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UK driving laws

Busy motorway traffic.

If you're planning on taking to the roads in the UK, are you sure you're fully aware of UK driving laws? We've put together a guide to keep you safe, licensed, insured and on the right track while driving in the UK.

What do I need to drive in the UK?

Under UK driving laws, you need a full licence that's valid for the vehicle you're driving.

UK and EEA driving licences are accepted, while licences from other countries are valid for 12 months after your date of entry to the UK.

An International Driving Permit is also essential if your driving licence is not in English, or if you're driving a vehicle through the Eurotunnel or taking it on a ferry. Some car hire companies also insist on them.

If you have a bus or an HGV licence from outside the UK and the EEA, you can only use it to drive the vehicle in which you entered the country.

Whatever vehicle you drive, you also need valid insurance with a minimum of third-party cover.

Your vehicle must be roadworthy. If you're planning to drive in the UK for more than six months, it will need to be registered with the DVLA, have an up-to-date MOT certificate and be taxed.

Tourists planning on driving in the UK may also need to bring further documentation.

What are the basic rules of driving?

If you've passed your driving test in the UK, you should already be aware of the driving laws. Here's a quick refresher of some of the basic traffic laws, or you could take a look at the newer rules that might have been introduced since you took your test.

  • In the UK, you drive on the left.
  • Speed limits are generally 20 mph on residential streets or near schools, 30 mph in built-up areas, 40, 50 or 60 mph on country A-roads, and 70 mph on dual carriageways and motorways. Always obey the speed limit signs.
  • Driving too slowly is not usually an offence unless it causes a hazard, though in rare cases you may see minimum speed signs.
  • Motorway rules, however, stipulate that slower drivers who lane-hog can be given on-the-spot fines for inconsiderate driving.
  • Give way to the right at roundabouts and when merging.
  • Overtake on the right, and never undertake unless the vehicle in front is indicating to turn right. Allow plenty of space when overtaking cyclists or horses.
  • It's compulsory to wear a seatbelt where one is fitted, and smaller children must sit in special child seats.
  • Stick to drink-driving limits, and never use your mobile phone while driving.
  • Always be aware of braking distances, and don't drive too close to the vehicle in front in fast-moving traffic.

Read on for some of the lesser-known UK driving laws or brush up your knowledge of the full set in the Highway Code.

How many hours are you legally allowed to drive in a day?

If you're driving your own vehicle for personal use, there are no legal limits so long as you continue to drive carefully. The Highway Code recommends you take at least one 15-minute break every two hours. If you're feeling tired during a long journey it's best to pull off the road at a safe place, drink a cup of coffee and have a short nap until you feel alert enough to carry on.

If you drive passenger or goods vehicles on public roads for work, there are legal limits to driving hours that are designed to keep you and fellow road users safe.

There are two sets of rules that could apply when driving in the UK.

EU/AETR rules cover vehicles with a maximum permissible weight of 3.5 tonnes or that are constructed to take more than nine people, including the driver.

EU rules stipulate:

  • A maximum nine hours of driving per 24-hour period.
  • Ten hours on a maximum of two days a week.
  • 56 hours a week maximum.

GB rules apply to lighter goods vehicles or passenger vehicles designed to take fewer than nine people, when driven solely in England, Wales or Scotland. There are variations for Northern Ireland.

GB rules stipulate:

  • A maximum 10 hours of driving per 24-hour period.
  • 48 hours a week maximum.

Under both EU and GB rules, there are also regulations on record-keeping, breaks and rest time between shifts. Certain exemptions apply, so make sure you check the full details before driving in the UK.

Are you allowed to eat and drive?

You can eat or drink at the wheel, but only if you take care and remain in control of your vehicle at all times.

If you become distracted, police could issue you with an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points for careless driving. In serious cases, you could be taken to court, which carries higher penalties.

Why not just take a break to enjoy your snack at your leisure?

Is it illegal to smoke and drive?

Under UK driving laws, you can smoke while driving as long as you stay in control of your vehicle and there is no one under 18 in the car.

If you don't remain in control, you could face an on-the-spot fine and penalty points or even prosecution for careless driving.

If you smoke with a person under 18 in the vehicle, both the driver and the smoker face fines of £50.

Insurance from Hasting Direct

Driving without insurance in the UK is a serious offence. To stay on the right side of the law, get a quote from Hastings Direct today.

Our insurance is Defaqto 5 Star rated, giving you the very best cover at a great price. Find out more about the different types of vehicle insurance we offer:

Both Hastings Direct and Hastings Premier policies provide personal accident cover, insurance for trips within the EU of up to 90 days, and much more.

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Our straightforward car insurance is Defaqto 5 Star rated, so you can be sure you're getting a great product. Plus you can choose from a great range of optional extras.

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