20 UK driving laws you (probably) didn’t know existed

With driving laws in the UK now stricter than ever, there are plenty of obscure offences that could catch you out. You have been warned…...

20 UK driving laws you (probably) didn’t know existed

Ford Focus patrol car stopping motorist

We all like to think of ourselves as good drivers. And yet there are plenty of obscure rules of the road that can catch the unsuspecting – and otherwise law-abiding – motorist out. So, we’ve pulled together a list of 20 UK driving laws that you (probably) didn’t know existed, to help you avoid a hefty fine.

1. Middle-lane hogging

Smart motorway

With gantry signs across the UK now showing the message “Stay left unless overtaking”, it’s difficult to see why so many drivers forget to do this on a daily basis.

If you’re caught unnecessarily sitting in the middle lane, you could be handed an on-the spot fine and three penalty points for careless driving, the same punishment you’d receive if you were caught tailgating or eating or drinking behind the wheel.

Rule 264 of the Highway Code states: “You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear. If you are overtaking a number of slow-moving vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past.”

2. Driving too slowly

Horseless carriages

With 2.2 million tickets issued across the country in 2017, speeding is by far the most common UK driving offence. However, going too slowly can be equally dangerous.

Driving at a speed that’s deemed low enough to endanger other road users (usually on motorways, dual-carriageways and fast-moving B-roads) can land you an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three points. This could increase to an eye-watering nine points and £5000 fine if you’re taken to court. It’s all regarded as driving without due care and attention.

3. Night-time parking

Volkswagen Touareg night vision

While most of us don’t worry too much about the direction in which we park our cars, rule 248 of the Highway Code states that after dark, “a car must not be parked at the side of the road facing against the direction of traffic unless in a recognised parking space”.

Why? Because when a car is parked against the flow of traffic, there’s nothing to catch the headlights of an approaching vehicle, thus posing a potential hazard – whereas a car parked with the flow of traffic will be illuminated by its rear reflectors.

You can be fined up to £1000, while owners of goods vehicles or vehicles with more than eight seats can be liable for as much as £2500. However, parking against the flow of traffic is legal during daylight.

4. Splashing pedestrians

LT Volvo V90 Cross Country wading through ford

Most pedestrians are wary of venturing too close to the kerb after the heavens have opened, but some aren’t so observant, and this lack of awareness can lead to a cold, wet walk home after a passing car has driven through a nearby puddle.

However, if you’re the one doing the drenching, you can be prosecuted under section three of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for “driving without reasonable consideration for other persons”. If you’re found guilty you could be fined £100 and receive three penalty points.

Driving in a manner that “amounts to a clear act of incompetence, selfishness, impatience and aggressiveness” could result in the fine being increased to

5. Medical conditions

Ambulance through the windscreen

If you suffer from an ailment that could affect your driving ability, you must obviously notify the DVLA. However, the sheer number of things that must be flagged up is far broader than most people realise. Conditions that can leave you facing a £1000 fine if they lead to an accident and you haven’t declared them include suffering from déjà vu or an eating disorder, and even having recently had a Caesarean section.

6. Swearing

Man shouting at learner driver

Motorists are urged to keep calm and carry on instead of allowing themselves to become consumed by road rage. And with a potential fine of up to £1000 for swearing at fellow road users, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is clear on the consequences of failing to heed this advice.

Alternatively, you could be pulled over for not being in full control of a vehicle, an offence that attracts a fine and three points.

7. Loud music

Rolls-Royce speaker

Many people like to crank up the stereo and indulge in some sub-par singing while driving, but while there’s no direct law against loud music (or being tone deaf), if it’s deemed a distraction, a £100 fine and three points could be handed out. What’s more, if you’re stationary, local authorities could slap you with a noise abatement notice. If you’re asked to turn the music down and refuse, your car could be seized.

8. Unrestrained pets

Dog hanging out of car window

As cute as it may be to allow your Labrador to hang its head out the rear window of your car on the M4, you probably won’t find the potential £1000 fine and penalty points that result quite so adorable.

Although there’s no direct penalty for unrestrained pets, the risk is that you’ll be charged with driving without due care and attention if you’re distracted by the animal. If the case ends up in court, you could face a fine of up to £5000 and nine penalty points.

Rule 57 of the Highway Code states: “When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so that they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seatbelt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

9. Warning others about speed traps

Speed camera sign

We’re all in this together, right? All you’re doing is being a good Samaritan by helping a fellow motorist to avoid being nicked. Well, not in the eyes of the law.

Deemed as “wilfully obstructing a constable in the execution of his/her duty”, warning other drivers of police speed traps can land you with a £1000 fine for breaking section 89 of the Police Act 1996.

On this, the Highway Code says you should “only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or intimidate other road users”.

10. Frosted windows and snow on your roof

McLaren 650S driving in snow

Tempted to get going in winter as soon as you’ve cleared the area of windscreen right in front of you? Well, don’t.

Rule 229 of the Highway Code dictates that drivers must demist and clean all mirrors, clean all lights, ensure number plates are visible and make sure they can see out of all windows before starting any journey. Failure to comply could lead to a fine under the banner of careless driving.

