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Police Questions about Motoring

Even law-abiding motorists have genuine concerns about being targeted by the police - especially while driving on roads and highways.

Information in this section explains some of the most common questions and answers about motoring laws in the United Kingdom.

FAQ of Motoring Laws | Table of Contents

Important: Please note the following information is meant to help motorists understand motoring laws and regulations in the United Kingdom. As such, road traffic laws are subject to change and we advise drivers and riders to contact the police for further clarification.

Accidents and Collisions

Can I Smoke in My Car with a Child?

In a nutshell, 'no' you cannot smoke in a car if there are children inside the vehicle. The legislation in England and Wales makes it illegal to smoke in any vehicle if children under the age of eighteen (18) are present.

As a result, this particular motoring rule helps to protect children and young people from the dangers of breathing second hand smoke during a car journey.

What if You Get Caught Smoking in a Vehicle with Children?

Getting caught means the driver (as well as the smoker if a different person) can both receive a fine. The fixed penalty notice (FPN) fine for smoking in a car with a child is:

  • £50 (for the driver and for the person who smokes).
  • Up to £100 if the same person commits both offences.

This law will not apply if the driver of the car is seventeen (17) years old and alone in the vehicle. But, a smoker (e.g. the supervisor or anyone else) would be committing an offence if they were caught smoking in a vehicle used by a 17-year-old while learning to drive.

Furthermore, the same legislation applies to private vehicles wholly or partly enclosed by a roof, even if:

  • Air conditioning is running.
  • The vehicle windows or sunroof are positioned in the open position.
  • Smokers are sitting in an open doorway of the vehicle.

Exceptions to the Legislation

UK rules about smoking in a vehicle do not apply to campervans, motorhomes, and caravans used as a home. In short, the legislation applies to vehicles - not to the homes that people live in.

Some vehicles allow you to remove the roof panels, but not the actual supporting sections. In this case, a court would decide whether the remaining sections would constitute as some kind of a roof - or not.

Note: The legislation that covers smoking in a car if there are children inside does not apply to people who are vaping e-cigarettes.

Do I Need to Report Accident to Insurance?

The simple answer is 'yes' you have to report an accident to your insurance company. In fact, motorists must report all accidents to their insurer even in road accidents where they were not at fault.

Insurance companies base their quotes and policies on details given to them. Hence, if that information changes, it could:

  • Invalidate the insurance policy.
  • Give the insurer the right to cancel the policy.
  • Mean they refuse to insure you in future.

Disabled Drivers

Are Some Cars Exempt from Road Tax?

In fact, there are several different types of vehicles that are exempt from the requirement of having to pay tax. Some of the most common include:

Note: Another section contains more information about vehicles exempt from road tax, including those used by people with a disability.

What are the Exemptions to Wearing a Seatbelt?

It became law to wear a seatbelt on the 31st of January 1983 in the United Kingdom. But, the list of seat belt exemption (meaning you are exempt from having to wear one) apply to:

  • A person with a medical certificate stating that on medical grounds it is not advisable for them to wear a seatbelt (includes pregnancy).
  • Drivers of vehicles performing manoeuvres which include reversing (e.g. a 3 point turn), including a qualified driver who is supervising a learner driver while performing manoeuvres including reversing.
  • The driver or passenger in a goods vehicle on a journey that does not exceed fifty (50) metres undertaken for delivering or collecting anything.
  • A disabled person if they are wearing a disabled person's belt.
  • A person driving or riding in a vehicle used for fire brigade or police purposes or for carrying a person in lawful custody (can include the detained person).
  • The driver of a licensed taxi being used for:
    • Seeking hire.
    • Answering a call for hire.
    • Carrying a passenger for hire.
  • Private hire vehicles used to carry a passenger for hire.
  • A person driving a vehicle used under a trade licence whilst investigating or fixing a mechanical fault with the vehicle.
  • Persons involved in a procession organised by or on behalf of the Crown or which is commonly or customarily held, or a procession which a notice under Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986 has been issued.
  • A person conducting a test of competence to drive (if the wearing of a seatbelt would endanger himself or any other person).
  • A person driving a vehicle whereby the driver's seat is not provided with an adult belt.
  • A person riding in the front of a vehicle if no adult belt is available for them in the front of the vehicle.
  • A person riding in the rear of a vehicle if no adult belt is available for them in the rear of the vehicle.
  • A person riding in a small or large bus used to provide a local service in a built-up area (where the entire route consists of restricted roads).
  • A person riding in a small or large bus constructed or adapted for the carriage of standing passengers and on which the operator allows standing.
  • Persons riding in an ambulance while providing medical attention or treatment to a patient which due to its nature or the medical situation of the patient cannot be delayed.

