Driving Home For Christmas? - Remember These Rules
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Anyone driving home for Christmas in the coming days, should make sure they’re not risking invalidating their insurance through rule-breaking, experts at temporary car insurance provider, Dayinsure, have advised.
According to the RAC, an estimated 31 million separate leisure journeys will be taken between now and Christmas Eve, with 4pm on Friday likely to be the beginning of the ‘peak’ travel period.
Dayinsure has looked through car insurance policy wording and cross analysed this against the Highway Code and government policies on driving penalties, to determine what could land motorists in hot water this festive season, and what the potential consequences could be for any rule-breakers.
1 & 2: You should not put Christmas decorations on your car, or drive with an excessively large Christmas tree on your roof
Rules 89 and 98 of the Highway Code state that you must ensure your vehicle complies with the full requirements of the Road Vehicles regulations, and you must secure your load and ensure it does not stick out dangerously.
If you failed to abide by these rules – for example by decorating your car or having an excessively large, overhanging Christmas tree on your roof - and were then involved in an accident, you could be charged with ‘construction and other driving offences’, which relates to the dangerous or unsuitable use of a vehicle. This in turn could lead to 3-11 penalty points and a fine up to £2,500.
Your insurance provider may also class these as ‘unreported vehicle modifications’, or ‘a failure to maintain the vehicle in a good and safe condition’. This may mean that they don’t pay out for any damage that could occur in an accident.
3 & 4: You must not drive with unrestrained luggage or pets in your vehicle
According to rule 57 of the Highway Code, when driving you must make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are the recommended ways of restraining animals in cars.
In addition, Annex 6 states that you must ensure that items of luggage are securely stowed.
If you were to cause any accident and there were unrestrained pets or luggage in your vehicle you could be charged with ‘careless driving - driving without due care and attention / failure to have proper control of the vehicle’, receive 3-11 penalty points and be given an unlimited fine. You could even be disqualified from driving. This in turn could invalidate your insurance, if it is proven that a crash came about because of ‘reckless or careless driver behaviour’.
5: You should not wear fancy dress while driving (so no Santa suits or festive slippers)
Rule 97 of the Highway Code states that you must ensure that your clothing and footwear do not prevent you using the controls in the correct manner. Unfortunately, as festive as it may be, a large Santa suit or some Christmassy slippers could prevent you from being able to use pedals, change gear etc. and if you caused an accident, you could be charged with ‘careless driving’. Overall, it’s best to save any dressing up for once you’re reached your destination!
6 & 7: You should not overload your vehicle or cover your back window / reduce your vision
According to rule 98 of the Highway Code, you must not overload your vehicle, which means that the manufacturer’s recommended weight should not be exceeded. It would be tricky to do this in most cars – but it’s something to keep in mind if you have a lot of passengers and some very heavy gifts. It’s best to check your car doesn’t look overloaded (usually you can tell by looking at it). Most cars have their maximum load capacity weight outlined in the owner’s manual.
Rules 200-203 also state that you should be able to clearly see the road and be able to check for pedestrians, cyclists or obstructions by using all your mirrors and by particularly looking through your rear window when reversing. If you fill your boot up with gifts or luggage and can’t see out of it, then you should be extra cautious, particularly when reversing as any accident caused could lead to a charge of ‘careless driving’ and your insurer may not pay out for damage or injury caused. You could also be fined and receive penalty points.
8 & 9: You should not listen to loud music, and children must be kept under control
Rules 148 and 102 of the Highway Code advise that safe driving requires concentration, and you must avoid distractions such as loud music, as this may mask other sounds. Drivers who are carrying children in cars, vans and other goods vehicles should also ensure that they are kept under control – so that means no loud singing along to your favourite Christmas playlist if you think there is a chance it could be distracting. Again, these actions fall under ‘careless driving’ and fines up to £1,000 and penalty points (at least 3) apply.
10: You should ensure you have enough fuel before setting off, especially if driving on a busy road or motorway
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According to rule 97 of the Highway Code, before you set off you must ensure you have sufficient fuel or charge (if an electric car) for your journey, especially if it includes motorway driving.
