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Driving Advice & Safety

9 Driving Habits That Could Cost You Dear

January 25, 2024

5 min read

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Leon McKenzie

Content Writer

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An old car with a manual horn

Tabloids love alarmist headlines, and are forever shouting about the points and fines you could accrue for making this one common driving mistake!!! They always present the worst case scenario, where drivers have challenged their punishment, then lost in court.

But while we’d urge a note of caution in reading such stories, they’re not always entirely without basis. For instance, there are plenty of ways you can breach the laws around considerate driving — and the rules aren’t always super obvious. So here’s a more measured roundup of some common motoring offences that could see you fall into trouble.

Flashing your lights to say thank you

It’s nice to be nice, and most people value a quick ‘thank you’ if they’ve slowed down to let you out, or waited while for you to overtake parked cars. However, flashing your full beams isn’t the best way to show your appreciation.

According to the Highway Code, rule 110, you should:

Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message…

Now, chances are you won’t get into trouble for using them to say thanks. But the police have every right to stop and fine you — just as they do with other inappropriate light use — so the question is: is it really worth the risk? And if that’s not enough to put you off, think about how dazzling headlights can be in the dark. Perhaps on these occasions the best thing to say… is nothing at all.

Really dirty number plates

Appearances aren’t everything, but if you’re guilty of letting your vehicle accumulate filth from its travels, it’s possible you’ll pay the consequences. Both the police and ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras need to be able to make out your full number plate, so any muck that obstructs your registration could see you charged up to £1,000. Let’s not be alarmist here; a bit of grime is usually fine. But at the point people start writing ‘clean me’ in the dirt, things are getting out of hand.

Straying into cycle lanes

Solid white lines on the road indicate that drivers should not cross them. Some of these lines protect those in cycle lanes, who don’t have the luxury of seat belts, air bags or crumple zones. But until recently, you could only be punished for straying over the line if the police caught you in the act.

That’s now changed. Local authorities in the capital have been granted powers to enforce cycle lane offences, and TfL (Transport for London) is currently using existing CCTV to help spot perpetrators. For the moment, they may issue first-time offenders with a warning, but anyone who’s caught driving illegally in a cycle lane from December 2022 will be slapped with a £160 penalty charge.

Sounds like the perfect time to review what the different road markings mean, if you ask us.

Ignoring closed lanes on motorways

A closed sign in a shop window

Not all lanes run at all times, particularly on smart motorways. When an incident is detected, it should trigger a big red ‘X’ to be displayed on a gantry above the affected lane. You’d think such a prominent symbol would be enough to alert motorists to choose another lane — but some either take no notice, or think they can skip the queues by driving in it just a little longer.

Because of the dangers of continuing in a closed lane, and the rise in prominence of smart motorways, this is one of the driving offences that’s seen big clampdowns in recent years. Cameras have been installed to help catch those flouting the rules, and perpetrators can expect to be issued with a £100 fine and 3 penalty points on their licence.

Not minding the gap

A tape measure

Getting too close to cyclists when you’re overtaking them is an offence that catches lots of drivers out. The Highway Code rule changes for 2022 include specific distances you should leave when overtaking vulnerable road users. For the record, a 1.5 metre gap is considered acceptable when going round a pedal bike — so long as you’re travelling at 30mph or less.

Lots of cyclists now wear cameras to deter and catch unsafe drivers, and the police are pretty vigilant about punishing those who are caught. Case in point, this man picked up 5 penalty points and a hefty fine for his ‘idiotic’ actions in Sheffield.

Unsafe car decorations

Union jack bunting

Sporting events and other national festivities always see a spike in novelty car accessory sales, such as flags and bunting. And decorating your car is generally a harmless way of spreading the celebratory spirit. But—and it’s common sense, really—you could land in hot water if your decor isn’t secured properly, or is positioned somewhere that obscures your vision. Avoid placing mascots anywhere that could hurt someone if you crashed, and stay away from window stickers.

While you’re at it, you may as well check that you haven’t got any cracks on your windscreen or a lot of rubbish in your car. Those could get you pulled over, too.

Unnecessary honking

An old car with a manual horn

Believe it or not, you aren’t allowed to just toot your horn whenever you feel a tiny bit annoyed. You should only sound it to warn others of your presence, and never as a form of aggression or intimidation. And what’s more, honking is prohibited when you’re stationary — whether in traffic, or to alert a friend that you’re outside their house — unless you need to warn others of potential danger.

These aren’t the only rules in force though; see how the law also imposes time restrictions on horn use.

Parking without sidelights

Car parked on country roadside

Handbrake on, lights out, lock doors. That’s the usual course of action when you park up at night. But if you’re parked in a layby or by the roadside (rather than in a specified parking bay), it’s between dusk and dawn, and the speed limit is over 30mph, you’re actually risking a fine. In these instances, you need to keep your sidelights lit until the sun rises the following day. This will help other road users spot you, and prevent unnecessary accidents. And there’s no need to worry about your battery running low; your sidelights are designed with this sort of use in mind.

Did you know you also have to park with the flow of traffic under these conditions? You learn something new everyday.

Overstepping the mark

A red traffic light set against a blue sky

Advanced stop lines are those markings at traffic lights that provide a space for cyclists to get ahead of motorised traffic. Drivers are meant to come to a halt at red lights before entering this zone, to keep it as safe as possible. As such, stopping in a ‘bike box’ could earn you a fine or endorsements (points) on your licence. However, you can only be penalised if the light changes gave you time to stop before the advanced line — and police tend to be fairly lenient about this.

That’s no excuse for poor driving though; plenty of road users don’t understand traffic lights or filter arrow rules properly, and things can get dangerous if they’re disobeyed.

See? No need to panic. From driving on medication to the sunglasses you wear on the road — when you know the rules, it's easy to avoid breaking them. Which potential driving offences are you unsure about? Pop a comment below and we’ll do our best to clear things up.

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