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22 driving myths explained

Not everyone is completely clued up about the rules of the road, so confusion and misinformation have a habit of spreading. But ignorance isn’t an excuse for illegal driving. With that in mind, we’re here to clear up any confusion on some of these common motoring law myths.

Close up of a man driving a car

 

Is it illegal to drive a dirty car?

Many of us put cleaning our car to the back of our minds. But did you know you could get a fine for this? 

There are strict rules around number plates and how they’re displayed. Annex 6 of The Highway Code states that:

“Lights, indicators, reflectors, and number plates MUST be kept clean and clear” 

If your car’s number plate is missing, displayed incorrectly or obscured, you could face a fine of £1,000. So make sure to check your number plate is clean and legible before you start driving.

What’s more, this is also a valid reason for your car to fail its MOT, potentially leaving you even more out of pocket

 

Is it illegal to splash pedestrians while driving?

Avoiding puddles on British roads is almost as difficult as dodging potholes. It might be an unfortunate coincidence that you and a pedestrian pass one another next to a splash zone.

But splashing a pedestrian, whether accidentally or intentionally, is an illegal driving offence under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988:

“If a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, he (sic) is guilty of an offence.”

If you’re caught, you could be hit with a £5,000 fine and 3 penalty points on your licence.
 
 

Is it illegal to throw litter from your car?

According to Highways England, each year 200,000 sacks of litter are cleared from motorways and A roads. This costs the taxpayer over £850 million a year to clean up, Keep Britain Tidy says.

Maidstone Council in Kent introduced LitterCams in 2021 to catch drivers chucking rubbish out of their cars. All drivers caught could get a fine of £90, which rises to £120 if left unpaid for 15 days.

Other councils are considering LitterCams too, including Wigan and Sheffield along with Transport Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland.

Littering, whether you’re driving or not, could land you with a fine of £150, but it could reach up to £2,500. 

 

Is it illegal to honk your horn in a built up area?

The Highway Code says you shouldn't use your horn in a built-up area between 11:30pm and 7am.

You should only use your horn to alert other drivers to danger, or to tell them you're there if they've not seen you.

But treating the horn like a stress ball could land you with a £30 fine. If it escalates to court, that could go up to £1,000.

Other symptoms of road rage include tailgating, swearing and making rude gestures. But this could also land you in hot water.

Road rage isn't a crime in itself. But these actions could be seen as 'driving without reasonable consideration for other road users'. This offence gets you 3 to 9 points on your licence.

 

Is it illegal to use your phone in the car when you're stationary?

You’ve been stuck in a tailback without moving for hours. You’re beyond bored. You decide to send a sarcastic tweet to lighten the mood. But if your engine is on, you’re committing an offence.

Since 2017, using your mobile phone while driving could land you with 6 points and a £200 fine.

So being stationary won’t wash with the courts as a defence.

Are you ok using a phone with headphones or on speakerphone? You could still get stopped and potentially penalised if the police think you were distracted whilst using them.

In 2022, the law changed again, banning all mobile phone use behind the wheel. This includes playing games or taking photographs. The only exception would be using mobile pay apps at toll roads or at drive throughs.

You can use your mobile phone as a sat nav, but if you need to adjust your route you need to pull over in a safe place and turn the engine off.

 

Is it legal to flash another driver to warn them about a speed trap?

Some might think it's a good idea to warn fellow drivers of a speed trap. But it's actually an example of illegal driving.

Rule 110 of the Highway Code says:

“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."

It has also been successfully argued that warning other drivers about a speed trap is grounds for ‘obstructing an officer in the course of their duties’, which has a maximum fine of £1,000.

 

Is it illegal to eat or drink at the wheel?

We’re not talking about drinking alcohol here – that one is very much illegal.

Eating at the wheel isn’t illegal per se. But if it causes you to drive in a dangerous way, or if you’re involved in an accident as a result, then you could face a penalty.

This would come under ‘driving without due care and attention’ – a driving conviction also known as a CD10 - and usually results in a £100 fine and three points on your licence.

This particular offence isn’t limited to eating and drinking. Anything that causes your driving ability to deteriorate would be classed as a CD10, including:

  • Middle-lane hogging
  • Driving while tired or unwell
  • Tailgating
  • Undertaking
  • Being distracted while driving

In serious circumstances, you could face a £5,000 fine and nine points on your licence.

 

Is it illegal to smoke while driving?

It's illegal to smoke in your car if there are children with you.

If you’re driving alone you're allowed to smoke. But the catch again is that if it distracts you and you cause an accident, you could be in trouble.

If this is the case you could be charged for ‘driving without due care and attention’. And be stung with a £100 fine and 3 points on your licence.

 

Is it illegal to have open alcohol in the car?

No. You risk being charged if you’re over the limit for drinking alcohol, but it’s not actually an offence to have an open bottle or can of alcohol in the car.

 

How many drinks can I have and still drive?

