A recent survey has revealed that up to 62% of motorists in the United Kingdom admit to speeding – making it the most common road traffic law to violate. However, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has warned that a number of new laws being implemented this year could mean that thousands of motorists may breach the law accidentally.
So here’s a look at some of the changes that have taken place, as well as those which will be introduced in the coming months which all motorists need to be aware of.
Many motorists will not consider the recent introduction of the drug driving offence to directly impact upon them, for example if they do not take drugs they do not have anything to worry about.
However, the law states that it is illegal in England and Wales for an individual to drive a vehicle if either:
- you’re unfit to do so because you’re on legal or illegal drugs
- you have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood (even if they haven’t affected your driving)
Legal drugs are prescription or over-the-counter medicines. If you’re taking them and not sure if you should drive, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional. You can drive after taking legal drugs if:
- you’ve been prescribed them and followed advice on how to take them by a healthcare professional
- they aren’t causing you to be unfit to drive even if you’re above the specified limits
The police can stop you and make you do a ‘field impairment assessment’ if they think you’re on drugs. This is a series of tests, eg asking you to walk in a straight line. They can also use a roadside drug kit to screen for recreational drugs such as cannabis and cocaine. Even if drivers pass this test, they may still be required to attend a police station to be tested for ecstasy, LSD, ketamine, heroin and other drugs.
If they think you’re unfit to drive because of taking drugs, you’ll be arrested and will have to take a blood or urine test at a police station.
If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get:
- a minimum 1 year driving ban
- an unlimited fine
- up to 6 months in prison
- a criminal record
Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years.
The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
A Freedom of Information request carried out by the IAM in August 2015 found that 902 arrests have already been made by police under new drug-driving laws.
The law doesn’t cover Northern Ireland and Scotland but you could still be arrested if you’re unfit to drive.
HGV speed limit
Did you know that HGVs can now drive at 50mph on single carriageway roads across England and Wales, and 60mph on dual carriageways?
The new regulations in England and Wales for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) over 7.5 tonnes will see speed limits rise from 40mph to 50mph on single carriageways, and from 50mph to 60mph on dual carriageways. The increased speed limits came into force in April of this year and were part of a modernisation of outdated legislation.
At the time, it was said that actual average speeds were unlikely to change, meaning there was unlikely to be an adverse effect on road safety.
Safer lorries scheme
In a bid to make London safer for cyclists, a new law is being introduced ensure all lorries and construction vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are fitted with essential safety equipment.
This includes extra mirrors to give drivers a better view of cyclists and pedestrians around their vehicles, as well as side guards to protect cyclists from being dragged under the wheels.
If the Metropolitan Police, City of London Police or Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) catch you driving a non-compliant lorry through London after 1 September 2015, you could be faced with a £50 fixed penalty notice or a fine of up to £1,000 if the matter proceeds to a Magistrates Court.
The Traffic Commissioner, who has the power to modify or suspend operator licenses, will also be notified of companies operating vehicles in breach of the scheme.
Smoking in cars with children banned
Smoking in work vehicles has been illegal since 2007, but from October this year it will be against the law to light up a cigarette in a car carrying anyone under the age of 18.
Apparently three million children are exposed to second-hand smoke in cars, so a campaign will be introduced later in the year to make people aware of the change in the law.
Penalties for breaking the new regulations are yet to be confirmed, but it is likely that a £50 fixed penalty notice will be handed out to anyone caught flouting the ban.
Make a Plea
Previously, if you were charged with a summary motoring offence that couldn’t be dealt with through a fixed penalty notice (or you wanted to dispute it), you had to attend court to present your case. Not only was this inconvenient, it meant magistrates spent a lot of time dealing with minor motoring offences.
A new digital service will now allow people charged with minor motoring offences to make a plea online at a time and place of their choosing.
The service is the latest stage of on-going government work to modernise the courts, and other public services, to provide simpler access for users and better value for taxpayers. The new ‘Make a Plea’ service will soon begin to be rolled out across England and Wales, following a successful pilot in Greater Manchester.
People charged with summary motoring offences, like speeding, failing to identify the driver or using a vehicle without insurance, will be able to use the clear, concise, secure and easy to use website to respond to charges against them.
The new digital system means defendants will be able to make their plea from any suitable device 24 hours a day through the secure website.
The service is offered as an alternative to a postal plea or attending court and has been developed with court users to meet their needs.
The end of the tax disc
This has been widely publicised, but there are still many who are oblivious to the new laws surrounding car tax. When you pay for car tax, you’ll no longer receive a paper tax disc. Instead, you’ll be able to check on a car’s tax status online via the DVLA’s website.
Police, as they have done for a long time, will be able to find out if a car’s taxed using their national computer.
The biggest change arise when you are buying or selling a car. You’ll no longer be able to transfer tax to a new owner. Instead, when you buy a car, you’ll have to buy tax straight away – either at the Post Office, online, or via the DVLA’s 24-hour automated phone system.
Many haven’t cottoned on to the new system, and a lot of used cars are still being advertised as taxed. That is not the case, and you could find yourself in trouble if you assume a second-hand car comes with tax.
Fortunately, under the new regulations you can also pay for tax monthly via direct debit. This will spread the cost over 12 months, meaning you won’t have to budget for six months’ tax when buying a second-hand car.
Paper counterpart driving licence being phased out
As of June 2015, paper counterpart driving licences are no longer issued in the UK. The photo-card driving licence used since 1998 is still valid, as are paper driving licences issued before the photo-card was introduced . But all records of points and penalties will be kept online, rather than on paper.
This means you’ll have to share your licence online with your employer if you need to drive a work vehicle, or request a unique code to share it with hire car companies.
The official advice from the DVLA is to tear up and throw away your paper counterpart licence – but motoring organisations have said you should keep hold of it. Despite not being valid, it might be easier to show it when hiring a car abroad than trying to explain the new regulations to a disinterested hire car company worker.