Skip navigation

Are you a law breaker at the wheel?

A new Highways Agency report shows many drivers don’t know when they can use the hard shoulder. We look at other grey areas of motoring law.

Man drinking coffee and driving

When the word "Fire" appeared on one motorist’s car dashboard, he perhaps understandably pulled off the motorway on to the hard shoulder.

But in fact, the vehicle was merely informing him which Adele track was currently playing on his stereo rather than warning of an impending emergency.

Shouldering the blame

This is just one of the examples newly published by the Highways Agency of motorists illegally using the hard shoulder.

The organisation found that more than 2,000 drivers stopped by the side of the motorway between July and September last year when there was no urgent need to do so.

Apart from in cases of emergency, pulling over on to the hard shoulder is an offence.

Other reasons given by motorists caught breaking the law in this way included:

  • "I was meeting someone to sell a car."
  • "My insurance was up for renewal and I was phoning around for quotes."
  • "I wanted to stop to pick some flowers."

Clearly there is some confusion over when the hard shoulder can and can’t be used.

But what other grey areas are there when it comes to obeying motoring law?

Eating and drinking at the wheel

Neither activity is illegal as such, but you could be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention or not being in proper control of the vehicle if you are not concentrating sufficiently on the road.

Listening to music on headphones

Again, this is not against the law but a police officer could conclude that you are being distracted and therefore driving erratically.

According to the Highway Code, motorists must "avoid distractions when driving such as loud music, trying to read maps, inserting a CD or tuning a radio, eating and drinking".

Making phone calls

Close up of woman using a phone while driving"Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal, punishable by three penalty points on your licence and a £100 fine,” says Jeanette Miller, senior partner at JS Miller Solicitors.

"Voice-controlled Bluetooth systems eliminate the need to touch your phone.

"But if the hands-free system still requires you to touch the phone to answer or make the call, that is still committing the offence – even if you’re using a set of headphones to actually speak on the call."

Again, even if you are using a hands-free kit, you could still be stopped if the police think you’re distracted and not in proper control of your vehicle.

Sounding your horn

Your horn should only be used while moving and to warn other road users of your presence.

Any use in a built-up area between 11.30pm and 7am is against the law.

Tailgating and middle-lane hogging

These irritating and potentially dangerous motorway practices can now be punished with on-the-spot fines and penalty points, Miller says.

"Under the new measures, police officers can issue £100 fines and three points rather than taking drivers to court.

"Prosecuted drivers will be able to choose between an on-the-spot fine and the chance to go on a driver improvement course.”

Pushing into a queue of traffic or failing to give way at a junction can also be punished in this way.

"Compare car insurance - you could find a deal in minutes" Get a car insurance quote

Related articles


Chris Torney

Chris Torney

Chris is the former personal finance editor at the Daily Express. He's been a journalist for more than 10 years and contributes to a wide range of finance and business titles.Read more from Chris