Belgium Revamps Highway Code for 2026: Prioritizing Cyclists and Pedestrians

Belgium Revamps Highway Code for 2026: Prioritizing Cyclists and Pedestrians Jun, 9 2024

Belgium's Public Road Code: A New Era for Road Users

Belgium is set to roll out a landmark change in its highway code, now termed the 'Public Road Code,' taking effect on September 1, 2026. The move represents a significant shift in focus, placing a newfound emphasis on equitable road usage among motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Belgian authorities hope this radical overhaul will pave the way for safer and more sustainable modes of transport, addressing long-standing concerns about road safety and urban mobility.

King Philippe has ratified the updated code, which is built on five main pillars: enhancing safety for all modes of transport, redistributing road space more fairly, promoting active mobility, improving overall road clarity and consistency, and setting clear protections for different users. These pillars illustrate a thoughtful and comprehensive vision aimed at making roads more inclusive and efficient.

Transformative Changes for Cyclists

Among the most notable changes are those affecting cyclists, who stand to benefit significantly from the new regulations. Children up to the age of 11 will now be permitted to cycle on footpaths, offering parents peace of mind about their youngsters' safety in congested urban areas. This is a crucial step towards encouraging cycling from an early age.

Moreover, some bicycle paths will be deemed optional, giving cyclists greater flexibility based on the specific circumstances they encounter. This change reflects a deeper understanding of cyclists' needs and acknowledges that rigid rules often fail to capture the complexity of real-world situations. Cyclists will also be allowed on pavements in certain instances, providing them with safer alternatives especially when roads are particularly busy or unsafe.

The new code introduces progressive rules that permit cyclists to pass through red or orange lights when turning left and to cross intersections diagonally. This potentially game-changing update aims to streamline bike travel, reduce congestion, and minimize wait times for cyclists, thereby making cycling a more attractive and efficient means of transportation.

Enhancing Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian safety has not been neglected in these sweeping changes. The new rules mandate that cyclists and speed-pedelec riders maintain a minimum distance from pedestrians and ensure free passage on pavements. This builds a safer environment for those walking, particularly in densely populated urban settings where the interaction between cyclists and pedestrians is inevitable.

The directive to maintain a safe distance ensures mutual respect among all road users, potentially reducing the number of accidents and near-misses that can occur when space is inadequately shared. Authorities believe these measures will foster a culture of considerate and cautious road-sharing, ultimately leading to fewer injuries and fatalities.

Promoting Active Mobility

The revision of the highway code reflects a broader trend towards promoting active mobility, a priority echoed in transport policies globally. By making the roads safer and more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians, Belgium aims to encourage more people to consider walking or cycling as genuine alternatives to driving.

Active mobility is not only beneficial for individual health and well-being but also plays a critical role in reducing urban congestion and lowering carbon emissions. Such policies can have a transformative impact on societal norms around transport, fostering a more sustainable and health-conscious populace.

Looking Ahead

While the new Public Road Code represents a dramatic shift in Belgian road regulations, the success of these changes will heavily rely on widespread public education and adherence. Authorities must commit to comprehensive awareness campaigns that educate citizens on the new rules and the motivations behind them.

This transition period leading up to September 2026 will be pivotal. Effective communication strategies will be essential in ensuring that all road users—motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike—understand and are prepared for the incoming changes. In doing so, Belgium can set a precedent for other nations looking to modernize their own road safety and transportation systems.

As the deadline approaches, it will be interesting to observe how local governments and communities adapt to these changes. The ambition to create a balanced and safer road environment is commendable, and with firm commitments to public safety, the 'Public Road Code' has the potential to serve as a model for road-use policies worldwide.