Parking on zig zag lines

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Q: I recently received a summons for parking in a pedestrian crossing zig zag line zone.

It was the only place I could pull up without obstructing private car parks, junctions, an exit from a roundabout and people's private property.

I left my friend in the van with the engine running. I was gone for just a minute or two then returned to find a very irate policeman had moved my van.

Is he allowed to do this or is it taking without consent and will this aid my case if I mention it?

He was shouting at people driving past and then shouted at me when I asked him for help. He has a responsibility to the community to help but he refused.

He parked up obstructing the entrance to a private car park on double yellow lines.

There is no defence if you accept you stopped on the zig zags

A: This is a strict liability offence, so there is no defence if you accept you stopped on the zig zags.

The police take these matters very seriously as it causes a major safety risk for pedestrians.

The court will have little sympathy for your difficulties in parking. The court won't be more lenient because you found it difficult to park elsewhere or because the officer was really angry with you.

Don't make reference to the officer stopping on a double yellow. He only did that to get you to move off the zig zags and it will just irritate the court.


Legal advice insert.jpg

FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Emma to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

Practising driving, without supervision

Q: I was due to sit my test on the Monday morning. I was really nervous about it, so on the Sunday night, I decided to go out and practise driving on my own. I know I shouldn’t have, but I just wasn’t thinking at the time.

I was stopped by the police and they’ve said I will be prosecuted for driving without insurance and driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence. I’m really worried as I’ve now passed my test and am going to have to do it again when I get points for this. 

I will be prosecuted for driving without insurance and driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence

A: Driving without insurance carries between 6-8 points and without a licence another 3-6, but the court is unlikely to impose two sets of points; I’d expect you to get eight points in total.

You’re not going to have to sit your test again, as the offence happened before you passed your test.

The points will sit on your licence and it’s only if another offence happens now, whilst you’re in your two-year probationary period, that you’ll be at risk of revocation. 


Legal advice insert.jpg

FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Emma to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

 

Probationary period points

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Q: In 10 days’ time I’ll have held my licence for two years, but three months ago I was given three points for speeding on the motorway.

Then, a few days ago, I was driving towards a junction with my cousin sat next to me when she had a panic attack.

As a result I drove through a red light by mistake. As a result I was given another three points, taking me to six.

I went to the police station and spoke to somebody who said that if I was given three points on a motorway and three points crossing a red light, my licence would not be revoked until I’d notched up nine points within the first two years.

I have a certificate from my cousin’s doctor to say that she does suffer from panic attacks.

If you get six points on your licence and the most recent offence is during your probationary period you will have your licence revoked

A: You’ve been misadvised. If you get six points on your licence and the most recent offence is during your probationary period you will have your licence revoked.

You’ll then have to take an extended driving test before you can drive again.

Your only option would be to go to court and make a special reasons argument regarding the panic attack being a distraction. If the court agrees you won't get the points and you’ll keep your licence.


Legal advice insert.jpg

FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Emma to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

Speeding summons: the 14-day rule

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Q: I received a summons for driving at 41mph on a 30mph road, but the summons arrived a month after the alleged offence, the document being dated only yesterday.

I think the reason for the delay is that the DVLA thought I’d sold the car when in fact I had sold a car that used to carry the same personalised registration.

My understanding is that a summons has to be delivered within 14 days of the offence taking place; is this the case?

The only burden on the police is to send the summons to the last known address of the registered keeper

A: The only burden on the police is to send the summons to the last known address of the registered keeper.

A police mistake can amount to a defence.

If the mistake was on the part of the DVLA, you can’t argue that the summons was delivered late, if the police simply sent it within 14 days to the (incorrect) name and address on the V5.


Legal advice insert.jpg

FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Emma to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

Speeding while overtaking

Q: I was driving on a single-carriageway road with a tractor and van ahead.

The van overtook the tractor and so did I, but when the van pulled back in he left me no room, so I had to get past him too.

On the opposite side of the road was a police bike; as soon as I noticed him I reduced my speed.

He pulled me over saying he’d caught me doing 60mph in a 40mph zone. I didn’t argue at the time but he didn’t show any proof and I just took his word for it.