Note: Failing to wear a seat belt in the correct manner outside any of these exemptions is an offence.


Driving Licence

Are My 'L' Plates Lawful?

Modern L plate fixings differ to the old traditional flat plastic plates. The law is not specific about attaching 'Learner' plates. Even so, they must be displayed to the front and the rear of any vehicle being driven by a learner. L plates must also be the correct size to be lawful in the United Kingdom (see below).

The law also requires you to remove the L plates from a vehicle any time it is not being used by an actual learner driver.

Penalties for Failing to Display L Plates

You can receive a fine or six (6) penalty points on your driving licence if you fail to display the correct size L plate on your vehicle while learning to drive.

Note: Another section explains the correct procedures for using 'L' and 'P' plates with a diagram showing the correct sizes.

How Do I Check My Driving Licence Online?

You can check your driver's licence, road tax, MOT status, and insurance online. Another page explains how to view or share your driving licence information (e.g. to see which vehicles you can drive).

The askMID.com website allows you to conduct a free check and find out if your vehicle shows up on the Motor Insurance Database (MID).

Note: The driving laws section explains how to renew your driving licence online with the DVLA (e.g. if you are in possession of a valid UK passport).


Driving Offences

Can Police Arrest Me for Sitting in My Car Drunk?

Yes, you can be arrested if the police catch you sat in your car drunk (e.g. over the permitted limit) even if you are not driving.

The offence is 'being in charge of a motor vehicle whilst over the permitted limit'. Even so, police officers usually judge cases based on the individual merits, such as:

  • Whether the driver had the vehicle keys in their possession.
  • What was the driver doing at the time and were they actually inside the vehicle.
  • Was anyone else in or near to the vehicle.
  • What evidence do they see that suggests you intended to drive the vehicle.

Being Charged with Drink Driving while Sat in Your Car

The three offences that could result in a charge of drink driving for someone over the limit, but only sitting in their car, are:

  • Attempting to drive a motor vehicle whilst over the permitted limit (OPL).
  • Being in charge of a motor vehicle whilst OPL.
  • Driving a motor vehicle whilst over the permitted limit.

In short, you would need to show no likelihood of driving the vehicle whilst you are over the legal limit for alcohol. Otherwise, you would be committing an offence.

Do Police Need a Reason to Stop a Car?

The short answer is 'no'. Police officers do not need to have a reason to stop any person who is driving a mechanically propelled vehicle (e.g. a car or van) or anyone riding a pedal cycle on a road.

If the police stop you while you are driving, they can then require you to provide your full name, and:

  • Date of birth (in certain circumstances)
  • Driving licence
  • Insurance details
  • MoT certificate

Motorists and cyclists should also be aware that failing to comply with any of these requirements would be committing an offence in the United Kingdom.

Note: Another section explains more about the breath test procedure for police and what your rights are in these circumstances.


Motor Insurance and MOT

Is Car Insurance from a Door to Door Salesperson Genuine?

It is not uncommon for a doorstop salesperson to offer cheap car insurance. But, if it sounds too good to be true... it usually is! So, how can you be sure it is a bona fide deal?

In fact, almost none of the reputable insurance companies sell door to door any longer. So, being offered car insurance a lot cheaper than other quotes, means it is best to beware.

How to Verify Validity?

As a general rule, the police advise motorists not to buy insurance from a door to door salesperson. But, it may be worth accepting the deal if you can verify the salesperson works for the company they say they do - and the insurance is actually valid.

You can check by contacting the company yourself and trying to verify the details of the salesperson. It is best to avoid using telephone numbers given to you. Instead, try to find the number yourself (e.g. using a Google search).

People who are taking out valid car insurance will get a certificate (e.g. by email or by post) and a pack containing:

  • A policy booklet.
  • A schedule (with other relevant documentation).

If you only get a certificate and a schedule (e.g. without a policy booklet), it may not be genuine - and you would not have valid insurance cover.

Note: Another section contains more information about doorstep selling regulations and the legal rights of consumers in the United Kingdom.


Road Traffic Laws

Police Questions and Answers about Abandoned Motor Vehicles

What Can I Do about an Abandoned Car?

You see a car left outside your house and you think someone may have abandoned it. What action should you take?

First of all, it's a good idea to check with your neighbours. It is possible that one of them has some useful information about the owner of the vehicle.