It’s also illegal to start a journey with snow atop your car, because it could fall onto your windscreen when you brake, thus blinding you, and also pose a danger to other road users were it to fly off. If convicted, you could be charged with driving without due consideration or using a motor vehicle in a dangerous condition and could be handed a fine and three points.

11. Parking on the pavement

Parking on pavement

Although it has been illegal to park on all London pavements for more than 40 years – an offence that’s currently punishable by a £70 fine – no other British city, town or village has yet followed suit. Instead, it’s only illegal when it’s not permitted by a sign. However, that could be about to change, because the Transport Committee is seeking a nationwide ban on pavement parking.

With built-up areas busier than ever and climate change protesters applying increasing pressure on councils to ban cars in certain areas, it seems like an inevitable change that could wreak havoc for millions of terrace and flat dwellers across the country.

12. Using a mobile phone to pay at drive-throughs

McDonalds restaurant

Now that we can pay for things at card readers through our smartphones, it’s important to bear in mind the crackdown of 2017 when the Government introduced strict new laws on the use of mobile phones while driving.

Using a phone at the wheel of a car is only legal with the engine off and the handbrake applied. Anyone falling foul of this is liable for a £200 on-the-spot fine and six points.

Therefore, you could technically find yourself in trouble if you use your phone to pay at a drive-through if your engine is running and the handbrake isn’t engaged.

This might seem harsh, but the law is very clear; it’s the same legislation that outlaws phone usage in stationary traffic.

13. Ticking over

Exhaust fumes

With climate change protests making headlines the world over, there has been a crackdown on unnecessary pollution that could hit you in the pocket.

Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 enforces Rule 123 of the Highway Code, which states that “you must not leave a vehicle’s engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road”.

If caught, you could be liable for a fine of up to £20 under the Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) Regulations 2002 (£80 in certain parts of London), but enforcement is applicable only on public land and doesn’t include being stuck in traffic. It’s also unclear whether leaving your engine running in order to heat the car is legal or not

14. Making a profit when giving lifts

Toyota Prius

Taxi services in the UK have always been heavily regulated, particularly since the introduction of Uber. Therefore, without the proper paperwork, it’s illegal to make a profit by giving someone a lift in your car.

According to the RAC, making a profit can result in fines of £2500, six penalty points and even the seizure of your vehicle. Many insurance policies are also invalidated if it’s proved that the driver was making a profit at the time of the accident. Accepting fuel money is legal, though.

15. Putting your car in for an early MOT

Car being serviced

Some motorists have been known to book their car in for an MOT test well before it’s due in order to have a mid-year check to ensure all components are still as they should be.

While this sounds like a sensible idea, it’s crucial to realise that if your car fails the ‘check-up’ MOT test and is registered as being in a ‘dangerous’ condition, the car is no longer roadworthy.

Therefore, driving the car away without suitable repair work could land you with a £1000 fine if it failed with a ‘major’ and a £2500 fine and driving ban if you continue to drive the car in a dangerous condition.

The DVLA states that the only time it’s legal to drive a car without an MOT is if it’s being driven directly to an MOT test centre or a garage at which it will be repaired.

However, an MOT can be carried out up to one month before the expiry date while still preserving it, and if the car passes, it will, in effect, have a 13-month MOT.

16. Giving way to emergency vehicles

Police car

When you see flashing lights or hear a siren blaring, your instinct is probably to do whatever you can to get out of the way. However, you could be penalised if you break the rules of the road to do it.

Rule 219 of the Highway Code states: “When an emergency vehicle with flashing lights approaches, take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs.” So, don’t venture into a bus lane or go through a set of red lights. The latter could land you a £100 fine and three points.

17. Honking your horn

Honking horn

Some drivers might also be shocked to hear that you can get into trouble for using your car’s horn, unless it’s to warn other motorists of your presence.

Rule 112 of the Highway Code states: “Never sound your horn aggressively. You must not use your horn while stationary on the road, or when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30pm and 7am, except when another road user poses a danger.” Again, the potential punishment is a £1000 fine.

18. Pets on the hard shoulder

Motorway breakdown

Stopping on the hard shoulder is illegal except in an emergency; we all know that.

What many don’t know, though, is that under The Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) Regulations 1982, “the person in charge of any animal which is carried by a vehicle using a motorway shall, so far as is practicable, ensure that the animal shall not be removed from or permitted to leave the vehicle while the vehicle is on a motorway”.

Allowing your pet out of the car while it’s on the hard shoulder to stretch its legs or answer the call of nature, then, would most likely be classed as a driving offence, because it could endanger other motorway users.

19. Vagrancy

Paying at parking meter

Interesting and ancient, the Vagrancy Act 1824 makes it illegal to beg for money, with failure to abide by this resulting in “one month’s hard labour”. But what relevance does this have to motorists? Well, if you forget your wallet, you might want to think before asking for spare change for the parking meter.

20. Towing a caravan

Range Rover Sport towing caravan

There are more than 555,000 caravanners in the UK, so it’s important that towers and non-towers alike are aware of the relevant laws.

With your beloved Swift in tow, you mustn’t exceed 60mph on any road in the UK and are banned from using the outside lane of motorways. Breaking the latter rule can leave you £2500 worse off and with three points on your licence.

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