I was given a fixed penalty notice with three points but I think I’d like to take this to court as the van also overtook and to stay safe I had to get back into my lane if there was no room.

I currently have six points and if I was to take these I would be on 9; I dont want to be in this position. While I understand I was speeding, I had no choice to get back into my lane. Can I plead for a fine instead of the points?

The police often teach people they can speed to overtake – that’s bad advice

A: The court will say you shouldn’t have tried to overtake if it necessitated speeding. The police often teach people they can speed to overtake - that's bad advice.

If you contest this and reject the fixed penalty ticket you could get another six points and a six-month ban, as the magistrates guidelines are less tolerant than the fixed penalty system; the guideline for that speed is 4-6 points.

If you accept the speed alleged you are best off taking the ticket I'm afraid. The problem that you face is that speeding is strict liability. So why you did it is irrelevant. The only defence is casting a doubt on the alleged speed. The only other option would be special reasons, such as doing it to get out of a risky situation.

Special reasons is about not having any alternative. It’s likely that the magistrates would take the view that you had the choice not to overtake; this is what created the risky situation rather than something outside of your control.


Legal advice insert.jpg

FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Patterson Law to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

Using a mobile phone on speakerphone

 

Q: My mobile rang, so I answered it on speakerphone and put the phone on my lap. But I was spotted by a police officer who said that he would report me for not being in control of my car, although he wouldn't specifically raise the subject of mobile phone use, as this would assist with my insurance.

I said to the officer that I didn’t speak whilst holding my phone; I only answered it on speaker, then spoke while it was on my lap. I considered this did not differ from turning on my radio or adjusting my car’s controls – so where do I stand? 

I didn’t speak whilst holding my phone; I only answered it on speaker, then spoke while it was on my lap

A: It very much depends on when you answered the call. If you answered it and then placed it in your lap to speak, it’s likely you would be convicted. This is on the basis that to be guilty of the offence, the prosecution have to show that you were holding and using the phone at the same time.

If however you answered the phone when it was in your lap, it will come down to an argument about what constitutes “holding”. This is a very grey area as there is no case law to define holding.

The other issue of course is that the officer is suggesting he will prosecute for driving whilst not in proper control, rather than a mobile phone offence. This is an “all encompassing” offence, as the officer won’t have to prove that you were speaking at the same time as holding your phone.

He will simply have to show that holding the phone placed you in such a position that you could not have proper control of your vehicle or have a full view of the road and traffic ahead. You’ll need to place doubt on his evidence to show that you were in proper control of the vehicle.

If you want assistance, the best way forward is for us to prepare your defence and make representations to the police. We will try to persuade them not to prosecute you for either offence. 


Legal advice insert.jpg

FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Emma to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

Using a mobile phone while driving

Q: I was waiting at traffic lights in the daytime with my phone to my ear. My friend was with me in the car. A police car drove past me in the opposite direction.

I was talking into my phone at the time, but immediately put it down as he drove past. I then drove off down the road, but the police put their sirens on and pulled me over.

Could I challenge it in court and say my car broke down and I was on the phone for breakdown cover? Or could I say I was on the phone to emergency services, about to call an ambulance for someone I know?

Is there any other way around this? Any help would be much appreciated. I have nine points on my licence and passed my test last year, so can’t receive any more or my licence will be revoked. 

I have nine points on my licence and passed my test last year

A: If you accept you were using and holding the phone, you shouldn’t try to defend it. That’s because to challenge it you’ll need to give evidence on oath at trial, that you weren’t holding and/or using the phone. To say this would be lying, which is perjury (a potentially imprisonable offence!) It’s not worth the risk.

Your best bet will be to plead guilty and focus on sentencing. I am assuming the nine points were before you passed your test? If so, this offence will ‘trigger’ those points and you will be at risk of revocation as a new driver for accumulating six or more points during your two-year probationary period.

If you are revoked, you will have to sit your test again. Your only way to avoid revocation is to ask the court to impose a discretionary ban for the offence, instead of the points. The other risk you have is that if you receive three points, this will take you to 12 and you will then be at risk of a minimum six-month ban from driving.

The way to avoid the lengthy ban will be to put forward an exceptional hardship argument. You will need to show that you and those around you will be caused exceptional hardship if you can’t drive. What effect would a ban have on you? Even if the ban is avoided though, you would still have to sit your test again. 