If not, and you believe the vehicle has been dumped (e.g. abandoned), you can report the matter to your local council authority.

Note: Another section explains how to report an abandoned vehicle and deal with other problems on the streets and roads.

What if Someone Abandons a Car on Private Land?

Getting someone else's vehicle removed from your own land may not be a straight forward process. But, the police have some suggestions for members of the public to follow:

  • You should contact the local police (e.g. by calling 101 or 999) if the situation requires an emergency response. Typical examples would be if the vehicle contains dangerous items (e.g. gas bottles) or it is in a dangerous condition (e.g. leaking fuel).
  • Local councils have an obligation to remove any abandoned vehicles from roads, private roads, and areas of land in the open air. Even so, some of their policies vary in different regions.

So, what if it doesn't look like someone abandoned the vehicle and it doesn't appear to be in a dangerous condition? In this case, it may be best to seek legal guidance (e.g. from the Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor).

In short, you may need to get a court order from a civil court or pursue a civil action for nuisance against the driver or owner of the vehicle.

Some important points to consider:

  • The police advise against pushing a vehicle onto a road and leaving it there. Doing so may actually be committing an offence in itself.
  • Seek legal advice before clamping the vehicle yourself, damaging it, or having a third party remove it on your behalf. It would not be uncommon for the registered owner to pursue a civil action against you for doing so.
  • In some cases, you may be able to recover the cost of having the vehicle removed (e.g. from the registered owner). A legal advisor can provide further information about this option.

Note: Taking legal action through the courts can be long and expensive. It is worth checking whether your house insurance would cover the process.

Is Blocking a Driveway Illegal in the United Kingdom?

It happens almost every day somewhere around the country. Someone parks their car and it is blocking your driveway. So, what can you do about it?

Is blocking a driveway illegal in the United Kingdom?As a general rule, it is worth checking with the neighbours first - especially if you need immediate access to your driveway.

They may know who the car belongs to and it should be an easy process to get it moved.

Many of the local council authorities have started operating Civil Parking Enforcement (e.g. a free service for enforcing parking provisions).

According to Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE) rules, parking a vehicle in such a way that it is blocking a dropped kerb driveway is now an offence.

Here's the good news:

You can report vehicles that are obstructing a dropped kerb to any relevant councils that have taken on CPE. If not, you can contact the local police force instead.

Even so, the actual policy for dealing with matters such as these may vary between regional police forces and local council authorities.

For example, some police forces will only attend to a report about a car blocking a driveway if it's blocked you in (e.g. you are unable to get your car out of your driveway).

Note: The Department for Transport provide further guidance about the areas in England that operate civil parking enforcement.

What if Someone Parks their Car Outside Your House?

If someone has parked their car right outside your house, most likely you will be unable to park your car in the usual parking space. So, is there anything you, or the police, can do about it?

First of all, making enquiries with the neighbours is likely to locate the owner of the vehicle. Often, this is the quickest way to get the car moved.

But, because cars can park on any road for any length of time (restrictions permitting), the police will not be able to take any legal action if the vehicle is (all):

Note: If no one moves the vehicle for several weeks it may have been abandoned. So, you would be able to report an abandoned vehicle to the local council in the usual way.

What if there is a Burnt Out Car in Your Street?

The first people to contact about a burnt out car on your street is the local police force. In turn, they will contact the most appropriate organisation on your behalf to get the vehicle removed as soon as possible.

It's not unusual to see people removing parts from abandoned cars. If you see them doing it, you should call your local police force on 999. Try to give them as much as information as possible (including what has been taken).

What Can I Do if People Park in My Parking Space?

The recommendation is to speak to the landlord or the council to see if they can take action against the culprit. You might employ a private parking company to issue parking tickets if you own the land.

Even so, the law that deals with unauthorised vehicles parked on private land is often expensive and time consuming.

As a rule, you should have more success by restricting the access (e.g. using barriers, fencing, gates). It tends to ensure vehicular entrance for only those with entitlement to do so.

Note: You may take legal action against anyone responsible for damaging the barriers, since it would be a case of criminal damage.

How Do I Report an Untaxed Car Parked on the Road?

One of the most common questions we get asked about is... 'who should I contact if I see a car parked on my road without any road tax'?

The section on vehicle road tax explains how to report an untaxed car in greater detail (e.g. online via the DVLA website).

You can also contact the police using the '101 non emergency number'. But, the actual procedures for a response varies with different forces. Your local police station will provide further information.

