Do You Know What's Illegal or Against the Highway Code When You're Driving?

Most of us would never risk the lives of others on the road by driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or using a phone at the wheel, but there are a number of distractions that you may not know are illegal or prohibited under the Highway Code in the UK.

So you're in your car, driving along and bobbing your head along to some loud music.  Did you know that's considered to be a distraction under the Highway Code?

And so is drinking coffee when driving!  Many could be forgiven for not realising that, considering the number of drive-thrus available these days.

Our handy guide tells you what's illegal and what the Highway Code recommends.

It's illegal to:

  • Use a phone while driving or in traffic, or when supervising a learner driver
    Punishment: 6 penalty points and a £200 fine.  You could also lose your licence if you've passed your test within the last two years.
    If it goes to court, you could be fined up to £2,500 and be banned from driving.

  • Drive, or be in charge of a car while under the influence of alcohol
    You will face fines, a driving ban and even a prison sentence if you're found guilty of drink-driving.  The Magistrates Court will decide on the penalty, depending on the offence. If you get a ban, you may be able to reduce it by taking a drink-drive rehabilitation scheme (DDRS) course.
    Punishment: A fine, decided by the magistrates and, depending on the offence, the possibility of a prison sentence from three to six months.  If you've caused death while under the influence you could get up to 14 years in prison, a ban and an unlimited fine.

  • Drive under the influence of drugs
    This actually includes legal prescription drugs, as well as illegal drugs, if they impair your ability to drive. If you're on illegal drugs, you are likely to face prosecution too. Police now have roadside testing kits for cannabis and cocaine.
    Punishment: 1 year minimum ban, unlimited fine and up to six months in prison (unless someone is killed in which case the maximum sentence is 14 years).  You'll also have a criminal record, and the offence will stay on your driving licence for 11 years.

  • Drive without a seatbelt
    Passengers can also be fined.  Children aged 12 and over must wear a seat belt (or if younger and over 135cm tall). 
    Punishment: Fine of up to £500.

  • Use of the car horn when driving
    Between the hours of 11.30pm and 7am - unless it's an emergency situation.  This includes stationary vehicles.
    Punishment: £30 to £1,000 fixed penalty notice from police.  Or you could even face a fine of up to £5,000 under council noise pollution laws.

  • Smoke in a vehicle with anyone under the age of 18
    Many people don't realise that it's actually illegal, rather than just advised against, to smoke in a car when there is an under 18 present.  The driver is legally required to stop a passenger smoking in these circumstances.  The rule doesn't apply to e-cigarettes, or when 
    Punishment: Both driver and smoker can be fined £50 fixed penalty. 

  • Middle lane hogging
    Driving along the middle lane, rather than overtaking and then moving back over to the left, is now an offence.  If you get caught you could face a fine of up to £100 and 3 points on your licence.


Highway Code recommendations

  • Do take a break of at least 15 mins after every two hours of driving.
  • Don't drive barefoot or wearing unsuitable footwear, such as flip-flops. 
  • Avoid eating or drinking behind the wheel.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Don't play excessively loud music due to hearing impairment and distraction.
  • Don't get distracted by sat-navs or adjusting in-car entertainment.
  • Do make sure all windows and mirrors are clear and de-misted before setting off.

Some of these could be considered careless driving, but it's ultimately up to the police to decide.

Careless driving could land you with a £100 fine and 3 points on your driving licence. If it goes go court you could be facing much higher penalties.



Infographic showing what's illegal when driving

Infographic distractions to avoid while driving

If you need advice on a motoring offence, get in contact with our legal advisors for a free, no-obligation consultation.


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