When you take to the road for the first time, or pick up a new car, itâ€™s sometimes easy to be a little complacent. But the highway code and our motoring laws exist for a reason â€“ to keep us and other road users safe.
Our driving laws regularly evolve or change completely, due to incidents or a public demand, and so itâ€™s worth keeping abreast of whatâ€™s legal and what isnâ€™t. In 2017 several laws have been altered for different reasons â€“ here are some of the main changes.
Using your phone
Mobile phone laws changed on March 1, 2017, to reflect a public desire for harder punishment. The punishments for using your mobile doubled, and will now result in a minimum of six penalty points on your licence and a Â£200 fine. You could also be instantly disqualified. Hands free devices are allowed, but you cannot touch the phone while driving. So donâ€™t be tempted to hold your phone while using it as a sat nav, or something similar.
As well as changes to the punishments for using a mobile phone behind the wheel, there have also been alterations to the level of fines that can be incurred for speeding. Drivers can now be charged up to 175 per cent of their weekly wage, which could equate to Â£1,000 for even a minor offence â€“ and Â£2,500 for major ones.
The fine is based on three bands, A B and C. A minor band A offence, for drivers who exceed the stated speed limit by between one and 10mph, can be charged between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of their weekly income. Band B (11mph up to 20mph) can be charged between 75 per cent and 125 per cent of their wage, while anything faster (C) will incur a fine of between 125 per cent and 175 per cent of their week wage. Donâ€™t forget that youâ€™ll almost certainly incur points on your licence as well.
Itâ€™s therefore worth knowing the speed limits, even though theyâ€™re usually clearly signposted. As a general rule, roads around built-up/pedestrianised areas usually have a 20mph or 30mph limit, towns and cities have a limit between 30mph and 50mph, single carriageways have a 60mph limit, and dual carriageways/motorways have a 70mph limit.
If you have little ones, take note â€“ new laws on booster seats have been introduced, and how it affects you, depends on the size of your child.
Essentially, itâ€™s now illegal to have a new booster seat that is backless if your child is 4ft 1 or smaller, or weighs 22kg or less (three and a half stones). However, this doesnâ€™t mean that you should immediately discard your childâ€™s seat, as it only applies to new models coming on to the market; so as long as your child is currently using the appropriate size for their body, thereâ€™s no need for concern. Previously booster cushions were acceptable for children (generally 3-4 years old) over 15kg, although itâ€™s deemed that the newer, high-backed boosters are safer â€“ so you may wish to change over anyway.
If youâ€™re planning on buying a new car this year, be aware that the cost of road tax has changed.
From April 1, tax will be based on the emission levels of the car (as before) but also now its value (list price). There will be a flat rate of Â£140, with an additional Â£310 for any vehicles listed at more than Â£40,000 between years two and five years old â€“ no matter their levels of emission. That said, there are certain electric cars that are still exempt.
Drink driving laws
The safest way of avoiding any risk of drink-driving is to not drink any alcohol at all when you know youâ€™ll be driving later. The legal limit for drivers is 35 micrograms of alcohol for every 100 millilitres of breath, but the vast majority of people have no idea what this means in real terms â€“ for many, two pints of lager or two small glasses of wine would tip you over the limit. Itâ€™s not an exact science as the rate at which out bodies process alcohol is dependent on our age, gender, weight, metabolism, stress, food choices, and much more.
A conviction for drink driving or refusing to provide a specimen of breath will lead to a ban, possible imprisonment, and possibly a hefty fine. When you do come to drive again, your insurance premium will almost certainly be much higher.
Itâ€™s also illegal to sleep in a car while drunk/sobering up, although courts and police can sometimes be lenient if you can prove that you were not â€˜in chargeâ€™ of the vehicle. However, why take the risk?
In March 2015 it became illegal to drive with any of 17 controlled drugs above a certain level in your system. Donâ€™t be mistaken in to thinking these are only illegal drugs such as ecstasy or cocaine; some types of medication are also included. The punishments could include a ban, unlimited fine, prison and an endorsement on your licence for 11 years.
Other laws to be aware of
Donâ€™t ever be tempted to stop on the hard shoulder, or youâ€™ll face a fine of Â£100 and three points
Rule 244 of the Highway Code states that you cannot park fully or partially on the pavement unless road signs permit it; a rule of thumb is that if youâ€™re inconveniencing people on the pavement (think wheelchairs and prams, not walkers), youâ€™re committing an offence. In Londonâ€™s 33 boroughs, you cannot park on the pavement at all.
A dirty or obscured number plate could be punished with a fine of up to Â£1,000.
Flashing your lights should technically only be used to alert other drivers to your presence; if you flash your lights to apparently â€˜let someone inâ€™ and an accident occurs because of it, it can be considered a driving offence.
Parking within 10 metres of a junction â€“ and therefore increasing the probability of blocking the vision of people trying to see what is coming - is an offence