Everyone knows the story – you learn to drive to pass your test, then the real education of how to drive in the real world begins.The habits and misconceptions that drivers pick up when they first start going it alone are hard to shift, and there’s a good chance that keeping up with changes in the highway code isn’t high on the priority list for bedtime reading. To help set some things straight, here’s our list of top eight things that many drivers do, but far from being frowned upon, are actually illegal:
1. Not wearing a seat belt
You probably already know that not wearing a seat belt whilst driving in the UK is illegal. It has been since 1983. But did you know that if you get caught driving without a seat belt then you could be fined – up to £500?
Points are not given for seat belt offences, but the fines can be pretty hefty. The law states that if your seat has a seat belt fitted, then you must wear it – unless exempt for medical reason, in which case you will need legal documentation as proof in the form of ‘Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing’, from your doctor.
Fines can also be given to any person in the car – it is not the sole responsibility of the driver to make sure passengers are belted up, contrary to popular belief. However, if a passenger under the age of 14 is not wearing a seat belt, then the driver gets fined. Only if passengers are 14 or over, then they receive the fine themselves.
If your vehicle was manufactured without seat belts then you are exempt. However, you are not allowed to carry any children under three years old as passengers, and children over three must sit in the back. Certain situations are also exempt from compulsory seat belt wearing, but to be on the safe side – of the law and for your safety, it’s best to wear a seat belt at all times.
2. Using a phone to call or text
It’s amazing that people still use their phones and other mobile devices when driving. Despite being excessively dangerous, it has been illegal since the end of 2003! In fact, this law extends to all hand-held devices, and even includes moments when you are stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic. Next time you are in a traffic jam and get the temptation to take a selfie at the wheel, remember that if you are caught you will get an automatic fixed penalty notice which will leave you with three points on your licence and a fine of £100. Worst case scenario is that your case could get taken to court and you could be disqualified from driving with a maximum fine of £1,000. New drivers can lose their license if they get 6 points within two years of taking their test, while the fine for a bus driver is £2,500.
It is even illegal to use a phone whilst supervising a learner driver, as the car must be kept under proper control, and you won’t be able to help avert a potential accident if you’re distracted by your phone. If you need to make a call whilst on the road there are a few options. Hands free phones and two-way radios are perfectly legal to use whilst driving, or why not pull over in a safe place and take your call with the engine off?
The only exception to the phone rule is if you need to make a genuine emergency 999 call and are in a position where it is unsafe to stop, you are permitted to drive and dial.
3. Using your horn
This isn’t illegal in itself, however there are limitations around when horns can be used, as reckless use of the horn can be antisocial as well as distracting for other drivers.
The law states that you may only use your car horn while your vehicle is moving and if you need to warn other road users of your presence. You must never sound the horn aggressively e.g. to pressure other drivers to get out of your way. Even if you are not at fault and a pedestrian or other road user acts dangerously, you must sound your horn only to alert them of your presence. In addition, sounding your horn in built-up areas can affect people who are sleeping during the day due to sickness or due to working unsociable hours.
In addition, you must not sound your horn whilst stationary on the road, or when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am, except when another road user poses a danger.
If caught breaking any of these rules, then police are able to issue fixed penalty notices – of £30 – for misuse. This may not seem a lot, but bear in mind that councils also have the power to potentially take action under the noise pollution law. See below for potential fines. There is a process by which they have to adhere in terms of contact, issue notices, and try to resolve the issue by other means, but should all this fail, in the worst case scenario the maximum fine is £5,000 on domestic premises and £20,000 on commercial premises.
4. Warning fellow oncoming motorists
This might seem like an odd one, but warning other drivers of a police speed trap could land you with a fine of up to £500. A 64-year-old male motorist from Grimsby helped a fellow driver avoid a potential prosecution and was hit with a fine and costs totalling £440 by magistrates.
5. Eating and drinking behind the wheel
Again, whilst not an offense in itself, eating or drinking when behind the wheel is not, in itself, illegal. However, this is more about increasing the chances of an accident through being distracted and not paying attention to the road and what’s happening around you.
The Highway Code states that motorists must “avoid distractions when driving such as loud music, trying to read maps, inserting a cassette or CD or tuning a radio, eating and drinking and smoking”. You might not be pulled over for actually doing any of these things, but it’s important to consider how they might affect your driving and what the consequences could be if you were to cause an accident due to any of these activities.
6. Changing clothes/styling hair/applying make-up while driving (or even stuck in traffic)
As above, whilst this is not actually illegal in itself, it’s more about the distraction that it causes whilst driving. For example, Changing clothes, doing your hair or putting on make up all involve taking your foot off the brake, hands off the steering wheel, and eyes off the road. Plus if you get tangled in your clothing whilst getting changed then you could get into an accident. Make sure you either do everything you need to do before you leave, or wait until you get to your destination. If it can’t wait, make sure you pull over into a safe space first.
7. Parking in a disabled or mother & baby space if you are not entitled to
If you’re not disabled, then parking in a bay reserved for disabled people is a misuse of the space. Depending on whether the space is on the public highway or on private land, motorists can face fines from local authorities or private companies, depending on their policy.
If you park in an on-street Blue Badge parking space without displaying a valid Blue Badge, then you could be fined up to £1000.
8. Dirty number plates
The Display of Registration Marks Regulations 2001 set out strict rules as to how number plates should be laid out, what fonts and character specifications can be used, their visibility and how they should be fixed to the vehicle. General rules will include:
- Number plates must be lit during the evenings
- Registration marks must be readable and not covered by dirt
- Vehicles must have number plates fixed to them
- Number plates must be laid out in the correct size, colouring, font and spacing
- Owners cannot alter or rearrange numbers and lettering on their number plates
- Plates should follow the British Standard for number plates including the trademark of the plate supplier
- No other images should be used on number plates except approved images such as the Euro flag and other flags
- A non reflective border is optional
If these rules are not followed, then you could be fined up to £1000 – for each individual number plate offence. Police cameras are regularly used to catch drivers with dirty numbers plates or plates with incorrect spacing.