Changes You Need to Know to Avoid Penalties
After driving for years, it is easy to think that the laws on the road are the same today as they were when you first passed your test. However, updates to the Highway Code, new driving laws and changes to MOT certification can mean that your thinking is out of date. It is a driver’s responsibility to review the Highway Code regularly to ensure that they are always aware of any changes in the law or other guidelines – how long has it been since you picked up a copy?
Changes made midway through 2018 and in force now in early 2019 may have been missed. To help, we have this handy catch-up guide to the new driving laws.
New driving laws on the motorway
If you drive on the motorway regularly, it is hard to ignore the changes that have been made to overhead signage and speed enforcement, but the changes don’t stop there:
Smart motorways – variable lane and speed enforcement
With roadside cameras and other sensors, the UK’s motorways are moving from being passive roads to an interactive smart system. New lengths of smart motorway are popping up across the map and will continue to do so as the government rolls out its new measures. The most important thing about driving on a smart motorway is to obey any signage.
Smart systems can reorganise a busy road, closing lanes where needed and adjusting the speed limits to prevent traffic build up and ultimately make the road safer for everyone. Failing to heed these signs now can lead quickly to a £100 fine and three points on your license.
If there’s a red X marking your lane, then be sure to change lanes and not drive in the warded area – a camera will notice and flag you accordingly. Remember too that any speed limit signs in a red circle are strict legal limits and not to be ignored (numbers with no red circle are merely guidelines not legally enforced). With average speed checks now a regular occurrence, more drivers are getting fined where they think they can get away with it.
Learner drivers on the motorway
Before the changes, you’d never see a learner on a motorway, but get used to the idea. New driving laws state that, provided they are in a car with an instructor and dual controls, those sporting L plates and a provisional license can now try out motorways before passing their test.
It’s a great idea – helping them get used to those major roads before throwing them out there unprepared – and can now form part of official lessons. However, it is not obligatory and many learner drivers (or their instructors) may still choose to wait.
We were all learners once – do what you can to make them welcome and safe!
Taking care of cyclists – new space rules and the Dutch Reach
Many British drivers are also cyclists (and many cyclists are also motorists). That means the ‘us and them’ mentality that has fuelled arguments for years should really be left in the last century, where it belongs. New driving laws to provide additional safety for cyclists are a welcome addition to the Highway Code. It now regulates that drivers ‘Give vulnerable road users at least as much space as you would a car’. This is being further defined by ‘Operation Velo’. This sees UK police forces proactively enforcing a rule that 1.5 metres (or 4.9 feet) is now the legal room you need to leave when passing a cyclist . Anyone encroaching inside that safe passing distance runs the risk of being prosecuted for driving without due care and attention.
What is the Dutch Reach?
An established custom in Amsterdam where live a great many cyclists, the Dutch Reach is the method of opening the car door with the far hand. That means you have to reach over yourself before getting out. By doing so you are able to easily see anyone coming up the inside of the car in an area that would previously have been a blind spot, preventing potential danger to cyclists.
There’s no doubt that in the 50 years since it originated in the Netherlands, this simple technique has saved hundreds of cyclists from a collision. It’s simple, effortless and should become habit for everyone – especially those driving in busy cities.
Updating the MOT
New categories in the MOT test make it easier to understand and know what repairs are needed on your vehicle. Now, issues with your car will be labelled as follows:
Dangerous – Immediately failing the MOT, these issues present a direct risk to road safety or the environment. You are not allowed to drive a vehicle with any dangerous issues.
Major – Again resulting in a fail, major issues could affect safety or the environment and must be repaired immediately.
Minor – Needs to be repaired but no direct effect on safety.
Advisory – Something to be aware of and fix when possible – could have an effect in the future.
Pass – Meets all current legal standards.
In addition to these category changes, a few checks have been added to the test:
brake fluid contamination
fluid leaks that present an environmental risk
brake pad warning lights
missing brake pads or discs
headlight washers (if installed)
daytime running lights
Other MOT changes include stricter rules for diesel emissions, a new look MOT certificate and MOT exemption for vehicles older than 40 years. A change was proposed to move the date of the first required MOT for new cars from three years to four, but the government chose not to implement it.
Self-drive – the future of cars
Another of the new driving laws means it is now legal to park your car through its remote-controlled self-parking system. Previously, that constituted not being in control of your vehicle and was consequently illegal.
The government is looking to the future, paving the way for self-driving cars that are lining up on the horizon. Expect further changes in the next few years to let these artificially-intelligent systems join regular human drivers on the roads.
For the next while though, despite some systems already on the market for high-end vehicles, you are just going to have to do the driving yourself!
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