7 rules of the road you didn't know you were breaking

Drivers face speeding fine hiike

There are a number of myths and misapprehensions when it comes to what is and isn't illegal when driving. Here are seven more unusual rules of the road you might not know you're breaking:

Eating at the wheel

Recently a motorist was fined £145 and given three penalty points after she was caught eating a banana while behind the wheel. The case made headlines in the UK as the incident had taken place while the car was stopped in traffic.

While we might recognise the danger of eating ones breakfast while driving few realise that the rules still apply while the car is stationary.

Even if you are stuck in traffic, or even pulled in to the side of the road, with the engine running, you could be charged for driving ‘without due care and attention’.

When it comes to snacking while on the road, the only safe and legal way to do so is when the car is parked and engine turned off.

Using your phone as a ‘sat-nav’

While the law makes concessions for motorists using their mobile phone ‘hands-free’, the lines become a little more blurred when a motorist uses their phone as a satellite navigation device.

While taking your eyes off the road to adjust your cars built-in sat nav, or even a dedicated navigation device (a Garmin or TomTom for example) could be seen as ‘driving without care and attention’, this will not usually result in prosecution if the driver is deemed to be aware of their surroundings and in control of the vehicle.

However, when using a mobile phone as a satellite navigation device, any attempt to interact with the device (reaching over to change the route, dismissing a notification, etc.) may be deemed as using a mobile phone at the wheel. This could result in a fine and penalty points.

Using the horn

The rules about when a driver can sound their car’s horn are very specific. Often, motorists will use the horn for all sorts of reasons and many of these are commonly understood.

You might use the horn to express your displeasure at another road user, such as a car that is blocking a junction. You might want to attract the attention of someone you know. It is not uncommon for drivers to use the horn to give a cheery ‘goodbye’ as they drive away from visiting a friend or relative.

The Highway Code, however, is very specific on when it is permitted to use your car’s horn. It should only be used to warn other drivers of your presence and to protect yourself and your vehicle. Furthermore, drivers must not use their horn when stationary or when driving in a built up area between the hours of 11:30pm and 7:00am except when another road user poses a danger.

Driving a dirty car

It might not bother you that your car has six months of grime and dirt plastered to its paintwork, but the Police might take a keen interest if they can’t read your registration.

Motorists could be liable for a £1,000 fine if the level of dirt on their car obscures the registration plate, or blocks it completely. This could take the form of an ‘on the spot’ fine, or be sent through the post if it is spotted by a Police camera.

Using a smart watch

Smart devices are one of the main distractions when at the wheel and the Police are constantly playing ‘catch-up’ with new and emerging technology.

Smart watches, including the Apple Watch, have taken the concept of constant connectivity to extremes by mapping all the functions of a modern smart device onto a wristwatch. Users can now check emails, answer phone calls, tweet, read news updates and more without even having to pick up their phone.

Unfortunately for drivers, if you are found to be using a smart watch at the wheel, even if only to check the time (yes, it does that too) then you could face prosecution.

All the rules and regulations around using your phone at the wheel apply to smart devices - including smart watches. There is no distinction to be made as to how the device is being used; if it is deemed to be causing a distraction while you are at the wheel with the engine switched on, you may be stopped by the Police.

Driving too slowly

While the police are far more likely to be preoccupied with motorists driving over the speed limit, there is a widely held belief that drivers can find themselves in trouble if they are travelling too slowly. Indeed, some believe that there is an unofficial ‘minimum speed limit’ which motorists must adhere to.

In practice, the truth is more complex. In the Republic of Ireland, there is a minimum speed limit of 30 mph on motorways, but in general, any minimum speed limits imposed in the UK are rare and usually temporary.

However, there have been very rare examples where UK drivers have received fines for driving too slowly. Generally, in order to be fined, the speed must be so slow that it is deemed to be causing a hazard for other drivers, so while cars doing 40 or even 50 mph might be considered an annoyance, it would be very unlikely the police would consider prosecution.  

That is, unless, you are found to be falling-foul of the following…

Lane hogging

In June 2015, Ian Stephens, a painter and decorator from Wigan, was the first person to be fined for the offense of hogging the middle lane of a motorway. Stephens was handed a fine of £940 while driving his white van at 60 mph on the M62 and was given five penalty points.

The reason the Police decided to hand out such a severe punishment was that he persistently refused to move from the middle lane, despite there being enough space for him to move over safely.

This clashes with a widespread misconception about how motorways work. Many people believe that the three lanes are designated for how fast they are driving; the left-most lane for slower vehicles, the right-most lane for the fastest and the middle lane for anything in between. As such, many drivers will gravitate to the middle lane, away from slower lorries and city cars, but equally avoiding wrath of faster moving ‘executive saloons’ to their right.

However, the Highway Code states the drivers must keep to the left-hand side of the road, unless overtaking. This means that all drivers, regardless of how fast they intend to drive, must use the left hand lane unless they are passing a slower moving vehicle. There is no such thing as the ‘fast lane’ or ‘slow lane’.

Banning middle lane hogging also prevents drivers having to dangerously cross two lanes – left lane and middle lane – in order to overtake a slower moving vehicle in the centre lane. Otherwise drivers might be tempted to ‘undertake’ these vehicles (pass on the left-hand side) which is not only dangerous, but illegal.

Keeping left is also likely to illustrate to the Police that you understand the rules of the road, which can be the difference between a telling off and a conviction, should you be stopped for something else.