Strange driving laws: what are they and how much could you be fined?

Did you know that you could be fined for getting out of the way of an emergency vehicle in the wrong way? Find out more about this and the UK's other little-known motoring offences...

Police car

Speed limits, dangerous driving, or using a mobile phone behind the wheel: the rules and laws around certain driving offences are well-known and generally well understood.

But did you know that carrying an unrestrained dog in your car could land you with a £5000 fine? Or that you could be £1000 if you sound your horn where you shouldn’t?

Below, we shine a light on the UK’s strangest driving laws that could leave you in hot water, and outline typical or worst-case fines. Of course, how you react to the police, the precise circumstances surrounding the event and your past track record can all play a part in the final outcome. And remember, if you decide to contest a minor infringement in court, it could cost you far more than the initial ticket.

Obstructing emergency services – fine of up to £5000

It’s pretty clear that you should never wilfully impede the progress of a police car, ambulance or fire engine on the way to an emergency. But should you do so, you could face a fine of up to £5000.

But somewhat counterintuitively, neither should you take whatever measures you think necessary to get out of their way. For example, if you go through a red light or drive into an active bus lane, you could end up being fined for these minor traffic offences.

The only time you can break the law to get out of the way of the emergency services is when you’re instructed to do so by a police officer.

Splashing pedestrians – fine of up to £5000

Car splashing pedestrian

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 it’s an offence to drive without reasonable consideration for other road users. So if, for example, if you race through a puddle and splash pedestrians, you could find yourself in trouble.

However, this type of irresponsible behaviour is usually dealt with by a £100 fixed penalty notice; a larger fine would only be issued if a case went to court.

Driving with pets – fine of up to £5000

Dog hanging out of car window

You might think your dog enjoys hanging its head out of the window, but not only is it dangerous, it could be construed as ‘distracted driving’. It’s a rule that applies to other unsecured pets, such as cats, and means they must be “suitably restrained” to avoid distracting the driver, or causing injury to humans or animals if you stop suddenly. 

Although this would usually only attract a £100 fixed penalty fine and three penalty points, a court could increase this to £5000 and nine penalty points.

A dog guard is a good way of staying safe and legal.

Flashing headlights to warn other drivers – a fine of up to £1000

You might think it’s helpful to warn other drivers that they're heading towards a police speed trap, but flashing your headlights as a signal could be construed as obstructing the police – potentially landing you with a £1000 fine.

Driving without glasses – fine of up to £1000 and six penalty points

Glasses on a table

There’s a good reason why the first question on a driving test is whether you can read a car number plate at a distance of 20 metres, because good eyesight is critical to safe driving. But the need to see adequately stretches long after you take off your L-plates.

There are information codes on the back of driving licences that show the restrictions on the vehicles people can drive and if they are required to follow any other rules, such as wearing glasses to drive.

If you have this noted on your licence and you’re caught not wearing glasses you could get a £100 fixed penalty fine or if the case goes to court this could increase to £1000 and up to six penalty points.

Using an unsecured sat-nav – fine of up to £1000

The punishments for using a handheld mobile phone while at the wheel of a car also apply to the use of an unsecured sat-nav. If you’re caught using your phone or a sat-nav that’s not in a proper holder to follow directions, you could be subjected to a £200 fine and six penalty points. If the case goes to court the fine could rise to £1000.

Mount your phone or sat-nav carefully, though, because you could get three penalty points if you don’t have a full view of the road ahead.

Sounding your horn – fine of up to £1000

Honking horn

It’s illegal to sound your car’s horn when you're stationary in traffic unless you’re alerting another road user to a danger.

It’s also an offence to sound the horn on a road with street lights and a 30mph limit between the hours of 11.30pm and 7am.

Dirty numberplate – fine of up to £1000

There’s no rule to say you have to clean your car, but if your number plate gets so dirty it can’t be read, then you’re committing an offence under the Road Vehicles Regulations 2001. 

This is more of a problem in winter, when cars pick up plenty of road grime, so give your plates a wipe. The same rules apply when it snows.

Non-standard numberplate fonts – fine of up to £1000

The Road Vehicles Regulations Act applies to the legibility of number plates in other ways, too. You might think that non-standard number plate fonts or spacing looks good, but the police won’t. At the least, you could be hit with a Traffic Offence Report (TOR) or a Vehicle Defect Rectification Scheme (VDRS) notice, meaning you’ll have 14 days to fix the fault. This could escalate to a £100 fixed penalty notice or £1,000 for more serious offending.

The same rules apply if you have an image on the number plate that isn’t approved, or are driving at night with a non-functioning number plate light.

Leaving snow on your car’s roof – fine of £60 and three penalty points

Volkswagen Golf long-term snow shot

Strangely, it’s not against the law to drive with snow on the roof of your car, despite the obvious problems it can cause. However, if it slides forward and obscures your windscreen or falls off the back and lands on another vehicle, you could be charged with driving without due consideration or driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition.

The penalty for this is £60 and three points.

Not updating your address – fine of up to £1000

Don’t overlook updating the details on your driving licence or you risk being fined £1000 because the licence is invalid if it doesn’t show your correct name and address.

Driving with music at an excessive volume – fine of up to £5000

According to rule 148 of the Highway Code, safe driving needs concentration, and it specifically identifies loud music as a distraction because it can mask other sounds such as an approaching emergency vehicle.

In addition, regulation 97 of The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 says: “No motor vehicle shall be used on a road in such manner as to cause any excessive noise which could have been avoided by the exercise of reasonable care on the part of the driver.”

Fitting a loud exhaust – fine of up to £2000

If you’re stopped because your exhaust is too loud, it’s likely you’ll get a talking to from the police, although it’s possible to end up with a £50 fixed penalty notice.

Bigger fines could come if you're driving your modified car in areas subject to injunctions preventing certain kinds of car meets such as ‘car cruises’ which are typically associated with speeding, racing and obstructing highways’. Breaches risk a £2000 fine, your vehicle being seized or prison sentences for contempt of court. 

Sleeping while drunk in a car – fine of up to £2500

You might think that sleeping off a drunken night in your car would be a smart thing to do, but you could still be prosecuted under drink-driving laws. That’s because section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 references “driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with alcohol concentration above prescribed limit”.

It’s the “in charge” bit that’s important here: if the police think there’s a likelihood that you might drive, you run the risk of being charged. As well as a fine of £2500, you may also face a mandatory 10 penalty points or a discretionary driving disqualification. In extreme cases three-month imprisonment is a possibility.

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