Legal advice insert.jpg

FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Emma to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

Why solicitors can't work miracles

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"I thought you were motoring law specialists? If you were, you would be able to get me off....!"

This was the final comment at the end of a 20-minute free advice call from a lovely chap who didn’t have a defence.

It seems the urban myth that you can defend a speeding matter (even when you admit speeding), based on weak technical arguments lives on. 

So you’re now in for around £5000-6000 if you lose, plus fines and court costs on top

Let's think this through. You can’t cast a reasonable doubt on the reliability of a speed detection device without expert evidence.

So (knowing that you were speeding) you have to spend £1000+ on an expert report. The expert's duty is to the court, not to the person who pays him. The chances are (especially if you accept the speed alleged), the expert will say the device was working just fine. So that’s £1000+ wasted.

If the expert expresses a concern about the workings of the device and suggests this may have affected its reliability, then game on.

Well, not necessarily. You can’t ambush the prosecution at court with expert evidence. You have to serve it well before trial. If you get an expert report, the prosecution will get one too. When they do they send you a letter saying that if you lose they will look to you for the costs of their expert.

And for some reason, CPS (Crown Prosecution Services) speed detection device experts seem to cost at least four times what our experts cost.

So you’re now in for around £5000-6000 if you lose, plus fines and court costs on top. And let’s not forget this chap admitted speeding and was facing three points and a £100 fine...

So you get an expert, the prosecution get an expert and we all turn up at court on the big day. The police officer gives his evidence and takes a day out of his normal duties to be there. The experts give their evidence. Then you go in the dock on oath.

The first question from the CPS in cross examination will be "Do you admit speeding?"

Now if you’ve told your motoring solicitor that you do admit to speeding, you can’t ask your solicitor to lie as they would be professionally embarrassed and would have to remove themselves from the case. They cannot stand by whilst you mislead the court. Also you would be committing perjury, which most people are not prepared to do.

If your answer is yes (you do admit to speeding), the prosecution lawyer will sit down again. You've just confessed! If the court accepts you were not going as fast as alleged you will still be convicted and get three points; that's the minimum for speeding. But you’ll still be liable to pay all those costs…

The reason we advise many people to take it on the chin is precisely because we’re expert motoring solicitors; we’re not rogues who are just after your money. Our integrity and reputation long term is far more important.

So as far as our kind caller is concerned, we've just saved him thousands of pounds. It’s just a shame he doesn't realise it.


Legal advice insert.jpg

  FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Patterson Law to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

 

Why you need to find the right motoring lawyer

Some lawyers are not very good; we’ve had some recent horror stories recently where people have been represented by lawyers who claim to be experts in road traffic law. Those so-called experts have turned out to be anything but, which is why we’ve been left to pick up the pieces and sort out the mess.

For example, somebody came to us recently, because they’d been arrested for drink driving on private land. The duty solicitor looked up the law on Google in front of the client then advised a guilty plea. What he’d failed to appreciate is that you can’t be guilty of this offence on private land! We had to take the matter all the way to the Crown court to force the magistrates to reopen the case, and ultimately our client was found not guilty. 

The duty solicitor looked up the law on Google in front of the client then advised a guilty plea.

In another case, a driver was advised to plead guilty to failing to provide a specimen at the roadside to test for drink driving. He was religious fasting at the time and hadn’t had a drink. A panic attack at the roadside meant he couldn’t breathe, so he was arrested and the custody sergeant released him immediately as she did not agree there was a reasonable suspicion that he had been drinking.

However, he was then charged with failing to supply at the roadside. He was represented by a private barrister at court who charged him £1400. The barrister was instructed by a solicitor who had in turn been instructed by the client. The client was sentenced to a mandatory 12-month ban – but failing to provide at the roadside carries four points and not a mandatory ban! We took the case to the Crown Court on appeal and won.

Our most recent case was won at trial on the basis of an automatism defence to driving without due care and attention. Automatism is an act performed unconsciously; it’s an involuntary movement of a person's body or limbs, uncontrolled by any function of conscious will.

