Every year, people fall foul of little-known laws regarding vehicle safety, particularly in the winter. Plus, changes to the Highway Code have the potential to cause confusion and police action.
As specialists in driving and motoring offences, we regularly speak to people who were surprised to find out they’d broken a vehicle safety law.
Experts warn that severe cold weather is set to hit the UK this week with arctic winds causing temperatures to plummet below zero. A yellow weather warning for snow is in place for some parts of the country, as a result, drivers are being urged to take extra care in their vehicles.
According to the Green Flag and Brake report on safe driving and vehicle maintenance, a fifth of people stated they have knowingly driven an unroadworthy vehicle and a quarter (27%) stated that they perform safety checks just once a year on their car.
Stephen Halloran, Solicitor at Lawtons, looks at the automotive repair laws and car safety regulations designed to keep drivers and their cars safe on the road this winter.
Check your brakes
Checking your brakes is vital. If your brakes are defective and you’re involved in an accident or stopped by the police, you’ll be held responsible, whether or not you knew they weren’t functioning. Even if just one part of the braking system is out of action, you could end up with a £100 fine and three points on your licence.
You should have your brakes checked every six months, or more often if you do lots of mileage. It is advised to visit a mechanic to check your brake pads and discs for you so that they can also recommend when your brake pads could do with being replaced. Some cars will recognise when the brake pads are wearing down but if you have an older model car, this feature will be unavailable.
Keep your tyres up to scratch
If your car has four tyres below the 1.6mm legal tread depth, you could face a £2,500 fine for each tyre meaning a total fine of up to £10,000 and 12 penalty points which could result in an outright driving ban.
Most tyre and car safety experts advise changing your tyres if the tread dips below 3mm. When it’s 1.6mm, the required braking distance on a wet road is 44% more than it is with 3mm of tread, giving you significantly less grip.
Not maintaining the correct tyre pressure can result in blowouts, so it’s a good idea to check your tyres’ pressure regularly too. This is particularly important during the winter when a 10C drop in temperature can lead to a 1-2 PSI decrease in your tyre pressure.
Make sure your lights work
If you’re spotted driving with a broken headlight, rear light, indicator or reversing light, you could receive a fixed penalty notice, which will cost you between £50 and £100. Some police officers consider driving without lights at night to be “driving without due care or attention” which can put other drivers on the road at serious risk. Drivers will be issued with a vehicle defect rectification notice, which means they must get the issue fixed within 14 days and provide proof that they have done so.
If a broken light is found to be a contributing factor in an accident, charges can be upgraded to the more serious careless or dangerous driving.
Changes to the highway code – what you need to be aware of
Significant driving law changes were introduced this year through the highway code designed to make roads safer for both drivers and cyclists.
Cyclists were given new guidance, advising them to ride in the centre of a lane on quieter roads, in slow-moving traffic, in order to make themselves clear and visible to car users and other motorists.
Additionally, the new, physical édition of the highway code highlights that death by dangerous driving has been increased from 14 years to a max term of life imprisonment.
Neil Worth, Chief Executive at GEM Motoring Assist said:
“Don’t let the weather catch you by surprise. Take a few simple preventative maintenance steps to give yourself the best chance of ensuring you won’t be stranded out in the cold.” In particular, he mentioned:
- Check your tyre depth and pressure regularly
- Get the battery and charging system checked
- Make sure all the lights are working properly
- Ensure your car cooling system has the correct level of anti-freeze
- Make sure all windows and windscreen wipers are clear
Rebecca from IAM Roadsmart also emphasised the importance of good vehicle maintenance adding that “ catching little problems now often stop them turning into more serious ones further down the road” and to make sure to “keep to your vehicles service schedule.”