Whether you’re a new learner, recently passed, or even an experienced driver, it’s always important to keep up to date with new driving rules and regulations so that you don’t accidentally break any of them. Remember: laws can always change. This can cause extra confusion when they change after you have already started driving on the roads and could get you into trouble before you even realise you’ve done anything wrong!
Ongoing issues such as climate change and evolving technology in the automotive industry, for example, can be forces which encourage sometimes rapid or significant developments in driving/automobile regulations.
Events such as Brexit can equally entail sudden changes for drivers.
We’ve therefore put together an article highlighting some recent changes in driving laws as of late 2019, and also bring attention to some that are (likely) just around the corner. It’s important to be aware of them in advance – even if you haven’t passed or started learning yet. They may feed into your decisions around things such as what type of car to buy (and therefore maybe what car you want to learn in) or what type of insurance (and premiums) you’ll be looking at.
We’ll begin with one that effects learners specifically, before drawing your attention to some that will have more long-term implications for you:
Driving lessons on motorways
For a long time, UK law stipulated that new drivers could only use motorways once they’d already passed their tests and been granted a full driving license.
However, learner drivers are now allowed to drive on motorways during driving lessons, as long as they are accompanied by an official instructor in a car with dual controls.
This is only optional though: it is not mandatory that learners have lessons that include motorway driving.
Talking of motorways… remember: it is illegal to drive in a lane closed by a red ‘X’ sign on a smart motorway. If you’re caught doing this you could now receive a fixed penalty of up to £100 and 3 points on your license (or an even stronger penalty in some cases). However, legislation around this issue is still not yet fully finalised.
Highways England now has plans to construct more emergency refuge areas across the smart motorway network. Work on this is due to commence on the M25 later this year.
As so many hard shoulders have been converted to driving lanes on smart motorways, the RAC, amongst others, have called for an increase in the number of refuge areas in order to reduce risk for drivers who might suffer a breakdown or crash further away from an existing refuge area.
Recently qualified drivers
Recently-passed new drivers could also face changes even after they’ve gained their license: for example, the UK government is even considering bringing in a ‘graduated driving licence’.
At present, newly licensed drivers who have been driving for under 2 years already can be given harsher penalties for offences such as using a mobile phone.
However, a wide array of additional restrictions could also be imposed in the near future.
According to the RAC, it is likely that these will primarily focus on:
Alcohol – Lower maxiumum limits for newly-qualified drivers than for the general driving population
Curfews – Restricted times when new drivers will be allowed to be on the road
Engine sizes – Limits on how powerful newly-passed drivers’ cars are allowed to be
Mandatory ‘P’ plates – Currently these are optional, but it could be made mandatory for new drivers to display these for up to two years after they are granted their full license
Passengers – Limits on how many passengers new drivers are allowed to carry in their car
Speed – Newly-qualified drivers could be made to follow separate, lower speed limits to other more experienced drivers
A pilot scheme for such graduated licences is due to be tested in Northern Ireland during 2019-2020. If successful, this could then lead to the legislation being launched England.
In 2017, 101 cyclists across the UK died in road traffic accidents.
Many road safety campaigners have suggested that the Highway Code doesn’t offer enough in terms of explaining to drivers how they should behave towards cyclists on the road.
New guidelines would help provide more clarity to the current Code, and could also be used to bring the UK more into line with the US, where pedestrians always have priority.
One new regulation is that drivers will be instructed to give way to cyclists and pedestrians when turning left.
An example of further possible regulation change is that in the near future drivers may be encouraged to use the ‘Dutch reach’ whenever they open their car door.
In April 2019, Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) increased in line with inflation. This applies to all cars, and for most drivers it means that the annual tax cost for their car has already increased by £5.
Also, existing owners of high emission cars will be charged up to a further £15. Owners of diesel cars which fail to meet RDE2 emissions standard (which becomes mandatory in 2020), will continue to pay higher tax rates. Furthermore, new car buyers could be facing an additional £65 on their first-year car tax.
Low Emission Rules
In April 2019, the new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) came into effect in London, replacing the previous ‘T-charge’ initiative. The aim is to reduce harmful emissions in the city and improve air quality.
Should a vehicle fall short of ULEZ emission standards, the driver must pay a charge to drive in the area. This is £12.50 for most vehicles (cars, motorcycles, vans etc.) and £100 for heavier vehicles such as trucks.
Driving Permits and Green Cards
After the UK leaves the EU, many people may require a new licence. In January 2019, the UK Government released new guidance informing British people that their current driving license will be useless on the continent should the UK leave under a ‘no-deal’ scenario.
If you intend on driving in the EU as a visitor/holidaymaker, you’ll have to spend £5.50 on an international permit (if the UK leave’s without a deal). This permit will be available to purchase from Post Offices or from driving agencies such at the AA or RAC.
You’ll also need to carry a motor insurance green card when driving in the EU and EEA. Again, these are available from the Post Office.
New MOT rules
As of 2019 there are several new categories of automobile defects, which drivers will need to understand. These are:
Pass – The vehicle meets all current legal standards
Advisory – Defect could have an effect in the future
Minor – Defect has no effect on safety, but should be repaired as soon as possible
Major – Issue could affect safety or negatively impact the environment. This results in the vehicle being given a Fail for the MOT.
Dangerous – There is a direct risk to road safety or the environment. Results in the vehicle failing the MOT.
Many drivers might not yet know about some of the significant changes made to the MOT test recently.
A range of new requirements and tests are now being included in the MOT for the first time.
These include tests for:
- Brake pad warning lights and missing brake pads or discs
- Contaminated brake fluid
- Daytime running lights (for cars newer than March 2018)
- Reversing lights (for those newer than September 2009)
- Under-inflated tyres
The length of time before a vehicle’s first MOT is required remains at 3 years however.
Intelligent Speed Assist
Intelligent Speed Assist is one feature which will become compulsory from 2022 onwards, under the EU’s revised General Safety Regulation, in order to maximise the safety of new cars. The aim of this is to increase road safety and minimise collisions.
Other mandatory safety-enhancing measures which will soon be implemented in new automobiles include: advanced emergency braking, a ‘black box’ data recorder for incident reporting, cameras/sensors for reversing, lane keeping assistance mechanisms, and warnings for driver distraction and drowsiness.