hiking and thumbing a lift along the motorway have been expunged.

The cars have changed, too. The good old British Morris Minors and the Triumph 2000 have been replaced by a ubiquitous Euro-hatchback, which oddly does not have a number plate, probably because their drivers, in breach of the law, want to dodge the new photographic speed traps.

Another innovation is the puffin crossing. Unlike pelican crossings, there is no flashing orange phase - instead, the light stays red for the motorist until infra-red detectors find that there are no more pedestrians on the crossing.

There are only two in use so far and they are designed for roads near schools and old people's homes.

(Photograph omitted)

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