Are you breaking the law on the road without realising?

Know your road regulations

5 minutes

Fallen into bad driving habits? Bewildered by regulations? Find out what the rules and regulations are on the UK’s roads.

  • 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

Using a handheld phone can land you a hefty fine and points.

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 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 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  receded in the rear view mirror, and dipping into a copy of the Highway Code again isn't appealing – 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.

Using handheld and hands-free phones

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,' says Peter. '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're in complete control of your vehicle.

Hogging the lane

A common misconception is 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.

Driving much slower than the speed limit

Driving too slowly may get you into trouble, but it depends 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 says.

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.

Keeping your windscreen clear

What about windscreen obstructions? The law says you must have a full and proper view to the front and front-sides of the vehicle. Make sure you clear 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 stuck to your windscreen, make sure it's 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, stop as early as it's safe to do so to assess the damage. If you're covered by LV=, you'll 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.'

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 drivers who eat and drink at the wheel are twice as likely to have an accident.

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.