What are the legal rules for drivers?

You probably think you’re a law-abiding motorist. Your car is tax and insured. You’ve got your MOT and you keep your vehicle road-worthy. Plus, you stick to the speed limit and stay out of bus lanes. But what about other motoring laws? For instance, do you text or take calls while sitting in a traffic jam? Could your prescription medication lead to a prosecution for drug driving? Is your child in an appropriate and even illegal seat? And do you really know the law when it comes to the legal alcohol limit? If you're unsure, here's a break down of the current rules for drivers.

Mobile phones

It’s illegal to drive a car using a hand-held phone, or any similar device.
So, if you’re talking or texting with a messaging app such as SnapChat or Twitter while at the wheel, you’re breaking the law. You could also get into trouble for sending emails on your phone or tablet while driving. If you’re caught, you’ll get three penalty points on your licence and an automatic fine of £100. The case could even be taken to court where you could be disqualified from driving and given a maximum fine of £1,000. If you want to use your mobile phone, you must pull over and park safely, switching off the car engine. If you stop in a lay by and leave the engine running, you could still be charged. It is not an offence to use a hands-free mobile, though if you are distracted by the device so you are not in proper control of your vehicle, you could be prosecuted. The same is true of any other distraction, such as listening to music, eating or putting on make-up – it comes down to the discretion of the police.

Drugs – prescription and otherwise

Drug driving is illegal in England and Wales – and the definition of ‘drugs’ includes some prescription medicines.
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There are now clear limits for eight illegal drugs, including cocaine and cannabis, as well as eight legal medicines, including diazepam and temazepam. But don’t worry. If you take your medicines as prescribed by the doctor you should not fall foul of the law. If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll be banned from driving for at least one year. In addition, you run the risk of an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison and a criminal record. Your driving licence will also show that you’ve been convicted for drug driving – and the conviction will remain on your licence for 11 years.


At the beginning of October, the law changed to make it illegal to smoke in a car, or any other vehicle, with anyone under the age of 18.
The law applies to every driver in England and Wales, including those aged 17 and those with a provisional driving licence. If you are caught, both the driver and the smoker could be fined £50. There are, however, some exceptions. The law does not apply to e-cigarettes (vaping), a 17-year-old driver who is on their own in the car, or a convertible car with the roof completely down.


The law clearly states that all adults must wear a seat belt. If you don’t comply, you can expect a fixed penalty of £100. You could also end up in court and be slapped with a fine of up to £500. There are, however, a number of exceptions, such as if you’re the driver and you’re reversing, or you’re riding in a vehicle that is being used for police or fire and rescue service. Some people can also be granted medical exemption.

Children and animals

Children must use an appropriate child car seat until they are 12 years old or 135 cms tall, whichever comes first. http://moneysupermarket-3.wistia.com/medias/x4r1gn41bu?embedType=async&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=740 The driver of the vehicle is responsible for making sure the child uses a car seat or wears a seat belt. There is a fixed penalty of £100 for offenders, plus the possibility of a court case and a fine of up to £500. There are no laws on taking pets in the car, though the Highway Code recommends that animals be suitably restrained so they cannot distract the driver or cause injury if the vehicle has to stop suddenly.


There are strict alcohol limits for drivers, and you could be banned from driving, ordered to pay a fine or imprisoned if you are found guilty of drink-driving. http://moneysupermarket-3.wistia.com/medias/tlyo35j3hw?embedType=async&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=740 The actual penalty will be decided by the magistrates who hear your case and will depend on the severity of the offence. For example, if you are found guilty of driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit or unfit through drink, you could get a six-month prison sentence, an unlimited fine and a driving ban for at least one year. The punishment for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink is more severe and you could be sent to prison for up to 14 years. You could also face an unlimited fine and a ban from driving for at least two years. The alcohol limits in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath, or 80 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of blood. The limits in Scotland are stricter at 22 micrograms and 50 milligrammes. It’s impossible to say exactly how many drinks would push you over the legal limit. It depends on your gender, weight, age, metabolism and whether or not you have eaten. So it’s probably best to avoid alcohol completely if you intend to get behind the wheel.

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