Tag Archives | Highway Code
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,
Do a good turn
Failing to correctly and safely indicate when turning near pedestrians could lead to a fine, nine points on your licence and even disqualification. According to the Highway Code, you must always: ‘Warn and inform other road users, including pedestrians, of your intended actions.’ When turning into a side street, if a pedestrian has already started to cross the road you should allow them to cross safely as they have the right of way. Again, you should also be aware of pedestrians who are looking to cross the street, and clearly indicate to let them know of your decision to turn. While failing to indicate is not an offence in itself, should it lead to an incident with a pedestrian or colliding with another road user, it could be deemed careless or dangerous driving. Best advice: always signal your intentions to other road users clearly, including pedestrians. Failing to do so may mean you fall below the threshold of being a careful, competent driver and you could receive a ‘driving without due care and attention’ charge.
Many motorists are guilty of driving over painted mini-roundabouts usually because when faced with just you and the road ahead, making a deliberate circle can seem a tad pointless. However, it’s not acceptable practice under the Highway Code, and remains one of the most widespread misdemeanours on local roads. The next time you approach one, think again, this one is law and you could be subject to a Fixed Penalty Notice if caught.
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.
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.
Brake lights dazzle
The Highway Code is clear on the use of brake lights. When stopped in a queue or at traffic lights, you should put your car in neutral, engage your handbrake and then take your foot off the brake pedal until the traffic moves again. As long as your foot is on the pedal, the brake lights are lit – dazzling the cars behind you. According to the AA more than a quarter of drivers admit to keeping their foot on the brake when stationary in a queue of traffic and with modern brake lights, particularly high-mounted central brake lights, this is highly distracting. Common sense suggests there are times when brake lights are useful. For example, if you are stopped on a rural road at temporary traffic lights, but the moment a car stops behind you be legal, courteous and kind.
Just like drivers, cyclists are entitled to use the full-width of the lane. Cyclists generally do this more in urban areas to avoid drivers opening car doors in their path. They might also deliberately ride in the centre of the road to avoid potholes and drains, or to force drivers to overtake them properly, rather than trying to squeeze past where there isn’t enough space to do so safely. Remember, if there is a cycle lane, cyclists have no obligation to use it but motorists must not drive or park in a cycle lane during its hours of operation. Again, cycling side-by-side is perfectly legal, and can even work in your favour if a group of cyclists is riding together because overtaking a group is faster and easier than having to overtake individuals. The Highway Code does, however, recommend cycling in single file if the road is narrow or busy, or when cycling round a bend.
Shoes for the road
The Highway Code states you must not use footwear that prevents you from using the foot controls in the correct manner, so although it’s legal to wear whichever shoes you like, as the driver you are responsible for control of the vehicle. Wearing inappropriate footwear can result in unwelcome incidents. For example, driving in high heel shoes or boots can be dangerous as the heel of your foot is not resting on the floor of the car which allows you to move from the accelerator to the brake faster and easier and to apply pressure on the pedals. High heels will slow down your reaction time.
Flip flops or similar sandals are even more dangerous. Pedals can easily get caught between the sole of your foot and the flip flop leading to a reduction in control and an increase in braking time. Driving in nylon socks or tights should also be avoided as they reduce traction between your foot and the pedals making them slippery.
The best option is to wear flat shoes that will not slip off such as plimsolls. Plimsolls are securely tied, have excellent rubber grip on the underside providing good traction with the pedals, and the sole of the shoe isn’t too thick. Good driving shoes allow you to feel the pedals through the sole providing you with an indication of how much pressure you are exerting. Avoid shoes with a very hard or thick sole (Ugg boots, Timberlands, Dr Martens) as these reduce the feeling you have with the pedals, and ditch platform shoes or wide soles as you can easily press the brake and clutch at the same time without realising.