Our client, an HGV driver, sneezed and then clipped a lorry parked in a layby. The original solicitor didn’t explore this issue properly and advised a guilty plea, which led to our client losing his job. We reopened the plea and the magistrates found him not guilty.

These are just three cases from the many we’ve dealt with, which show why it’s not wise to instruct a lawyer who doesn’t genuinely specialise in the area of law concerned – and even then you have to be careful. Not all lawyers are the same and not all lawyers are good at what they do.


Legal advice insert.jpg

  FirstCar's legal expert is Emma Patterson, who runs Patterson Law, which specialises in motoring cases. If you've got a legal question, email us at info@firstcar.co.uk and we'll get Patterson Law to answer it for you. If you need the advice or representation of a great motoring lawyer, you can contact Emma or one of her colleagues, through her website.

Drink driving: the facts

The last time you went out on the lash, did you jump into your car within a few hours, to commute to work? Chances are, you were boozing until the early hours of the morning, grabbed a few hours’ kip then set off in your car.

The assumption is often made that no matter how sloshed you get, as long as you grab a bit of sleep – even if it’s just an hour or two – the alcohol in your system will magically disappear. But of course it doesn’t, which is why so many drivers lose their licence as a result of ‘morning after’ testing. 

Get caught over the limit and the penalties are severe

At the moment, the UK has the lowest rate of alcohol-related deaths in Europe; around one in six fatalities on our roads is because of driving over the limit. But as a young driver, statistically you’re more likely to take a chance than somebody more experienced, and an increasing number of drivers are falling foul of the law.

Get caught over the limit and the penalties are severe; drink driving is easily one of the most serious offences in the book, with an automatic 12-month ban for first-time offenders. Get caught a second time and you’ll be walking for at least three years.

Breathlyser myths 

  • Strong coffee will sober me up: Only time rids your body of alcohol. Caffeine in coffee can’t keep you alert and restore judgment.

  • Bigger people can handle their alcohol better: Body size can affect the rate alcohol is absorbed, but individual metabolism, the amount of rest you’ve had and when you last ate are key factors too.

  • Drink lots of water: A breathalyser measures the alcohol in the air in your lungs, so this one’s a non-starter.

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Drink survival guide 

  • Don’t try to calculate if you’ve consumed enough to tip you over the drink-drive limit.

  • Drinks poured at home are usually larger than pub measures – don’t underestimate how much you’ve had.

  • If you drive to a party and drink more than you expected to, don’t risk it. Book yourself a taxi or arrange for a friend or family member to collect you.

  • If you’re involved in a crash you’ll be breathalysed – don’t risk it.

  • A drinking session the night before can easily put you over the legal limit the following morning. Organise alternative travel plans for the next day.

  • If you know someone has been drinking, don’t let them drive – and definitely don’t let them give you a lift home.

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Killer fact 
Drink a pint of strong lager and it’ll take up to three hours before you can drive; a couple of large glasses of wine and it can be up to eight hours.

The Law 
Driving, or attempting to drive while affected by drink, or with excess drink in your system leads to a minimum 12-month ban, which becomes three years if you’re caught twice within 10 years. You can face either six months in the slammer or a £5000 fine, and in more serious cases, both. You’ll also have between three and 11 points slapped on your licence.

Too much alcohol means anything over 80mg of booze per 100ml of blood, something which would be tested at the station after an initial breath test. Refusal to provide a sample, unless there’s medical proof that you can’t, has the same punishments as providing samples above the legal limit – although driving bans can often be six months longer, as an extra deterrent for trying to pull a fast one. Kill someone due to drink driving and you face ten years behind bars and an unlimited fine.

 

Distractions and their consequences

The most common reason for crashing your car is being distracted, and is it any wonder when there are so many things to divert your attention?

Even the most accomplished multi-tasker can focus on only so many things – but then driving already involves constant multi-tasking, so why make it even harder for yourself?

It’s a scenario that Chris Jones knows all about. He’s an accident investigator in the south west of England, and he’s had to piece together some pretty grim crashes. He comments: “A disproportionate number of the crashes I have to investigate are caused by young drivers, with inattention a key factor in most of them. It’s this, combined with a lack of experience, that proves such an explosive cocktail. 

