When it comes to the rules of the road, it can be tricky to figure out what’s true and what’s just a myth. Every 20 minutes, someone is killed or seriously injured in a road traffic collision, so it’s crucial that we keep ourselves updated with what we can and can’t do while driving.
For Brake’s Road Safety Week this year, we’ve decided to round up some of the most common road safety myths and set the record straight
You may have heard some of the myths: can you drive with the interior light on in your car? Is it illegal to use your mobile phone hands-free? What about eating and drinking while driving? The answers might surprise you. We’re here to clear up some of the legal myths when it comes to road safety…
Can I drive with my interior light on in the car?
This road safety myth is used by parents on their children so they don’t play around with the lights (it’s said to work very well!). When it comes to interior lights, you can’t have a white light shining from the back windscreen as this could distract the driver behind you.
Even though it’s not illegal to have your interior lights on in the car, the police can stop you if they think the light is affecting your driving ability. The RAC said: “There is no law against this. However, if a police officer pulls you over and adjudges your interior light to be a driving distraction they have the right to tell you to turn it off.”
Is it legal to drive onto or park on the pavement?
For a vehicle to be deemed illegally parked on a pavement, it would have to be seen to be causing an obstruction. In this case, local authorities and the police do have the power to remove a vehicle if it is illegally parked, causing an obstruction or has been abandoned on a pavement.
Take it from Rule 145 of the UK’s Highway Code:
“You MUST NOT drive on or over a pavement, footpath or bridleway except to gain lawful access to property, or in the case of an emergency.”
Those capital letters mean it’s illegal. Believe it or not, it’s been illegal to drive on the pavement since 1883 – section 72 of the Highways Act 1835 is actually used in the current Highway Code under rule 145.
However, it’s not clear how often this is enforced, as it is a criminal offence (i.e. enforced by the police) rather than a civil offence (enforced by the local authority). But that doesn’t mean you should take the risk of injuring other highway users by driving and parking on pavements.
As for parking on the pavement, there are specific rules for London drivers. Rule 244 of the Highway Code states: “You MUST NOT park partially or wholly on the pavement in London, and should not do so elsewhere unless signs permit it.”
According to section 15 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1974, the maximum fine for parking on a London pavement is £100.
Is it illegal to eat or drink behind the wheel?
Strictly speaking, it’s not illegal to eat or drink while driving. But if you’re distracted while driving, the police could prosecute you or issue a fine of £100 and three penalty points on your driving license. Though when it comes to alcoholic drinks and driving there are, of course, very different rules!
It’s important to remember that eating and drinking will impair your driving and the police are well within their rights to stop you if they think you’re driving while distracted.
Can passengers drink alcohol while travelling in a car?
Unlike the USA’s well-known “open-container laws”, having an open container of alcohol in a car or drinking said alcohol is perfectly legal for car passengers in the UK. However, if you’re supervising a learner driver then it is illegal to drink alcohol or have an open container in the car.
Allowing passengers to drink alcohol in your car can be very distracting and will impact your driving abilities. In particular, younger drivers should watch out for peer pressure – if you believe you’ll be distracted, then let your friends know not to drink alcohol in your car.
Is it illegal to smoke/vape while driving?
Yes and no! Smoking or vaping while driving is legal. But there are some exceptions.
The Children and Families Act 2015 states that smoking or vaping in a car while with a passenger who is under the age of 18 is illegal. This law isn’t applicable to convertible cars where the roof is completely down or for e-cigarettes.
In England, it’s also illegal to smoke or vape when driving a vehicle used to transport the public (such as a taxi or bus) or a vehicle used by more than one person for paid or voluntary work.
However, in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it’s illegal to smoke in any vehicle that’s used for work – unless it’s a car.
The priority is to stay safe and keep others safe, so ideally you should be 100% focused on the road. For more information on smoking and vaping while driving, please visit the AA’s advice page.
Is it illegal to splash people with puddles while in a car?
This one is worth considering when you’re driving in built-up areas. It’s currently illegal to splash people with puddles with a car, with the most common punishment being a £100 fine and three points on your license. If the driver fails to pay the initial fine, they could face a maximum fine of £5,000.
According to the Road Traffic Act 1988, it’s illegal to drive “without reasonable consideration for other persons”. This includes “driving through a puddle causing pedestrians to be splashed”.
If splashing people with puddles still sounds harmless, it’s important for drivers to remember that you never know how deep or big a puddle is, so you can never predict if the car will aquaplane or not, causing a serious incident. If a driver is purposely driving through puddles to splash pedestrians then they could also receive a Public Order Offence as well as a fine and points on the license.
Is it true that I can drive 10% over the speed limit?
No. A common misconception is that speed cameras allow for a 10% overestimation error (or the “10% plus 2” rule. This isn’t a legal concept. For example, you can’t drive 55mph in a 50mph zone. Drivers can be prosecuted even if they go 1mph over the speed limit.
Conversely, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) suggests the “10% plus 2” rule as a guideline. The NPCC aren’t law enforcers so if you’re caught speeding it’ll be up to the police officer on duty whether or not to use the “10% plus 2” rule.
Overall, it’s better to just stick to the speed limits – after all, it’s safer for everyone involved.
Can you go over the speed limit if you’re overtaking?
The speed limit is there for a reason and shouldn’t be broken, especially when overtaking another vehicle or performing any other maneouvre. So, the answer is no – you can’t legally go over the speed limit when overtaking.
But can you go over the speed limit if you’re trying to overtake a longer vehicle such as a lorry? The Highway Code states: “make sure that you have enough room to complete your overtaking manoeuvre before committing yourself. It takes longer to pass a large vehicle. If in doubt do not overtake.”
Can I go through a red light to let an ambulance through?
If you spot an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance, police car or fire engine, you can take “appropriate action” to let them through but you must still make sure you’re complying with any road signs or lights.
Can you use a hands-free phone while driving in the UK?
Yes – it is legal to use a mobile hands-free while driving. Drivers must make sure they have a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth headset, a dashboard holder, voice command, a windscreen mount and so on.
It is illegal to hold a phone while driving – this also includes stopping at traffic lights, supervising a learner driver and queuing in traffic.
If you’re using a phone hands-free but you’re not fully in control of your vehicle, the police can still stop you if they think you’re distracted while driving.
Have a question about road safety? Or maybe you’ve been involved in an incident you suspect wasn’t your fault? Get in touch with our Serious Injury team using the button below: