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13 driving laws you may have broken

Are you unknowingly breaking the law when you're driving?

woman texting while driving

Whether it's obeying speed limits, holding valid car insurance or refraining from using a mobile phone while driving, most of us know the basic rules of the road.

However, some motorists are breaking laws without even realising it, risking fines, penalty points and even their licence.

We've looked at some of the lesser-known driving laws that you might not know, hopefully helping you avoid accidentally getting into hot water yourself.

1) Warning flashes

How many times have you been flashed by an oncoming car, seemingly for no reason, then further down the road you come across a mobile speed trap? 

The bad news is that flashing your headlights to warn other motorists is against the law. Under Section 89 of the Police Act 1996 it's deemed “wilfully obstructing a constable in the execution of his/her duty” and could land you with a £1,000 fine. 

As the Highway Code states: "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."

2) Splashing a pedestrian

Driving through a puddle and soaking a pedestrian could land you with three penalty points on your licence and a fine. Under section three of the Road Traffic Act 1988, it’s an offence to drive "without reasonable consideration for other persons", and this includes any instance of "driving through a puddle causing pedestrians to be splashed". 

The maximum punishment is a fine of £5,000 in instances where driving "amounts to a clear act of incompetence, selfishness, impatience or aggressiveness". However, you’re more likely to be issued with a £100 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points if you’re caught.

3) Hogging the middle lane

There are few habits more irritating, inconsiderate and dangerous on a motorway than a middle lane hogger, and Rule 264 of the Highway Code clearly states: “You should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear. If you are overtaking a number of slow-moving vehicles, you should return to the left-hand lane as soon as you are safely past.” 

If you’re caught unnecessarily sitting in the middle lane, you could be handed an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points for careless driving. If your case goes to court, the maximum penalty is £5,000 and up to nine points on a licence.

4) Visibility issues

Have you ever tried to save time on a winter's morning by not completely clearing the snow from your car or the frost off the windscreen? Rule 229 of the Highway Code says that before you set off “you must be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows.” 

You must also make sure your mirrors are clear and the windows are demisted thoroughly, and all snow that might fall off into the path of other road users must be removed. 

If you're caught breaking this rule, you could be hit with a £60 fine and three penalty points

5) Anti-social behaviour

It's advisable to keep a lid on your anger at all times, but swearing and making rude gestures behind the wheel could land you a penalty for “disorderly conduct” under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. 

You could be fined up to 75% of your weekly wage (capped at £1,000) for committing such an offence. Alternatively, you could be fined for "not being in full control of a vehicle" (because you've taken your hands off the wheel). 

This offence could result in a maximum fine of £1,000 and three penalty points.

6) Unrestrained pets

Many dogs are treated like members of the family – not just at home, but in the car too. However, Rule 57 of the Highway Code states that animals should be restrained “so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly". 

If you're stopped by the police and they think your dog is a distraction, it's possible that you could be charged with driving without due care and attention, fined as much as £2,500 and given nine penalty points. Invest in a seat belt harness, dog cage or dog guard to make sure your pet travels safely.

dog in car wearing harness

7) Paying at a drive-through

If you're caught paying for food at a drive-through using a mobile payment system such as Apple Pay or Google Pay, you could attract an on-the-spot fine of £200 and up to six penalty points. This fine can however be increased up to £1,000 if your case goes to court. Worse still, for drivers who only passed their test in the last two years, getting six points means you'll be disqualified from driving. 

If your engine is off, your handbrake is applied and you're parked, you can use a mobile to pay for your fast food, but you're breaking the law if your car's engine is switched on.

8) Eating and drinking

It's not illegal to eat or drink while driving. However, if you get distracted while snacking behind the wheel, the police could prosecute you for careless driving if they feel you’re not in proper control of your vehicle – an offence which carries an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points.

9) Beeping your horn

Did you know that can get into trouble for using your car’s horn, unless it’s to warn other motorists of your presence? Rule 112 of the Highway Code explains: “Never sound your horn aggressively. You must not use your horn while stationary on the road, or when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30pm and 7am, except when another road user poses a danger.”  

If you are caught beeping your horn in stationary traffic you could be fined anything from £30 to £1,000.

10) Using headphones

In the UK, it isn’t specifically illegal to drive while wearing headphones (unlike in France and Canada), but if the police believe you’re distracted or not in full control of your vehicle, you could be stopped and punished. This is because headphones can block out traffic sounds, level crossing signals, emergency sirens and even noise made by pedestrians or cyclists, making you a potential hazard for other road users. 

Careless driving carries a £100 on-the-spot fine and three penalty points on your licence. In more serious cases, or those that are contested in court, the charge can attract a maximum £5,000 fine, up to nine penalty points and even a driving ban.

11) Dirty number plates

A dirty car is one thing but failing to clean your number plates so they can't be read by police officers and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras is illegal. If dirt obscures your number plate, you’re going against Section 43 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act of 1994 and you could face a £1,000 fine.

12) Driving too slowly

It's all too common for drivers to get caught speeding, but did you know that you can also be penalised for careless driving if you are stopped by the police for going too slowly? 

Driving at a speed that’s deemed low enough to endanger other road users (usually on motorways and other fast-moving A roads) could result in an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three points. This could increase to nine points and £5,000 fine if your case goes to court.

13) Using a phone as a sat nav

It’s not against the law to use your smartphone as a satellite navigation device while driving if it’s securely mounted in a position that doesn’t obstruct your vision and you don't operate the touchscreen while driving. 

If you’re caught breaking the rules, you could be fined £200 and have your licence endorsed with up to six penalty points.

Highway Code

If you need to brush up on any of the rules mentioned in this article, you can find the entire Highway Code on GOV.UK

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.

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