This depends on how much you can drink before you exceed blood alcohol limits. It also depends on your sex, weight and metabolism.

Whether you’ve drunk with a meal or on an empty stomach might make a difference too.

To be safe it’s best not to drive at all if you're planning on having a drink.

 

Is it illegal to drive without a seatbelt?

There are few occasions where it’s okay to not wear a seatbelt. These include:

  • When you’re reversing.
  • If you’re in a police, fire or rescue vehicle.
  • If your car was built without seatbelts and no children under 3 years old are present. Only children over 3 years old are permitted to sit in the back of these kinds of cars.

You can see the full list on GOV.UK.

Outside of these specific circumstances, you and all passengers must be properly restrained in the car. Failing to do so is not only dangerous, but could land you with a fine of up to £500.

That includes other adults, children and pets, so make sure everyone buckles up before you set off.

 

Is it illegal to have a light on in the car while driving?

You might have frequently told passengers in your car that they can’t have the light on to read because it’s illegal. However despite so many people believing this, it isn’t actually against the law.

That said, you’re probably best advised to ask your passengers to keep off the lights - it might compromise your vision and distract you.

Again if this was found to be the case in an accident you could, theoretically, be hit with a driving without due care and attention charge.

 

Is it illegal to drive with headphones on?

No, there aren’t rules that stipulate against driving with headphones on, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Driving with headphones on blocks out noise around you. And if there’s an accident you could still potentially be charged with careless driving or driving without due care and attention.

 

If a speed camera doesn’t flash does it mean I’ve not been caught?

Most speed and traffic cameras flash when they’ve got you. But if you’ve sped past one without it flashing you it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got away with it.

Some forward-facing cameras have filters fitted to stop them dazzling drivers while others use infra-red. Light conditions might also mean a flash doesn’t go off.

Whether a camera flashes or not, stick to the speed limit of the road you’re on.

 

Are you allowed to drive 10% over the speed limit?

The law specifies that you’re speeding as soon as you exceed the speed limit - even if that’s only driving at 31 miles an hour in a 30 zone.

Police might exercise some discretion and use a ‘10% + 2 mph leeway’, however that’s not written in law. Speed cameras might have tolerance buffers too, but to stay on the safe side it’s best to stick to the limits.

 

Is it legal to ask passengers for money?

Asking your mate for a tenner towards the cost of petrol is perfectly acceptable.

However, if you’re moonlighting as an unofficial taxi service, then that’s a big no-no.

There are 2 implications here.

If you’re making a profit from driving people around, that’s considered ‘hire and reward’ by insurers. Unless you have proper cover in place, your car insurance policy could be invalid.

You could be considered to be ‘operating a taxi without a licence’, which carries a fine of up to £2,500 and automatically invalidates your driving licence.

 

What are the rules on driving with a sat nav?

It’s perfectly legal to use a sat nav to ensure you don’t get lost on your journey, but you do need to use it safely.

That means you need to have hands-free access - so mounted on the windscreen or in-built. It also must not obstruct your view of the road.

 

Does my fully comprehensive insurance policy cover me to drive other cars?

Not necessarily. Many fully comprehensive car insurance policies don’t include ‘driving other cars’ cover, so before you get behind the wheel of somebody else’s car it is important to check.

If not, you could be charged for driving without insurance. If you don’t have ‘DOC’ on your policy you can arrange short term or temporary car insurance quickly. Or you could ask the owner of the car to add you to their policy as a named driver.

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Will moving for an emergency vehicle cost me a fine?

Potentially. Although your gut tells you to get out of the way as soon as you hear a siren or see blue flashing lights, if you commit a driving offence while doing so, you could be charged.

That could be jumping a red light or driving in a bus lane. When moving out of the way make sure you do so carefully and observe all road or traffic signs, to save yourself a £100 fine and 3 points on your licence.

 

Is it illegal to drive barefoot?

There’s nothing stopping you driving barefoot or with flip flops - but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

The Driving Standards Agency advocates wearing suitable shoes and says that you might not be able to brake as hard without them.

 

Is it illegal to drive too slow?

Driving slowly isn’t illegal, however driving too slow for the road you’re on could be dangerous.

The police might pull you over if they think you're driving too slowly on a motorway, for example. And in a worst-case scenario you could be charged with dangerous driving.

 

Is it illegal to sleep in your car?

Whether it’s illegal to sleep in your car depends on where you’re parked and whether you have any drink or drugs in your system. 

If you’re pulled over somewhere that’s legal, for example in a lay-by, then sleeping in your car should be fine. 

As you’d expect, it’s not acceptable to park on single or double yellow lines. So don’t pull up here for some shut eye. And if you’re parking on a residential street, you could find that you get some concerned neighbours phoning the police. 

If you’re careful where you park it’s not necessarily illegal to sleep in your car. Of course, if you’ve got drugs and alcohol in your system this is definitely illegal.