Dangerous driving: 10 things you shouldn’t do behind the wheel

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Being safe behind the wheel is incredibly important when you’re driving – for your own safety, that of your passengers, and that of other road users and pedestrians.

man-using-phone-as-sat-nav-while-driving

We like to share driving tips to help you be safe on the road and avoid doing anything that could prove costly when you come to renew your car insurance. Today we’re looking at 10 things you shouldn’t do when you’re driving – some you’ll know, but some may come as a surprise.

1. Avoid distractions

When you’re driving, you need all your concentration on the road – that goes without saying, right? Well it’s surprisingly easy to become distracted, especially if you’re tired, hungry or thirsty, and that distraction could land you with a charge for careless driving.

If you’re doing anything that means you’re not in proper control of the vehicle, you could be on the receiving end of an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points on your licence. So while it’s not actually illegal to eat or drink behind the wheel, you need to be very careful that doing so doesn’t become a distraction.

Interestingly, a study carried out by scientists at Loughborough University showed driving while dehydrated can be as dangerous as drunk driving. If you’re on a long car journey and feel thirsty, make sure you stop for a break and a drink – keeping hydrated is more important than you might have thought.

Learn more about distracted driving in our guide: Distracted driving: what it is and how to avoid it.

2. Don’t smoke

Smoking falls into the category above – it’s not illegal to do it (unless you’re travelling with anyone under 18) but it mustn’t distract you from driving. Struggling to light a cigarette while behind the wheel counts as a distraction, so be safe and pull over.

As mentioned above, it’s illegal for anyone to smoke in the same car as anyone under the age of 18. This has been the case since October 2015, when the law was changed to protect children and teenagers from passive smoking.

3. Don’t drink alcohol

You might think this is an obvious one, but people still do it. We’ll keep it brief but suffice to say, drink driving is very dangerous.

One thing you might not know is it isn’t illegal to have open alcohol in your car. It’s actually fine for your passengers to drink alcoholic drinks – unless you’re a learner driver. If you’re learning to drive, it’s illegal for the person supervising you to be drinking alcohol.

4. Don’t use a mobile phone

Most of us couldn’t imagine being without a phone somewhere within arm’s reach, but when you’re driving you must ignore the notifications. If you can’t do that, put your phone on silent, or even switch it off altogether as advised in the Highway Code. If you have an iPhone, make the most of the Do Not Disturb While Driving mode.

Using a hand-held phone is illegal, not to mention extremely dangerous. If you’re caught using your phone behind the wheel, the punishment is a £200 fine and six points on your licence.

If it’s fully hands-free, it’s fine to use, but you mustn’t touch it at all when you’re driving. Set it up before you drive so you can take calls without distraction.

woman-texting-while-driving

5. Don’t pay with your phone at a drive-through

More and more of us use our phone as a method of payment these days, and what could be more convenient? The only problem is if you’re at a drive-through, as you shouldn’t touch your phone any time you’re behind the wheel. That applies even if you’re stationary.

To use your phone to pay, your engine must be off and the handbrake on. Otherwise, you risk six points on your licence and a maximum fine of £1,000 – and suddenly, your fast food becomes much more expensive.

6. Don’t use your sat nav

Whether it’s a separate sat nav device or an app on your phone, it must be fixed to your windscreen or dashboard. As already mentioned, touching your phone – even when it’s being used as a sat nav – could lead to six penalty points and a £200 fine.

Set your route before you start your journey or let a passenger do it – just make sure you don’t use your sat nav when your car is in motion.

7. Don’t wear inappropriate footwear

There are no laws laying out the specific kinds of footwear you shouldn’t wear when you’re driving. Rule 97 of the Highway Code says you should be sure that: “clothing and footwear do not prevent you using the controls in the correct manner”.

This means it’s not illegal to drive wearing flip flops or even barefoot, as long as you can do so safely. Flip flops don’t have any grip, so they could slip off the pedals and become wedged underneath.

If you often wear shoes that are hard to drive in, like high heels or flip flops, keep a pair of flat-soled shoes like trainers or something similar in your car so you don’t get caught out.

8. Don’t wear the wrong sunglasses

Wearing the wrong sunglasses can lead to a fine of up to £2,500 and nine points on your licence. There are four categories of sunglasses and they’re categorised by how much light they let through.

Category What percentage of light is allowed through? When they should be worn
0 80-100% Fashion, indoor use, or on cloudy days
1 43-80% Low sun exposure
2 18-43% Medium sun exposure
3 8-18% Strong sunshine such as that reflected off water or snow
4 3-8% Very strong sunshine such as in high mountains. Not for use when driving

Most sunglasses are category two. It’s important to remember that it’s illegal to wear category four sunglasses when driving, and you should never wear sunglasses when driving at night.

Finally, make sure your sunglasses have the CE mark and meet the European Standard BS EN 1836:2005.

9. Don’t take certain prescription drugs

It’s obviously not on to take illegal or recreational drugs when driving, but did you know some prescription medication has side effects bad enough to affect your judgement behind the wheel?

Make sure you know if any prescription medication you take could affect your ability to drive. Speak to your doctor if you’ve been prescribed any of the following:

  • Amphetamine, eg dexamphetamine or selegiline
  • Clonazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Methadone
  • Morphine or opiate and opioid-based drugs, eg codeine, tramadol or fentanyl
  • Oxazepam
  • Temazepam

It’s illegal to drive in England and Wales if your ability to drive is affected by legal drugs. The punishment for a drug driving conviction is:

  • A minimum one year driving ban
  • An unlimited fine
  • Up to six months in prison
  • A criminal record

Your conviction will also show on your driving licence for 11 years.

Find out more about drug driving legal limits in our guide: Drug driving law – do you know the legal limits?

10. Don’t drive with interior lights on

There’s no law to say it’s illegal to drive with your interior lights switched on, but it’s another thing that can be judged a distraction by the police. If you’re pulled over and your light is on, the police may ask you to turn it off if they think it’s distracting to you or other road users. You may even be charged with careless driving.

You’re obviously more likely to have the interior light switched on when it’s dark, and this is exactly when it’s most likely to be dazzling to yourself or other road users, or cause reflections on the windscreen or windows that can affect your vision when you’re driving. 

More examples of bad or careless driving

Other bad driving behaviour which could lead to a fine or even a criminal charge includes:

  • Splashing a pedestrian when driving through a puddle (this could land you a fine of anything from £100-£5,000 for driving without reasonable consideration for others)
  • Staying in the middle lane on the motorway (this counts as careless driving and you could face a £100 fine and three penalty points
  • Undertaking recklessly (you may be charged with careless driving, and this also carries a penalty of three points on your licence and a £100 fine)
  • Honking your horn in anger (your horn should only be used to alert others to your presence, so doing this could lead to a £30 fine)
  • Not clearing your windscreen/windows in bad weather (legally, you must be able to see out of all windows)

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