Motor lawyer Jeanette Miller says that drivers should be aware of the law rather than rely on dubious popular wisdom about what is and isn’t illegal. Here she dispels popular myths.
In addition to using loopholes to save motorists from sometimes life-changing penalties, being a motoring lawyer also involves dispelling myths.
Here are a few of the most common mistakes drivers make when searching for answers on the net or talking to mates down the pub about their legal problems.
Myth 1: There is a 10 per cent discretion if you break the speed limit
A lot of people think that breaking the speed limit by 10 per cent or less – so 32mph in a 30mph zone, for example, or 75mph on the motorway – will not result in a prosecution, but this is not the case.
If you are stopped by the police exceeding the speed limit by a small amount, they do have leeway to let you off with a warning or to give you an offer of penalty points instead of going to court.
But if caught by a fixed camera, however, it is perfectly legal for the police to send a notice of intended prosecution to you for going 31mph in a 30mph limit.
These days you would most likely be offered a speed awareness course as well as points for that level of speed. However, you will get nowhere by arguing that because the speed is only marginally over the limit you should not face a penalty.
Myth 2: Drinking water at the wheel is not an offence
Driving while drinking even a soft drink can be construed as the offence of careless driving or not being in proper control of your vehicle. Both offences attract penalty points and a fine.
There have been a whole host of examples of driving mistakes in the press which may surprise you. There was the woman who was putting her hair in a ponytail while driving, another woman applying lipstick and there is an actual blog online campaigning against drivers painting their nails while driving - can you spot a theme?
To keep on the right side of the law on this one I advise to revisit your Highway Code every once in a while.
Myth 3: It is not an offence to use your mobile phone if you are stationary
This is probably the most common mistake people make. Even if you have been stuck in a traffic jam without moving for hours, if your engine is on and you use your mobile, you are committing the offence of using your mobile phone while driving - that's three points and a fine.
There have been lots of mobile phone cases with defences relating to whether the driver was “using” their phone. It's a matter of interpretation but being stationary with your engine running will not wash with the courts as a defence.
People also make the mistake of thinking they will be OK using a phone with headphones or on loudspeaker. If you have to take even one of your hands off the wheel to answer or make a call, the hands-free device is not legal for driving purposes and you could still face prosecution and penalty.
Perhaps common sense should come into play more when dealing with the policing of motorists. However, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to rely on police discretion when choosing to make that call, take a sip from that bottle of Evian or speeding to make that meeting.
Motor lawyer Jeanette Miller, is the senior partner of Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, a UK firm specialising solely in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences. She is also a member of the Association of Motor Offence Lawyers.