Tag Archives | Highway Code

Double life of a street light

While we all take street lights for granted, as a driver, they play a doubly important role. Did you know that they also indicate the speed limit when no other signs are visible? Any road that has a series of street lights every 200 yards (182 metres) or less is classed as a 30mph zone unless there are signs saying otherwise. In some places, the lights may only be on one side of the road, so don’t get caught out and think the speed limit does not apply. Again, on some roads the speed limit could drop from 60 or 70mph to 30mph without any signs being present, other than the distance between street lights becoming closer. If you notice the gap between the street lights narrowing, this is an immediate signal to lower your speed. Street lights can be as close as 32 yards (30 metres) apart where there are multiple hazards such as junctions, tight corners, roundabouts or pedestrian crossings. If you get caught out, claiming that there were no speed limit signs won’t help. The Highway Code makes it your responsibility to know the rules and the onus is on you to be aware of the spacing between street lights.

How to read traffic lights

As you learn the rules of the road, don’t neglect the common ones. Take traffic lights, you probably assume you know what they mean, but they can still catch you out. As they play a vital role in controlling traffic and preventing accidents, they must be properly understood. The basic sequence of lights follows four phases, each with a separate meaning. Red signals stop; red and amber means prepare to pull away; flashing amber means give way to pedestrians, but go if it’s safe to do so; green means go; and amber means stop unless it’s not safe to do so, and the sequence repeats. When faced with a red light, you must stop before the solid white line. As the lights turn red and amber, prepare to go, but importantly, do not pull off or creep forward. Moving away at this point makes you a hazard for other road users. Only when the lights turn green, can you move off, but watch the car in front in case it pulls away overly slowly. As you approach a steady amber light you should stop. According to the Highway Code, the only exceptions are if you’ve already crossed the white line at the junction, or if you’re so close to the line that stopping would cause an accident. You’re responsible for making this final judgement and it’s a decision you’ll have to make quickly. What’s clear is that an amber light is not a cue to start speeding up. The best advice as you approach any traffic light is to anticipate it changing. If they’re not working, nobody has priority. In this instance look for traffic coming from every direction before entering the junction, then once you’ve seen it’s safe, proceed with caution.

Mini-roundabout know-how

While it may be tempting to drive straight over a painted mini-roundabout, especially if there are no other cars around, don’t. Although this is a common misdemeanour on local roads, it’s not acceptable practice. The Highway Code states: ‘It is important to remember that all vehicles must pass round the central markings, except large vehicles which are physically incapable of doing so’, otherwise you could be fined. You might notice some drivers tend to falter at a mini-roundabout unsure who should enter the roundabout first, but it’s not complicated. Just treat them as you would their big brothers, which means you should slow down and be prepared to give way to traffic entering the roundabout from the right. However, because mini-roundabouts are so much smaller, before you enter one, make sure that any vehicles already using it are preparing to leave it. As there’s less space to manoeuvre and less time to signal, always try to give a clear indication of your intentions to other drivers. You might query if you should give way to a driver opposite you at the 12 o’clock position. You need to assess this carefully (ask yourself have they started turning before me?), and, if you have any doubt, let them enter the roundabout before you. Should you come across a double mini-roundabout, treat each roundabout separately and give way to traffic from the right.

Unwritten rules of the road

As you gain driving experience you will discover there are conduct and etiquette conventions
followed by many motorists that won’t be found in any rulebook or guide. The question is, are
you flouting the Highway Code and could you get into trouble by following these unwritten
rules? Warning others of speed traps is a commonplace example. Often hidden and difficult to
avoid, speed cameras are located in most parts of the country. Some drivers see it as their
duty to warn others, especially if it’s a mobile manned speed trap, with a quick flash to alert
oncoming cars to slow down. While this ‘all for one, one for all’ attitude might be appreciated
in the driving community, it’s actually illegal. Deemed as ‘wilfully obstructing a constable in the
execution of his/her duty’, warning other drivers could land you with a £1,000 fine for breaking
section 89 of the Police Act 1996. A driver prosecuted for this is likely to receive a higher
penalty than the errant motorist they warned. The Highway Code is also clear: ‘Only flash
your headlights to let other road users know that you are there,’ and not to attempt ‘to convey
any other message’. It’s unlikely that a justification of ‘you did it to slow traffic down for safety’
will wash as a defence. This is one unwritten rule that’s not worth the risk.

Park the right way at night

It may seem a small point, but if you forget to change the direction your car is parked as it gets dark, you could face a hefty fine. This is because all vehicles parked on the side of a street at night must be positioned in the same direction traffic is travelling if you’re not in a marked bay. This rule does not apply during the day when you can position your car in any direction you like as long as you’re parked safely. However, come the evening you’ll need to move your car to point the same way the traffic flows. Rule 248 of the Highway code says: ‘You must not park on a road at night facing against the direction of traffic flow unless in a recognised parking space’. This law is for your safety as cars parked the correct way are more visible to road users because they are illuminated by headlights bouncing off the rear reflector. Cars parked in the wrong direction are not as easily seen and should they be parked sticking out slightly create a road hazard.