A disproportionate number of the crashes I have to investigate are caused by young drivers, with inattention a key factor in most of them


“Sometimes I have an injured occupant or two who can help me work out what went wrong, but too often I’m called to a crash scene where there are no survivors and there are several unknowns. In such instances, it’s inattention that tends to come out as the most common reason for a collision.

"When I’m sifting through the charred remains of a supermini, I often think to myself – can switching the radio station or sending a text really be worth such a high price? Of course it can’t, but there’s no second chance for the drivers who get it wrong”.

The penalties

If you’re convicted of careless driving or driving without due care and attention, you can be fined up to five grand and get 3-9 points. Kill somebody and you can be imprisoned for up to 14 years and given an unlimited fine. You’ll automatically be banned for two years as well.

Watch the video

One of the most imaginative films we've seen in ages is Amey's TwoSecondMistake; the short film is brilliantly done, while there are also separate interviews too.

Pay attention!

According to Volvo, 93% of crashes are caused by some kind of driver inattention, and in nearly half of those collisions, the driver was so distracted they didn’t take any kind of evasive action before impact.

Face the music

The music you listen to can have a massive effect on how you drive. according to confused.com, classical music is likely to make you drive erratically, hip-hop makes you drive aggressively and you’ll probably drive too fast if you listen to heavy metal. Fast beats can lead to you focusing more on the music than on the road, while listening to music you don’t like can cause stress and distraction which can cause you to drive more erratically.

The most common distractions 
•    Texting - 51% 
•    Talking on phone - 45% 
•    Changing radio/CD player - 40.4% 
•    Staring at an accident - 39.8% 
•    Eating or drinking - 37% 
•    Children in the car - 36% 
•    Chatting to a passenger - 32.3% 
•    Road rage - 32% 
•    Having an argument - 31% 
•    Lighting a cigarette - 29%

*According to an Autoglass survey of 3000 drivers

Drug driving: the effects and the penalties

If your eyes lit up the first time your instructor asked you to make sure you had the right gear, you may have misunderstood him.

You see, he wasn’t making any references to anything you may have had stashed in your pockets; he was simply making sure you were using the car’s controls correctly. One of the key reasons he wouldn’t have been asking you about your recreational drug habits is because they don’t really mix with driving – whatever your mates may tell you 

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t get caught when driving with drugs in your system

Also, don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t get caught when driving with drugs in your system, because not only can the police easily tell when you’re on a high, but the penalties are exactly the same as if you get caught over the alcohol limit.

If a driver is stopped because they’re suspected of having drugs in their system, they can be subjected to roadside tests which will quickly establish whether they’re doped up – or just a bit dopey.

Regardless of what those roadside tests show, a driver can still be subjected to breath and blood tests down the local nick. However, even without these, it’s possible for the police to prosecute – and for you to lose your licence – on the strength of the roadside tests.

Staying off the drugs isn’t just a good idea to keep your licence – and car – intact though. if you crash your car while high on illegal drugs, and you’re seriously injured, the first thing a paramedic will need to do is put a load of prescription drugs into your system.

What they don’t have time to do is test for all the illegal drugs that might already be in the bloodstream, so those life-saving drugs end up becoming ineffective – or even worse, causing more problems than they solve. So it’s a bit of a double whammy; take drugs and you’re more likely to crash your car. Then, when the ambulance turns up, those same drugs could prevent the crew from saving your life.

The penalties

Causing death by carelss driving when under the influence of drugs carries a maximum 14-year prison sentence, a minimum two-year driving ban and a requirement to pass an extended driving test. Just get caught driving after taking drugs and you face: 

  • A minimum 12-month driving ban.

  • A criminal record.

  • A fine of up to £5000.

  • Up to six months in prison.

