You’re nicked! Things that can be illegal if you do them at the wheel


She won’t be laughing quite as much if he’s fined for eating at the wheel

Most drivers are aware that it’s illegal to drink drive, break the speed limit and use a mobile phone at the wheel. But what about other things you can’t do while driving?

The action of reaching for something on the back seat when motoring along isn’t illegal. But it could risk a charge of careless driving if there’s an accident or a police officer deems it to be dangerous. And they might have a point. Research in the US has found that a driver trying to get an object from the back makes them eight times more likely to have a crash, the same as if they were using a mobile phone.

Here are six other things drivers do, sometimes innocently, that can land them in hot water with the law.

Dirty number plates

During the winter when the roads are filthy, it’s difficult to keep a car clean. But if you don’t clean your number plate, you could be fined for it. The authorities have started paying a little more attention to this since the introduction of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras in the mid-2000s. The cameras struggle to read dirty plates.

Offence: This is contrary to Section 43 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act of 1994. The maximum fine for it is £1000.

Splashing pedestrians

The sadistic might derive pleasure from driving through a deep puddle and deliberately drenching pedestrians, but it is actually a crime. And that’s aside from the fact that it can be deeply unpleasant and annoying for the people who now have soaking clothes. Police advise that you should slow down or avoid the puddle altogether as long as it’s safe to do so.

Offence: Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 relating to careless and inconsiderate driving means drivers can be prosecuted for this.

Tooting the horn

Anyone who hasn’t used their horn in a moment of irritation or to give someone they’re waiting for a gentle ‘hurry up’ deserves praise. But your car horn should only be used to warn someone of danger. And it shouldn’t be sounded when a car is stationary at any time, other than to warn of danger. Neither should the horn be used on a moving vehicle on a road with street lights and a 30mph limit between 11.30pm and 7.00am.

Offence: It’s contrary to Regulation 99 (1) of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 and Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Running the engine to keep warm

We’ve all done it: you’re waiting for Junior to finish school/sporting activity/clubbing and it’s cold outside. That’s alright, you’re tucked up in a nice warm car. Keep the engine running and the heater will keep you toasty warm. Leave the engine running while the car is stationary, and unless you’re stuck in traffic you’re breaking the law.

Offence: This is covered by Section 98 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.

Eating at the wheel

It’s a familiar scenario. You’re running late and have missed lunch. What better way to do a bit of adult multi-tasking and eat a sandwich while you’re driving? That’s fine but it could land you in hot water with the law. The University of Leeds found that reaction times of drivers who took a snack at the wheel were up to 44 per cent below their normal response times. The police can take a dim view of it too, particularly if they think your driving has deteriorated as a result.

Offence: It’s not actually illegal to eat at the wheel. However, you could be prosecuted for careless driving if the police witness you doing something you shouldn’t while eating. It’s the same story with brushing your teeth, shaving and putting make-up on.

Driving with an empty windscreen washer bottle

Every car has a windscreen washing system. But did you know it’s against the law not to keep the bottle filled? Of course, you’re unlikely to be prosecuted. But if you do have an accident deemed to be caused by a lack of vision and your washer bottle is empty, you could be in trouble.

Offence: Section 34 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 covers this.

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One comment on “You’re nicked! Things that can be illegal if you do them at the wheel

  1. M March 31, 2017 7:51 am

    What about all the people smoking. These new chimney cigarettes puff so much smoke out I have seen a car engulfed in smoke. Some of these are huge and If you ask me what’s good for one is good for all, same rules should apply.

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