Always signal your intent

As you will discover, drivers who display less than courteous behaviour on the road are deemed more than annoying by other road users. It’s not surprising therefore that lack of signals is the nation’s second most-disliked motoring habit, behind tailgating. When it comes to failing to indicate, it’s easy to forget that it’s not only drivers who are affected. How many times have pedestrians stood, waiting at the kerb for a car that wasn’t indicating, not knowing whether it’s safe to cross or not? One reason this misdemeanour tops the chart of bad driving habits is the inconsideration and laziness of the driver who doesn’t bother to indicate. While there’s no specific motoring offence of ‘failing to indicate’, any breach of the Highway Code can be seen as committing the offence of careless driving. In this instance, ‘indicating’ is covered by Rules 103-106 of the Code which reminds you that signals warn and inform other road users, including pedestrians, of your intended actions. The rules state that you should always give clear signals in plenty of time, having checked it is not misleading to signal at that time, and to use your signals to advise other road users before you change course or direction, stop or move off.

Key to the highway

If you’re learning to drive or plan to learn, you’ll know that the Highway Code plays an essential part in helping you pass your theory and practical test and become a better and safer driver. There are currently 307 rules listed in the Code which also apply to pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. Don’t be daunted by the number of rules as they are broken up into manageable sections, for example, traffic signs and signals, waiting and parking, and driving in adverse weather conditions. Much of the information is simply good common sense and you may be surprised how much you know. The Code is available in several formats. Print is still the most popular way to read it and handy to carry about for reference and revision. You can buy a copy at major bookshops or online (for around £3), but whatever format you choose, make sure you have the most recent version as it’s constantly being revised. You can also read, download and print the latest version for free on the GOV.UK website. The Code also has its own Facebook and Twitter pages, where you can keep up-to-date with the latest revisions and ask questions. Alternatively, it’s available in audiobook or you can download the official Highway Code app (around £4) to your smartphone for all the latest rules of the road at your fingertips and a useful ‘test yourself’ facility.

Eye of the driver

Driving at night is a skill that needs to be learnt. As a learner, you’re not required to have lessons in driving at night, but for safety’s sake take some when it’s dark. One of the biggest night-time hazards is dazzle from on-coming headlights. Although the Highway Code says, you ‘must not use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders,’ you will notice that some drivers ignore this rule and keep their lights on full beam when they should be dipped. For new drivers, this can be disorientating especially on busy unlit roads. To avoid being dazzled, never look directly at oncoming lights, instead focus your gaze slightly to the left-hand side or painted edge line of the road to stay on course. Try to anticipate when oncoming headlights may reduce your vision and be ready to slow down. You can also be dazzled from behind from light reflected in your interior mirror. To avoid this most cars now have an anti-dazzle setting on the mirror which you can switch to. Remember, your break lights can also dazzle the car behind you so apply your handbrake and don’t keep your foot on the brake pedal if you’re waiting at a junction or queuing in traffic, unless you’re in fog.

Winter road skills

Driving in snow demands anticipation and delicacy. Always give yourself at least double the distance to the car in front. The Highway Code suggests at least 20 seconds which is 10 times the normal distance. Read the road ahead: look at the surface and behaviour of other cars for clues where it may be slippery. Try to use lower gears downhill so you can stay off the brake and avoid any sudden inputs of steering, brakes or throttle as these are more likely to break grip, so gradual application is key. Likewise, icy conditions can mean little or zero grip if you’re using standard all-season tyres, so treat the road as guilty until proven innocent. Assume there is ice, even if you can’t see it. Again, read the road ahead and look for clues, such as the behaviour of other cars and shady sections of road. Major roads usually receive more grit than minor ones, so plan your route accordingly. The later in the day you travel, the less ice there’s likely to be. If you do encounter a patch and lose grip, don’t panic and hit the brakes. Do as little as possible, allow your car to pass over the ice, keep your steering wheel straight and ease off the accelerator slightly until your grip is regained.

Over the line

Many drivers mistakenly think that it’s legal to break the speed limit to safely overtake another motorist. But this common misconception is against the law and you could face a fine and penalty points. Under Rule 163 of the Highway Code, drivers should only overtake when it’s safe and legal to do so. Although it advises you to move quickly past the vehicle in front when overtaking, the Highway Code also states the speed limit is the ‘absolute maximum and does not mean that it is safe to drive at that speed irrespective of conditions’. In short, the speed limit is the speed limit, full stop. Overtaking is no excuse for speeding, and remember, never overtake if you have to cross double white lines or with a solid line nearest to you,