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Web watch

Want to know more about drugs and their effects? Then check out these sites: 

The drugs

Crystal meth 

Crystal meth (crystal methamphetamine) is a powerful stimulant that can be effective for 2-20 hours. Just some of its effects include:

  • Paranoia, aggressiveness and anxiety

  • Mood disturbance

  • Hallucinations and psychosis

  • Mixed with other drugs, the results can be devastating

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Ecstasy

Ecstasy is made up of a mixture of drugs; different tablets contain different amounts of the active ingredient MDMA, which has a huge influence on the nature and strength of the effects, which are: 

  • Increased sensitivity to surroundings

  • Sound, colour and emotions are more intense

  • An initial rush of nervousness, and uncertainty

  • Paranoia and confusion

  • Brain damage, potentially

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Ketamine

Ketamine is an anaesthetic with painkilling and hallucinogenic properties which is intended to be used by vets as a sedative and anaesthetic. Take one of these and you can look forward to: 

  • Numbness and the effect of removing you from a sense of reality

  • Out of body experiences, hallucinations and temporary paralysis

  • Serious breathing problems, unconsciousness or heart failure

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Cannabis

Cannabis is a relaxant; just a bit of this with a small amount of alcohol will magnify the effects. The most intense effects last at least 2-4 hours. It causes: 

  • Slower reaction times and sleepiness.

  • Distorted perception, reduced concentration and forgetfulness.

  • Impaired coordination and blurred vision.

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Cocaine

Cocaine is a stimulant of the mind which may make you feel very alert for about an hour. During this time you may react inappropriately, then as the effect wears off the danger of falling asleep is high. Combining cocaine with alcohol or other drugs can produce unexpected and dangerous effects. It causes: 

  • Over confidence leading to increased risk taking.

  • Distorted perception.

  • Erratic behaviour and paranoia.

  • Enlarged pupils.

  • Auditory hallucinations.

Fatigue and driving: a lethal mix

After being continually awake for 18 hours, your driving ability is worse than that of a drunk driver.

Get up at 7am, stay awake all day and go out in the evening, and by the time you drive home at 1am, you’re at serious risk.

Leave it till 2, 3 or 4am and it’s even worse. Your driving will be affected by lack of sleep well before you notice you’re getting tired. 

It’s not just how long you’ve been awake that matters, it’s how much sleep you had the night before

Your reactions will be slower. You’ll be less alert. If someone pulls out in front of your car, your brain just won’t process the information quickly enough – you’re less likely to brake in time and more likely to crash. And that’s assuming you don’t fall asleep entirely.

Ivan Stafford, of Leicestershire Constabulary’s Serious Collision Unit, comments: “Fatigue and falling asleep at the wheel can affect anyone. When it does happen anyone who doesn’t kill themselves, usually ends up in court because they’ve killed someone else.”

It’s not just how long you’ve been awake that matters, it’s how much sleep you had the night before. The need for sleep varies from one person to another, but eight hours is common, and a minimum of seven hours is usually needed for optimum performance. If you get less than five hours’ sleep, your driving ability will be badly affected – and if you get too little sleep night after night, the effect will build up.

There are lots of mythical remedies for feeling sleepy, from sucking lemons, to holding money out of the window or even trapping your hair in the sun roof! These are not going to stop you having an accident, and neither will cold air on your face, loud music, taking a walk or sheer willpower. There is only one really effective way to reduce sleepiness – and that’s to sleep.

Web watch

motoringassist.com/fatigue

If you’re driving and you start to feel tired… 

  • Get plenty of rest before you set off.

  • Avoid alcohol before any journey - even a small amount can make you more tired.

  • Take regular and proper breaks - a 15-minute break for every two hours of driving.

  • Caffeinated drinks can help boost energy but they take 20 minutes to have an effect.

  • Avoid heavy meals before and during journeys, especially at lunch time.

  • If you can, share long journeys with another driver - alternating driving and resting.

  • If necessary, schedule an overnight stop for really long drives.

  •  

Killer facts 

  • There are two fatigue hot spots for most of us: 3am-5am and 2pm-4pm. These slots see the most fatigue-related crashes, so if you’re set for a long drive early in the afternoon, don’t assume you’re ready for it.

  • Someone with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) above 0.08% is considered too drunk to drive. But after an 18-hour day without sleep, your driving ability is similar to that of a driver with a BAC of 0.10%: well over the legal limit.

  • There are two peaks of sleepiness: the early hours of the morning and the middle of the afternoon. For younger drivers, it’s 2am to 6am that’s the most dangerous time.

