Brits think they have a good excuse to be let off certain car crimes and many are unaware of the offences they are committing.
Discover our key findings in the infographic below or scroll down to read the full details.
74% of the Brits we surveyed thought that drivers should be excused from these minor car crimes and 16% thought they should be pardoned for not knowing they were committing a crime. Frustrating as it may be for some drivers to admit, that’s not how the law works.
24% of respondents believe they should be pardoned if they have a legitimate excuse for breaking these laws – 5% of people feel this legitimate excuse could be it not being covered in their theory test – and 14% believe there should be a grace period when a new law is introduced.
However, over a quarter of people (26%) think that these offences should never be pardoned. Those from the South West and Scotland believe this the most strongly, with 35% of respondents from both regions stating this. Those in London and Northern Ireland were the least agreeable, with only 17% and 12% respectively saying that these convictions should always be upheld.
Let’s take a look at some of the car crimes you could be unintentionally committing and the penalties you could face as a result.
According to our survey, 71% of drivers who have deliberately splashed a pedestrian by driving into a puddle were unaware it is illegal.
Unless you are splashing a passer-by because it would be unsafe to do so otherwise – if you’d need to swerve into oncoming traffic, for example – showering an unsuspecting pedestrian with puddle water is against the law. The consequences are a potential fine of up to £5,000 or a Fixed Penalty Notice.
While this crime is not directly mentioned in the Highway Code, it would likely fall under ‘driving without due care and attention’. The Road Traffic Act 1988 states: “If a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, he is guilty of an offence.”
As the £5,000 fine is not common, you will be more likely to receive a Fixed Penalty Notice of a £100 fine and three points on your licence. While you may get a moment’s amusement from splashing someone, the punishment probably isn’t worth the crime.
Smoking with children in the car
Did you know that smoking while driving a vehicle with passengers under 18 is against the law? Neither did 49% of our respondents who owned up to this offence.
The law came into effect due to the Children and Families Act 2015, which states it is illegal to:
- Smoke in a private vehicle with someone under age 18 present
- Fail to prevent smoking in a private vehicle with someone under age 18 present. This is important to note, as you could be in the vehicle with someone else smoking and still get fined.
This law is in place for England and Wales and does not apply to e-cigarettes. The repercussion for failing to comply with the rule is a £50 Fixed Penalty Notice.
Handling a sat-nav or mobile phone while driving
59% of our respondents who have handled a sat-nav while driving didn’t know that this is illegal.
Falling under the same regulation as using a mobile device, you cannot handle your phone or a sat-nav while driving a car or riding a motorcycle – even if you’re in stationary traffic. These devices must only be used with hands-free access, such as:
- A Bluetooth headset
- Voice command
- A dashboard holder or mat
- A windscreen mount
- A built-in sat-nav
You must also ensure that your device or any hands-free access does not block your view of the road or traffic.
You are permitted to use your phone or sat-nav if the vehicle is parked, and you can use your phone while driving to call 999 or 112 in an emergency (if it is unsafe or impractical to stop the car). This means it is also illegal to text from a hand-held phone, even while stationary at a red light – something 24% of offenders thought was legal.
The penalties for this crime can vary. For using a hand-held device while driving, you can get up to six points on your licence – and lose your licence if you’ve been driving for less than two years – as well as a £200 fine or being taken to court. The fine can increase to £2,500 if you’re driving a lorry or bus. A new law was introduced in April 2021 that can see drivers receive six penalty points for simply touching their phones while driving – this closes a loophole that previously enabled those driving to take photos or videos.
For obscuring your view of the road, you can receive three penalty points. According to the Ministry of Justice, between 2009 and 2019 the number of offences involving the use of a mobile phone dropped by almost a third, from 32,571 to 11,402.
Warning other drivers about speed traps
Warning others about speed traps, which almost 30% of Brits have done, could see you receive a fine of up to £1,000. Of our respondents who admitted to this offence, 64% didn’t even know it was a crime.
Speed traps are set up by the police to catch drivers not abiding by the law and breaking the speed limit. By warning other drivers of these concealed setups, you are obstructing the police of their duty and potentially allowing dangerous drivers to remain on the road.
The Highway Code states that drivers should use their headlights “only to let other road users know that you are there” and not “to convey any other message”. By warning other drivers, you would be breaking Rule 110 and 111 of the Code. The Police Act 1996 also states that it is an offence to “wilfully obstruct a constable in the execution of his/her duty”.
Some people also choose to warn others about speed traps on social media, rather than from inside a car. Remember that this is still obstructing police duty.
Sounding your car horn
You might think that sounding your car horn can’t possibly be illegal but under certain circumstances, it is. In fact, you should only be using your car horn to warn that someone is in danger and not to convey your annoyance (tempting though it may be!). Our survey revealed that 50% of drivers who have committed this crime didn’t realise they were breaking the law.
Under the Highway Code, there are a couple more specifications around using your horn. Sounding your car horn while stationary is not permitted by law and neither is using it on a restricted road between 11.30am and 7pm. A restricted road is one that has streetlights and a 30mph speed limit.
The penalty could be a fine up to £1,000. So, before you honk to let your friends know you’ve arrived or to indicate your plans to overtake another driver, you may want to consider the hefty consequences.
Not wearing a seatbelt
While there are some circumstances in which you do not need to wear a seatbelt, it is mandatory by the law to wear one most of the time while driving – which surprised 20% of our respondents who owned up to this offence. Thankfully, most of the drivers we spoke to know the legalities around wearing their seatbelt, but it was still surprising to learn that one in ten people do not.
You are exempt from wearing a seatbelt if you are:
- Assisting a learner driver who is reversing
- In a vehicle used for police, fire, and rescue services
- A passenger investigating a fault in a trade vehicle
- Driving a goods vehicle on deliveries and are travelling no more than 50 metres between stops
- A licensed taxi driver who is ‘plying for hire’ or carrying passengers
- Medically exempt.
If you are medically exempt, you will be given a “Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing”, which you should keep in your vehicle. You may need to show this to the police if you are stopped. You should also inform your insurance provider.
The penalties for not wearing a seatbelt include three points on your licence and a fine of up to £500. You may also be faced with these penalties if you are driving the vehicle with a child under 14 as a passenger and they do not have the proper restraints or a seatbelt.
As well as crimes committed behind the wheel, there are several insurance-related crimes that our respondents were unaware of. It’s essential to ensure you have the right insurance before you get behind the wheel, including before you test drive a car. Of our respondents who admitted to this offence, 54% did not know that it is unlawful.
You also need to have insurance in place before you drive a new car home. 18% of drivers have committed this crime, though 46% were unaware of the laws they were breaking. The same rules apply when driving a relative’s or friend’s car – 40% of those who didn’t check their insurance first had no idea this was illegal.
Many of our respondents were also unaware of what constitutes as fraud. For example, here are some policy details that are classed as fraudulent and the percentage of drivers who are unaware of these crimes:
- underestimating annual mileage (23%)
- listing the incorrect occupation (20%)
- having the wrong age (15%)
- listing the main driver incorrectly (13%).
Providing false information will not only invalidate your insurance policy, meaning your insurer can cancel it at any time and not protect you when you make a claim, you can also be prosecuted for fraud. This can involve being taken to court and paying a fine, as well as being blacklisted by insurance providers. Serious fraud can also land you in prison.
In 2019 and 2020 alone, 211,541 people were caught driving without insurance. Tempcover’s temporary car insurance can help you when you need it most. Whether you’re driving your new car home from the lot or driving your friend’s car, ensure you’re abiding by the law. Get a quote today!