Driving Hints and Tips

Is the Highway Code law?

No, taken alone the Highway Code is not the law. But many of its instructions are backed up by law and so have legal muscle behind them. Those points supported by the law are clearly identified in the document by wording like ‘must’, ‘must not’, rather than ‘should’ or ‘should not’. Failure to comply with the other rules of the Code can’t directly cause you to be fined, prosecuted or disqualified – but the advice it offers can be used as evidence in any court, to establish liability.

Peace at last

Every driver and passenger has experienced the infuriating rush of noise as they open their window on the motorway, but there’s a simple way to fix it. The noise is caused by Helmholtz Resonance, the same concept as when you blow across the top of an empty bottle. Air passing over the top of a small opening in a vessel (your car window) creates mini vortexes which spin around the cabin as waves of pressure causing your ears to interpret them as sound. To reduce the intensity just open another window, or all four to really tone it down. The phenomenon is worse in modern cars because improved aerodynamics means the wind passes closer to the car, whipping through the window at a higher speed. The problem is more noticeable if you open just the rear windows as your wing mirrors push the air out slightly, disrupting its flow across the car, before it shoots back in through the back windows. So, the next time you wind down your window to enjoy the breeze, open the other three.

Night-time parking

Rule 248 of the Highway Code states: ‘You must not park on a road at night facing against
the direction of the traffic flow unless in a recognised parking space.
‘ This means your car
could be parked legally during the day, but when the sun goes down it becomes illegally
parked. This rule is not well-known and leaves unaware drivers at risk of an expensive fine up
to £1,000 for cars and £2,500 for goods vehicles or passenger vehicles over eight seats. Cars
parked the correct way at night will be illuminated by headlights bouncing off their rear
reflectors. If your car is parked facing against the traffic flow, it will be shrouded in darkness
with no reflectors and passing drivers won’t see you clearly.

Licence update

It’s easy to forget, but you must ensure that your address is up-to-date on your driving licence as failure to do so could land you with a £1,000 fine. Be diligent about this even if it’s a temporary address change, such as a move to university – and it won’t cost you anything as the DVLA will issue a new licence for free. Any change of address can be updated on the Gov.uk website and a new licence posted to you within one to three weeks. Failure to update your address could also invalidate your car insurance premium. Changes of address – even if temporary – must be told to your insurer as certain postcodes and property types attract higher premiums.

Passengers and mobiles

You are legally allowed to use your mobile phone when driving providing you have pulled over, stopped in a safe place and switched your engine off. While every driver knows using a mobile while driving is against the law, you may be unaware that this can sometimes apply to a licence holder who is not behind the wheel. When supervising a learner driver, the passenger is subject to the same £200 fine and six penalty points for using their mobile as the person behind the wheel. The law applies to both professional instructors and friends or family teaching a family member. Best advice: a hands-free system is completely legal as long as drivers do not touch or pick up the phone.

Resist that call

Breaking the habit of touching your phone while in the driver’s seat can be challenging, especially with the technological advancements on most mobiles, but the risks you impose on yourself and others when distracted are not worth it. The number of drivers still ignoring the law is high, but it’s there to protect you, not to punish you. For a newly qualified driver, the risk of losing your licence is huge. The law changed in March 2017 to impose a fine of up to £200 and six penalty points on any motorist caught using a handheld mobile while driving. New drivers should take note, if you’ve had your licence for less than two years, you can be banned for a single offence.

Clear signals

You need to know and follow the drill at roundabouts. Signal right if your exit is past 12 o’clock, thereby sending a clear message to other road users about your intentions. However, too many drivers forget the next part of the sequence: signalling left when they want to turn off. You should do this midway through the junction before the one you’re taking. This will ensure everyone knows where you’re headed and will clear a path accordingly. If you are taking the first left at a roundabout, then signal left as you approach the roundabout. If you are going straight across a roundabout, do not signal as you approach, simply drive in the indicated lane and signal left as you pass the exit before the one you want to take.

Keep a lookout

Who has heard of SMIDSY (‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’)? This is a regular acronym in a motorcyclist’s dictionary and often a driver’s retort when looking for a culprit. The science behind this is called saccadic masking. The simple explanation is that people don’t see clearly when their head or eyes are moving, and don’t pick up objects travelling towards them very well. So, the next time you’re behind the wheel make sure you have a good look, not just a quick glance. A good tip is that if you’re specifically looking for motorcyclists or cyclists, then you are more likely to see them.

Lorries and roundabouts

One of the biggest issues facing lorry drivers is their all-round visibility of their truck. Small cars are among those most at risk and can easily get lost in blind spots due to the lorry driver’s high-riding read position. In addition, a large proportion of articulated vehicles have alignment issues as the rear wheels do not track in the same line as the front. This can cause problems for drivers on roundabouts. You should always avoid undertaking a lorry at a roundabout as the body could drift into you and you could be in the driver’s blind spot. The best advice: always stay behind an HGV at a roundabout and don’t risk trying to undertake.

Keep your licence safe

With a replacement driving licence costing £20, drivers wasted close to £19 million last year by forking out on new motoring IDs due to misplaced or damaged licences. As 80 per cent of motorists carry their plastic card with them every day, the advice from the DVLA is to leave your licence safe at home. You don’t need to carry it with you at all times as it’s not a legal requirement, simply keep it filed in a safe place as you need it to prove you can drive. If you’re stopped by the police, an officer can ask to see your driving licence, insurance certificate and MOT certificate. If you don’t have these documents with you, you have seven days to take them to a police station. You’re only breaking the law if you don’t show the requested documents within the allocated seven-day period.