Road sense: the law
What do you need to know about road laws before you get behind the wheel?
- Speeding is an absolute offence. This means it is no defence to say that you were driving at 100mph but remained in cool control, or that you didn't realise you were breaking the speed limit.
- If the police say that you were travelling at the speed, it's not advisable to contest the charge. Courts are usually more inclined to believe the word of police officers than a motorist accused of driving with his/her foot to the metal.
- Potential punishments for speeding include disqualification, three to six penalty point and/or a fine.
Seatbelts and crash helmets
- Where fitted, drivers and both front and rear seat passengers must wear seat belts.
- If a passenger in your car does not wear a belt, it is he or she who will be prosecuted. But if the passenger is under 14, it is your responsibility to see that a seat belt is worn.
- If you are injured in an accident and were not wearing a seat belt, a court is likely to judge that you have contributed to your own injuries, and any damages that you might be awarded will be significantly reduced.
- Both motorcyclist and pillion passenger must wear an approved safety helmet on all journeys. Under The Motor Cycle Crash Helmet (Religious Exemptions) Act 1976, this regulation does not apply to a follower of the Sikh religion while he is wearing a turban.
- Every vehicle on the road, must meet a certain standard of roadworthiness, as set out by The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 and The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 . These regulations cover brakes, tyres, lights, steering, mirrors and even windscreen washer bottles.
- A police officer may stop a vehicle at any time to check that it is in a roadworthy condition. Claiming that you had no idea that your headlamps were on the blink is no excuse. Like speeding, these are absolute offences.
- If the officer believes your vehicle is unroadworthy, they may insist that you have it checked and repaired by a garage (usually within 14 - 21 days). Providing defects are corrected in time, no further action is likely to be taken.
- If the officer feels your vehicle is so dangerous that someone will probably be injured if it is driven, he or she can order you not to drive it any further and even prosecute you in court for daring to drive it in the first place.
If you are seen by the police to be driving carelessly or dangerously, you must be warned of the possibility of prosecution at the time of the offence or served with a summons within 14 days of the offence. If you are stopped for bad driving, or have been involved in an accident as a result of your road conduct, you may be charged with one of two offences:
- Careless driving: This means driving without due care and attention or in a way that the police do not consider being how a careful and reasonable driver should behave. For example, pulling out from a side road without looking, or snogging your passenger while racing down the hard shoulder. Punishment can be a discretionary disqualification, three to nine penalty points, and/or a fine.
- Dangerous driving: If you're caught driving in a way that is hazardous to people or property. For example, driving very fast through a built up area, or overtaking on a sharp bend. Dangerous driving and causing death by dangerous driving are very serious offences, punishable by fines, disqualification and even imprisonment. If you face such a charge, get in touch with a solicitor straight away.
Driving with your mobile phone
You may feel the urge to use your phone to make calls, send messages, or read texts, but the scary truth is that it could end up being the most expensive call you've ever made - not to mention the danger involved in you taking your eyes or concentration away from the road.
In February 2007, new penalties for motorists using mobile phones were introduced in the UK. This means if you're caught with your phone stuck to your ear or in your hands you'll be fined and will get three penalty points on your licence. The same fine and penalty applies if you're caught using a hands-free mobile phone and lose control of your vehicle.
You could be fined up to £1,000 if your case goes to court. If you were driving a van, lorry, bus or coach, then you could face steeper fines of up to £2,500 if the case goes to court.
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