• The view through the windscreen matters – not your mobile screen
  • Can you drive barefoot? How about in flip-flops?
  • Why road safety and motoring laws come down to consideration

Driving a car is hugely liberating: it's the passport to being somewhere else, going where you want to and, even in slow traffic, it brings a sense of escapism and freedom.

No wonder, then, that there are a lot of us on the road – in fact, there are around 45 million active driving licence holders in the UK [1].

Not that we're short of roads: there are some 245,800 miles of roads in Britain – plenty of scope, then, for driving enjoyment.

Time for a refresher

There's lots of room, too, for unwitting errors that could risk your safety and lead to a bit of bother with the law [2]. For most drivers, the driving test has long since receded in the rear view mirror, and there doesn't seem to be much of a priority to dip into a copy of the Highway Code again – but perhaps we should?

Guiding us through the maze of motoring laws is Peter Rodger, head of driving advice at IAM RoadSmart (@IAMRoadSmart) and former deputy head of driver training at the Metropolitan Police.

Close up shot of one hand on a car steering wheel and the other holding a phone

Using handheld and hands-free phones

From next year, drivers caught using a handheld phone risk collecting up to six penalty points on their licence and a £200 fine [3].

'If it's handheld, you can't use it for almost any purpose,' warns Peter Rodger. 'The only exception is dialling 999 in an emergency' [4].

Even so, it would be wiser to stop to make the call. You can use hands-free phones, but only if you are in complete control of your vehicle.

Hogging the lane

One common misconception is that the authorities have introduced a new offence: lane-hogging. It isn't true, but sitting in a lane when there's room to move over to the left could earn you a fixed penalty ticket.

Two road signs next to one another. Both are blue with the number 30 inside but one has a red line going through it.

Driving much slower than the speed limit

Driving too slowly may get you into trouble, but it depends on where you are. Road signs with white numerals on a blue background show a minimum speed limit. The same sign with a diagonal red cross tells you where the limit ends.

'If there isn't a sign, there's no minimum speed limit, so if you can't drive very fast, you won't be in trouble,' says Peter, but if you crawl along for no good reason, you might be. 

'It is an offence if, by going very slowly and not letting others pass, you are driving without reasonable consideration for other road users,' Peter adds.

Loading up the roof

Can you carry items on top of the car? Yes, but the law says the load must be secure, must not overload the weight of the vehicle, and have no flapping edges that endanger other road users such as cyclists.

A frosted up windscreen with only a small section of visibility

Keeping your windscreen clear

What about windscreen obstructions? The law says that you must have a full and proper view to the front and front-sides of the vehicle. That means clearing your windscreen completely of snow and ice before you drive. Don't forget to clear your roof as well, as snow could slip down and obscure your vision [5].

If you have a satnav mount that sticks to your windscreen, make sure that it is somewhere that won't block your view of the road.

Other matters, such as screen damage, are dealt with under MOT failure, says our expert [6].

If you suddenly get a crack in your windscreen while driving, make sure you stop as early as it is safe to do so to assess the damage. If you are covered by LV=, you will need to pay an excess but claiming on a windscreen repair won't affect your no claim discount [7].

Driving barefoot

So how about shedding your shoes and driving barefoot – is that legal? Yes it is, contrary to the common misconception [8]. 

'There is no law that says you must wear shoes while driving,' says Peter. 'But you could be in trouble for wearing inappropriate shoes.

'If you are seen driving in an unusual manner that draws attention, you could be liable to a charge of not being in proper control of the vehicle.'

A woman eating a burger while driving

Meals at the wheel

Driving for hours is bound to work up an appetite, but what are the rules about eating at the wheel?

'There is no law against eating or drinking while driving,' says Peter. 'However, you must drive at all times with proper care, and having one hand on the wheel and the other gripping a sandwich puts you at risk of a charge of driving without due care and attention.'

In fact, one study found that drivers who eat and drink at the wheel are twice as likely to have an accident. You can read about more driver distractions in our recent driving habits article.

So, there you have it: as long as you show due care, attention and consideration at the wheel, you shouldn't fall foul of the law.

For more car articles and expert guidance, follow Sue Baker on Twitter @carscribe and IAM RoadSmart @IAMRoadSmart.

Sources

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/514912/road-use-statistics.pdf
  2. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/52/contents
  3. http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/car-news/consumer-news/97054/new-six-point-penalty-for-mobile-phone-use-when-driving
  4. https://www.gov.uk/using-mobile-phones-when-driving-the-law
  5. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/driving-in-adverse-weather-conditions-226-to-237
  6. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/407676/Information_Sheet_View_to_the_front_and_windscreen_obscuration.pdf
  7. http://help.lv.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/28/~/if-i-have-a-claim-for-windscreen-damage,-does-it-affect-my-no-claim-discount
  8. http://www.drivingtesttips.biz/shoes-for-driving.html