Important: You will need to supply the make and model of the car (e.g. Ford Fiesta), the registration number (e.g. A123 ABC), and the exact location of the vehicle.


Police Questions and Answers about Abnormal Loads

What Qualifies as an Abnormal Load?

The basic law that governs the way normal motor vehicles and trailers are built and operate on the road is the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1988 (C&U).

Moving large or heavy loads exceeding the dimensions set down in the C&U Regulations (e.g. abnormal loads) is permitted if they meet the requirements of the Road Vehicles (Authorisation of Special Types) (General) Order 2003 (STGO).

Freight which cannot be divided into at least two (2) loads for carriage and, because of its length, width, height or weight, cannot be carried on a normal vehicle, it will be considered as an abnormal indivisible load.

Dimensions of an Abnormal Load:

Width

  • C&U Regulations and STGO: Over 305 millimeters overhang on either side
  • C&U Regulations: More than 2.9 metres overall width
  • STGO: More than 3 metres overall width

Length

  • C&U Regulations: More than 18.65 metres rigid length
  • STGO: More than 18.75 metres rigid length
  • C&U and STGO: More than 25.9 metres overall length
  • C&U and STGO: More than 3.05 metres overhang (load) to front or rear

Weight

  • C&U and STGO: Exceeds authorised weight for class of vehicle (usually 44 tonnes)

Note: Another section explains more about transporting abnormal loads around the United Kingdom and how to use the ESDAL system to notify authorities about the movement of oversize or overweight cargo.


Speeding: Speed Camera Detectors

Are Speed Cameras Calibrated?

In fact, speed camera calibration takes place once per year - according to set guidelines. As a result, it is very rare for a speed camera detector to malfunction.

If speed cameras do malfunction, the police will spot the faults before sending out any notices of intended prosecution (NIP).

Note: Most drivers have heard some of the rumours about roadside speed traps. So, it's worth reviewing some of the true facts about yellow speed cameras.

What is Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP)?

A notice of intended prosecution (NIP) has one primary purpose. It is to inform a potential defendant of an impending prosecution for an offence they committed. Thus, they receive the NIP while the incident is 'relatively' fresh in their memory.

Even so, receiving a notice of intended prosecution does not always result in an actual prosecution. Thus, it acts as a warning that someone is likely to face prosecution.

Serving a Notice of Intended Prosecution

An NIP must be 'served' within fourteen (14) days of the actual offence and be given to the driver or the registered keeper of the vehicle. Otherwise, the offence would not be able to proceed at a court of law.

What if the driver's details are unknown? If not, they will send the NIP to the registered keeper. Either way, the notice will be valid providing it arrives at the relevant address and within the appropriate time limit.

The registered keeper may have changed address and failed to inform DVLA. In this case, NIPs that arrive at the address on record within fourteen days will be valid. As a result, the registered keeper would then be obligated to make the driver's identity known.

The driver may also receive other paperwork in addition to the 'legally' required document (NIP). Police can also issue an NIP to drivers at the time of the offence 'verbally'. Otherwise, you may receive a court summons for the alleged offence (e.g. sent through the post).

Mistakes on NIPs

As a rule, a small mistake appearing on a notice of intended prosecution would not render it ineffective. The exception would be if it misleads the actual defendant (e.g. the recipient of the notice).

Note: A notice shall be 'served' if posted to the last known address, even if returned undelivered, or not received for any other reason. Thus, a posted NIP is 'served' until or unless the contrary is shown.


Vehicle Regulations

Questions about vehicle Lights, Number Plates, and Accessories

Do I Need Extended Wing Mirrors when Towing a Caravan?

The legal requirement is clear on this one. The driver must be able to see down both sides of the caravan. You need to see an area of four (4) metres either side at a distance of twenty (20) metres behind it.

What if the existing car mirrors fail to provide this amount of vision? If in doubt, it is best to fit extension towing mirrors to avoid the risk of committing a motoring offence.

Is Using Fog Lights Illegal When it's Not Foggy?

In fact, Rule 226 of the Highway Code explains why you must not use front or rear fog lights unless there is a serious reduction in visibility.

Using them in good visibility could dazzle other road users and it could also obscure brake lights. Hence, the UK Highway Code says you MUST switch off your fog lights as the visibility improves.

As a rule, you will need to use vehicle headlights when visibility is 'seriously' reduced (see less than 100 metres (328 feet)). If you are also using front or rear fog lights, you MUST switch them off as conditions improve.



Answers to Police Questions about Motoring in United Kingdom

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