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18 driving law myths explained

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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

No, it's not illegal, but you can get a fine if your car is so dirty that you can't read the number plate. 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 you check your number plate is clean and legible before you start driving.

Yes - 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.

Yes - littering, whether you're driving or not, could land you with a fine of £150, but it could reach up to £2,500.

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.

Bradford council has installed litter cams in some litter hotspots in their town. Eventually there'll be 19 cameras installed across Bradford. Already, these cameras have caught 191 people littering in the last 3 months.

Other councils are considering LitterCams, including:

  • Wigan
  • Sheffield
  • Transport Scotland
  • Zero Waste Scotland

Yes, it's illegal at certain times. 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.

No, it's not illegal so long as your engine is switched off and you're parked safely.

In 2022, the law changed and banned all mobile phone use behind the wheel. This includes playing games or taking photographs. The only exception would be using your phone to pay 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.

Yes, it is. 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 speed cameras is grounds for ‘obstructing an officer in the course of their duties’, which has a maximum fine of £1,000.

No - eating and drinking a non-alcoholic drink while driving isn’t illegal. 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 comes under ‘driving without due care and attention’ – a driving conviction also known as a CD10 - and usually results in a £100 fine and 3 points on your licence.

This particular offence isn’t limited to eating and drinking. Anything that causes your driving ability to deteriorate is 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 9 points on your licence.

In general, it's not illegal to smoke while driving. But it is illegal to smoke in your car if there are children with you.

If you're distracted while smoking and you cause an accident, you could be charged for ‘driving without due care and attention’. This comes with a £100 fine and 3 points on your licence.

No, it's not. 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.

In general, yes it's illegal.

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.

No, it’s not against the law to have a light on while driving.

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

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.

No, there are no 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.

Not necessarily. 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.

Asking your mate for £10 towards the cost of petrol is perfectly acceptable.

But, if you’re moonlighting as an unofficial taxi service, then that is illegal.

There are 2 implications here.

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

You could also 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.

Potentially. Although instinct 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 driving through 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.

No - 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.

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.

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