Nine common driving law confusions explained
We sift through some common motoring confusions to find out what is and isn’t legal while driving.
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 doing something illegal. With that in mind, we’re here to clear up any confusion on some of these common motoring law myths.
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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 is pioneering LitterCams to catch drivers chucking rubbish out of their cars.
All drivers caught will receive a fine of £90, which will rise 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.
Is it illegal to honk your horn if you're annoyed?
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 three to nine points on your licence.
Is it legal 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 six points and a £200 fine. And being stationary won’t wash with the courts as a defence.
And if you think you’ll be ok using a phone with headphones or on speakerphone - if the police think you’re distracted while using them, you could still get stopped and potentially penalised.
Is it illegal to splash a pedestrian while driving?
Avoiding puddles on British roads is almost as difficult as dodging potholes, and it may 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 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 up to nine points on your licence.
It’s ironic that this offence is often touted as a ‘weird’ driving law in places like Japan, but it’s been a firm part of UK legislation for over 30 years.
Is it legal to flash another driver to warn them about a speed trap?
Letting other drivers know about speed traps and getting them to slow down is doing a public service, right? Surely there’s no harm in that?
Actually, there 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 (our emphasis).
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’ – 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
Being distracted while driving
In serious circumstances, you could face a £5,000 fine and nine points on your licence.
READ MORE: Driving offence codes explained
Is it legal to not wear 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, no children under three years old are present and children over three years old are sat in the back.
You can check out 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 drive with a dirty number plate?
There are strict rules around number plates and how they’re displayed. If your car’s number plate is missing, displayed incorrectly or obscured, you could face a fine of £1,000.
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 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 two 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 made invalid.
Also, 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.