If it is proven that a crash came about because of this type of careless behaviour by the driver, many insurers will not pay out and you could face 3+ penalty points and a fine of at least £200.
11 & 12: All passengers must wear seatbelts (and therefore you must not have too many passengers)
According to rules 99-102 of the Highway Code, a car driver and all passengers (aged over 14) must wear a seat belt, and kids must be in a suitable child restraint such as a car seat. This means that taking too many passengers in your vehicle is also against the rules, as there would not be enough seat belts for everyone to wear.
Failing to abide by these rules could mean you are charged with a seat belt offence and receive a fine up to £500. If an accident occurs and injury is caused then your insurance provider may not pay out for this, as they may deem that you have ‘not taken reasonable steps to prevent the injury from occurring’.
13: You must ensure you park up your car somewhere suitable
Rules 240-244 of the Highway Code outline that you must not leave your vehicle in a dangerous position or where it causes any unnecessary obstruction of the road. Drivers are advised to use off-street parking areas, or bays marked out with white lines wherever possible. If you have to stop on the roadside then you should not park facing against the traffic flow, and you should stop as close as you can to the side.
Breaking these rules falls under ‘miscellaneous offences - leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position’ and can lead to 3+ penalty points and a £200+ fine.
If your car is damaged while parked up, and you didn’t leave it in a suitable location then your insurance provider may not pay out for this, as they may deem you have ‘not taken reasonable steps to prevent the damage from occurring’.
Other well known rules…
14 & 15: You must not use your sat nav or a mobile phone while driving
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Rules 149 and 150 of the Highway Code state that you must exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times, and that means not using a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device which could be distracting. Drivers are advised to find a safe place to stop if necessary.
The rules and penalties associated with using a mobile phone while driving have recently been updated, so drivers could now expect to receive 6 points on their licence, plus a potentially unlimited fine.
16 & 17: You must remove snow from your roof and ensure you fully de-mist your windscreen
According to rule 229 of the Highway Code, before you set off you must remove all snow that might fall off into the path of other road users and you must also make sure the mirrors are clear and the windows are demisted thoroughly.
Failing to do this and then causing an accident is another potential example of careless driving, and the same penalties apply.
18: You must not drink and drive
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
Christmas is a time when many will be eagerly heading off to the pub for drinks with friends and family, but rule 95 of the Highway Code advises drivers to never drink and drive as it will seriously affect judgement and abilities. In England and Wales, you must not drive with a breath alcohol level higher than 35 microgrammes/100 millilitres of breath or a blood alcohol level of more than 80 milligrammes/100 millilitres of blood. In Scotland the legal limits are lower, and you must not drive with a breath alcohol level higher than 22 microgrammes/100 millilitres of breath or a blood alcohol level of more than 50 milligrammes/100 millilitres of blood.
It is worth noting that after a heavy night, it is possible to still be over the limit the next morning. Any driving is best left to later in the day.
Penalties for drink driving are severe, with at least 3 penalty points given and a fine of £2,500+. There is also a risk of driver disqualification and 6 months’ imprisonment. As may be expected, if you are charged with drink driving then your insurer is very unlikely to pay out for any damage or injury caused.
Nicholas Shaw, Director of Operations at Dayinsure added:
“It’s not unusual for people to borrow a family car over Christmas, or even to hire a car for a short period of time, and that means that they’re potentially driving a vehicle they’re not familiar with. This alone should encourage some extra caution, but when you add winter weather conditions, busier roads, merry passengers and a very full boot into the mix too, there really is a greater risk.
“It’s incredibly important that people ensure they have the insurance cover they need, and that they’re also aware of the Highway Code rules and are adhering to them. It’s clear that simple things such as driving in a Santa suit or not securing luggage can create a distracting environment, which could lead to an accident.
“While we certainly don’t want to be seen as ‘the Grinch that stole Christmas’, it may be best to leave the majority of your festivities for when you’re safely parked up at home! A fine, a court appearance and a driving ban are never a good way to start a new year”
More tips and advice for drivers can be found at: https://www.dayinsure.com/help-and-support/claims-and-breakdown/