Things you may not be aware of that can land you a fine or points
Most of us learned the basic motoring laws for our driving tests. And we have seen high profile media campaigns for dangers such mobile phone use - which could land you six points, a fine and require you to retake your test if you have been driving for less than two years. But there are some lesser known rules which may just catch you out…
Are you allowed to eat at the wheel?
Technically eating (or drinking) while driving isn’t illegal but it is all down to your ability to control the vehicle and react in an emergency. So popping a mint in your mouth while ambling along an A-road is one thing; trying to munch on a messy sandwich and sipping a scalding coffee on a motorway is another.
In fact any act where you are distracted by what you are doing or needing you take your eyes off the road is classed as careless driving and can rack up between three and nine penalty points plus, potentially, a £100 fine. Applying make up, using an electric shaver or changing a CD can all land you in trouble. It is for good reason too: even a momentary lapse of concentration can prove fatal.
What else can't I do behind the wheel?
Smartphones are great for many things, including navigation, but if you are caught holding your phone, even if it’s being used as a satnav, you’ll receive the same six points, fine and need to take retest for new drivers if caught. If you need to use your phone as a satnav, it makes sense to buy a proper holder - but don’t let it obscure your view of the road because that’s also an offence.
While we are thinking about visibility, not clearing your windows before driving - whether this is frost or snow on the outside or condensation inside - is also illegal. Another weather-related offence is leaving snow on top of your car. This could slide and obscure your view or even hit another vehicle.
There are many rules regarding number plates. To start with, they must be kept clean enough to read. Then there is the whole fad for personalisation. Apart from purchasing a private plate and having your country’s flag on the left, any other ‘tweaks’ can land you a fine of up to £1,000.
So changing the typeface, positioning screws to make letters or numbers look like something they’re not, putting your plate in the window of your car rather than where it should be or any other deviation from standard will land you a fine.
Medication and smoking
We perhaps think of penalties for illegal drug use yet regular medication might also affect your ability to drive and you can be prosecuted after being caught with certain legal drugs in your body. Even some stronger pain killers can cause drowsiness and so shouldn’t be taken if you intend to drive.
The law specifically lays out certain medicinal drugs and the thresholds above which it is considered dangerous (and therefore illegal) to drive. These include morphine (80µg per litre of blood) and temazepam (1,000µg/L).
Smoking in your car with a passenger under the age of 18 is illegal, as is smoking in a company vehicle as it is considered a workplace. And if you do smoke in your car, slinging the cigarette butt - or anything else for that matter - out of the window can also lead to a fine.
Courtesy on the move
It’s good to be courteous but flashing your lights to give way is not actually a recognised manoeuvre; a flash is to make others aware of your presence. It will certainly incur a fine if you are caught flashing your lights to warn others of a speed trap.
Just like headlight flashing, the horn is for letting other road users know you are there, not for use in anger.
Splashing pedestrian as you plough through a puddle is considered driving “without reasonable consideration to other persons” and can land you a fine.
Hogging the middle (or outside) lane when the nearside lanes are free is classed as careless driving. It is also inconsiderate as it reduces the capacity of a road and encourages undertaking - which is also illegal.
At a standstill
Even when you aren’t actually driving your car, you could be committing an offence. For example, if you fall out of the pub and wisely decide not to drive home yet choose to sleep in your car, you are still deemed to be in control of your vehicle. You’ll be sobering up to 10 points and a hefty fine.
Sitting in your car with engine running is also illegal. You’re not expected to cut the engine at every set of traffic lights - and there are exceptions such as when diagnosing faults - but otherwise you should turn off your engine.
You could also be fined for leaving a child in the car - even if dashing to pay for fuel at a filling station, for example. Kids can become distressed if left alone and even cause an accident, for example by releasing a car’s parking brake.
Even in the comfort of your own home, you could still be breaking the law, if you haven’t informed DVLA about changes to your details such as a new address or medical condition.
*Image credit: DVSA Crown Copyright
About the Author
Andrew is a freelance motoring journalist with a background in IT and the vehicle leasing industry. With a lifetime’s passion for all things automotive, he can be found behind the wheel of everything from vans to supercars. In addition to reviewing the latest vehicles and technology, Andrew also runs a couple of classic British motors. He lives at the edge of the Peak District with his son and cat.
Andrew Wright @theMotorWriter