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Do You Know What is Legal at the Wheel?

27 September 2017

Driving with your phone in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other is clearly illegal. But what about smoking while driving? Or wearing headphones? Fresh driving laws are introduced regularly and new drivers will be taught and require a good knowledge of the Highway Code in order to pass their test.

They should have strong knowledge of the current rules, whereas many older drivers may not be as up to date with the driving legal changes that have taken place. We decided to test drivers of all ages across the UK on their knowledge of what is and isn’t legal behind the wheel. Click here to view our infographic.

Common Beliefs

We surveyed over a thousand drivers, asking what they thought was legal to do at the wheel of their car.

For young drivers (aged between 18 and 24):

  • 45% of respondents believe you can eat food at the wheel while driving
  • 31% assume smoking while driving is within the law
  • 26% think you can use your horn when stationary

Should eating food or smoking at the wheel distract the driver they can be categorised as careless driving, which carries the risk of a fixed penalty of three points and a £100 fine. Smoking at the wheel is illegal if there are passengers under 18 years old in the car though, which was introduced in October 2015. Plus, according to the Highway Code, drivers must not use their horn in stationary traffic or aggressively. Fines for this can go from £30 up to £1,000.

Older drivers seemed more cautious around eating and drinking while driving, with only 10% of 55 to 64 and 65+ respondents believing it to be legal. However, 42% thought smoking while driving is legal.

Lesser Known Illegal Activities

There are activities many of us do behind the wheel, or assume are perfectly fine bits of behaviour, which are actually illegal. Nearly 8% of drivers think it’s fine to throw an apple core or banana skin out of the window, but it actually comes with a £75 fixed penalty fine, which has been enforced.

Sleeping in your car is perfectly fine, as long as it’s parked legally, unless you are drunk. The law states that those in charge of a vehicle must not be inebriated. As the only person in a car, even if its engine is off, this could be interpreted as being in charge and result in a fine, points on your licence and potentially a driving ban. Only 11% of respondents mistakenly believed it to be legal anyway.

Driving without reasonable consideration for other persons is a driving offence with a fine of up to £5,000, under section three of the Road Traffic Act 1988. This includes actions such as splashing pedestrians with a puddle (and can lead to you failing your driving test). However, it’s more likely a £100 fixed penalty notice would be issued, unless for some reason the case went to court.

The Most Common Young Driver Offences

From constabularies across the UK we made a series of freedom of information requests that covered 16,858 driving offences caused by under 25 year olds. Based on fixed penalties issued to drivers under 25 from June 2015 to July 2017, the most common offence was speeding, which made up 82%. This was followed by drivers having no insurance and not wearing seatbelts, which accounted for 7% each and mobile phone offences that made up the final 4%.

Young driving offenders cause high premiums for new young drivers. At Robins and Day, our “black box” telematics finance option simplifies the option of financing your first car with a single monthly payment.   

Driving Myths

There are plenty of strange things people have seen happening behind the wheel. From someone brushing their teeth while driving to having a shave or eating a bowl of cereal, these are some of the odd things respondents claimed they’d seen on our roads. Many people have seen drivers with a dog sat on their lap too, which also counts as distracted driving and can lead to a fine of up to £5,000 and 3 to 9 penalty points.

On the other hand, there are various things respondents to our survey thought were illegal when behind the wheel but which are perfectly legal. These include:

  • Wearing headphones
  • Playing loud music
  • Driving with your interior light on

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what’s legal and illegal when behind the wheel, improving the safety of our roads. Click image below to view our infographic.

Do You Know What is Legal at the Wheel?
Do You Know What is Legal at the Wheel? (Click to zoom)
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