UK driving law myths debunked
27th March 2018
Can you eat while driving? Is it illegal to drive barefoot? What is the law on parking in front of a driveway? In this article, we take a look at some of the UK’s most common driving law myths so you can separate fact from fiction and stay safe on the roads.
What is the law on…
Smoking while driving?
While smoking at the wheel isn’t illegal, smoking in a car with under 18s present is an offence – this was made illegal in England in October 2015. It’s worth noting that this law does not apply to e-cigarettes or convertible cars with the roof down. Failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle in England and Wales could land you with a fixed penalty notice of £50.
The Highway Code stipulates that smoking is just one of many distractions while driving. These include: loud music, reading maps, inserting CDs or tuning a radio, arguing with passengers or other road users, eating and drinking and smoking. While none of these actions are in themselves illegal, any of these behaviours could result in a charge of careless driving if you’re swerving your vehicle or not paying attention to the road.
Wearing headphones while driving?
As mentioned above, loud music is listed as one of the top distractions while driving by The Highway Code. Using headphones while driving can block out any number of sounds, such as oncoming emergency vehicles like ambulances, fire engines and police cars, or car horns which may be signalling a hazard ahead. While it is not technically illegal to drive while wearing headphones, it is not advised and could lead to charges of driving offences including driving without due care and attention, and careless driving.
Driving while the interior light is switched on?
While many of us were raised to believe that driving with the interior light on is illegal, there is in fact no law against this. As with smoking and driving with headphones in, if a police officer determines that the interior light is causing negligent driving, you may be prosecuted.
Using a mobile phone while driving?
As we discussed in a previous article, the law on using your mobile phone while driving in the UK changed in March 2017. Those caught using phones behind the wheel now face six points on their licence and a £200 fine. New drivers (those who have been on the road for less than two years) could even have their licences revoked.
While it may be tempting to check your phone if you receive a text message or a call while driving, even glancing down or across at your phone can distract you enough to cause a serious accident. According to The Metro, 35 people were killed and 137 seriously injured in accidents on Britain’s roads in 2016 where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributing factor. It’s advised that you leave your phone in your bag or place it in the glove compartment to resist checking it while on the road.
Using a sat nav while driving?
Although technology has in many ways improved road safety, the rise of mobile phones and other smart devices can also hinder your concentration. Satellite navigation systems, or sat navs, are fixed to the windscreen or dashboard and dictate directions during your drive. It is against the law to hold a phone or sat nav while driving and the device must not impair your view of the road ahead. This law still applies if you’re stopped at traffic lights, queueing in traffic or supervising a learner driver. Breaking the law could leave you with 3-6 penalty points or lead to a driving ban.
Not wearing shoes while driving?
It is not illegal to drive without shoes on in the UK. You can get behind the wheel of a vehicle barefoot or while wearing flip flops, as long as you are able to control the car safely. The Driving Standards Agency says: “Suitable shoes are particularly important behind the wheel. We would not recommend driving barefoot because you don’t have the same braking force with bare feet as you do without shoes on.” Basic guidelines suggest that you drive with shoes that have a sole no thicker than 10mm, provide enough grip to stop your foot slipping and are narrow enough to avoid pressing two pedals simultaneously.
Using traffic cones to reserve parking spaces?
Most drivers will have noticed that residents often reserve parking spaces on public roads using traffic cones. In a bid to reserve a space outside their homes, or at least on their streets, many anxious residents will use cones to prevent other drivers from parking in their desired space. However, according to local councils, this behaviour is not permitted.
In 2017, Councillor Vernon Smith, cabinet member for highways at Gloucestershire County Council told Gloucestershire Live: “Blocking the road with traffic cones or wheelie bins is dangerous, no matter the reason behind it. We have had complaints about this and we address it straight away by visiting the area and speaking with the resident. If residents do have genuine issues with parking, then we can talk through the options with them.”
Unless your street is ruled by residents’ parking permits, any member of the public can park there as long as they are not causing any obstructions.
Parking in front of someone’s garage?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually not illegal to park in front of someone’s driveway. Drivers are entitled to park anywhere on a public road, as long as there are no restrictions in place, such as residents’ permits and yellow lines. And, as mentioned previously, marking a parking space with cones can actually put you on the wrong side of the law. Although to avoid conflicts, it’s best to avoid parking in front of someone’s driveway.
Speed camera flashes?
As a general rule – no flash does not mean no conviction. There are multiple types of speed cameras, including those with a flash, and those that use infrared light. So if you find yourself speeding during the day and don’t see a flash, that doesn’t mean you haven’t been caught. Stay on the right side of the law and stick to the speed limit. If you want to find out where speed cameras have been installed in your area, visit Speed Cameras UK.
Driving 10% above the speed limit?
It is widely believed that drivers are legally permitted to drive 10% over the speed limit. While many vehicles’ speedometers allow a 10% error in overestimation (not underestimation), you can’t legally drive 44 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour zone. If police officers catch you with their mobile radar speed gun driving even 1% over the legal limit, you are liable for prosecution. Having said that, according to the RAC, the National Police Chiefs’ Council suggests that police don’t prosecute unless drivers are exceeding the speed limit by 10% or more.
Apps to improve road safety
Aviva Driving Challenge App
Aviva Drive is a useful free app that monitors your driving skills. Once you’ve driven 200 miles, the app will give you a driving score out of 10, which is based on elements such as braking and acceleration. It’s interesting and can be helpful in highlighting areas you can improve on. Plus, it can even save you money on your insurance. Aviva Drive is available on the AppStore and Google Play.
MotorMate by Confused.com
Similarly to Aviva Drive, MotorMate by Confused.com shows you how good your driving really is. Based on stats from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the app not only monitors your skills as a driver, it also offers you rewards for driving safely.
Have you ever received a text while behind the wheel but couldn’t respond? Or wanted to change tracks but worried about getting distracted? Drivemode is a handy app designed to make driving safer. With this technology, you can easily change songs, use voice search to get directions and reply to texts hands-free. Just keep in mind the laws we covered previously to make sure you’re driving within the law.
Reduce the risk of road rage by downloading this smart parking app. AppyParking makes it easy to find off or on-street parking spaces and includes prices and any other restrictions that apply. The sleek app is designed to make finding parking spaces hassle-free, and can in turn reduce the possibility of you getting frustrated or distracted on the road.
We’ve already explained how speed cameras work, but it also helps to know where they’re located while you’re on the road. CamerAlert uses a map view to show where speed cameras are located, and provides clear audio alerts while you’re driving so you get a gentle reminder to stay within the speed limits, and avoid a fine.
AutoGuard Dash Cam
If you’re concerned about other drivers and want an extra layer of security, should you ever have to make a claim, AutoGuard Dash Cam might help you. The app essentially transforms your phone into a dash cam, allowing you to record incidents on the road and potentially use the footage for evidence, should you need it in the event of an accident. For more dash cam apps, take a look at this Auto Express article.
If you’re interested in finding a legal job to work on road traffic cases, or if you’d like to get involved in any other aspect of law in the UK, take a look at our vacancies.