  • It’s not just heavy eyes and yawning that are signs of driver fatigue; you might feel fidgety and irritable, or find yourself daydreaming – or even see things jumping out into the road, only to realise you were imagining them. If you have any of these symptoms, stop and take a rest. You can’t fight tiredness by sheer willpower. It won’t work.

Mobile phones - a killer

 

We’ve all done it. You hear that bleep and your curiosity gets the better of you; you just have to see what the message says. So you divert your attention from the road ahead and take a quick look; with a bit of luck you’ll be okay.

But if you text at the wheel often enough, you’ll take your eyes off the road just when you really shouldn’t – and the penalties could be seriously heavy.

Philipa Curtis discovered exactly that; she was too busy texting to see that 24-year old Victoria McBryde was by the side of the A40, having broken down. Curtis diverted her attention from the road ahead only briefly, but it was long enough to kill another driver.

Curtis was found guilty of dangerous driving and jailed for 21 months, after it became evident that on her two-hour journey she’d sent and received around 20 texts. McBryde’s car would have been visible for eight seconds before the impact, yet Curtis didn’t react. That means Curtis was driving blind for 250 metres at 70mph; she got away very lightly with 21 months.

Not so smart

According to the RAC, for drivers aged 18-24: 

  • 48% use a smartphone while driving.

  • 24% access Messenger or Twitter

  • 21% text while driving

  • 8% play games while driving.

  • 82% 24 reckon using a smartphone while driving is dangerous

  • 14% claim they’re perfectly safe using their mobile while driving.

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Give us a quote 

“At 70mph your car travels the length of six double-decker buses every two seconds. If someone told you to close your eyes at that speed for that length of time you’d think they were crazy – yet people are doing virtually the same thing by taking their eyes of the road to look at phones.”

The RAC’s Adrian Tink

The penalty

Get caught using a mobile while driving and it’s an automatic three points plus a £60 fine; the penalty is the same if you’re driving badly while using a hands-free. Cause an accident while using a mobile and the penalties can be far more severe.

Watch the video

One of the most imaginative films we've seen in ages is Amey's TwoSecondMistake; the short film is brilliantly done, while there are also separate interviews too.

Wheel life

A woman who killed a man as she sent a text message while driving was jailed for three years. Susan Noble was driving on the A19 when she crashed into a stationary car at the side of the road. Alexandru Braninschi, who was standing at the side of the stationary vehicle at the time, was killed. Noble admitted causing death by dangerous driving; police secured clear evidence that she was using a mobile phone to exchange text messages with a friend. She was also disqualified from driving for six years and will have to take an extended driving test.

Tweeting madness

According to the IAM, using smartphones for social networking while driving slows reaction times by up to 37%. Despite the dangers, 24% of drivers aged 17-24 admit to doing it. The IAM’s tweeting hall of shame: 

  • @bellyki Here lies Isobel. She perished while simultaneously eating a whole packet of Percy Pigs, driving down the M3 and tweeting about it.

  • @sacksy1 If I'm ever in an accident while driving and tweeting and you're the first person to arrive on the scene, grab my phone and press "Send."

  • @GSpace7 Multi-tasking: Driving, Tweeting & Brushing my hair. I do it. If I die remember me like John Lennon.

  • @A_Ishaq who said guys can't multi-task..tweeting,@ watching match n driving wow lol

  • @tchudson Im driving, tweeting, smoking, talking and listening to @BBCR1 Ill listen to it via the #beatswhen I stop breaking the law. Safe!

Morning after drinkers on the rise

Morning after drinkers on the rise insert.jpg

According to insurance company LV, an increasing number of drivers are being caught over the drink drive limit, having gone out on the lash the night before.

Figures collated by the company show that the number of drivers arrested between 6am and 8am – for being over the drink drive limit – increased from 350 in 2011 to 363 in 2012.

The data was collected from 22 of the 45 police forces across England and Wales, so the picture isn’t complete – but it indicates a worrying trend of drivers failing to think about the dangers of driving too soon after a heavy night out. 

When caught over the limit, the typical morning after driver is still five hours away from being sober enough to drive

Even more worrying is the fact that when caught over the limit, the typical morning after driver is still five hours away from being sober enough to drive.

As well as quizzing police forces, LV also surveyed 1688 drivers and found that: 

  • 37% said driving the following morning was "unavoidable"
  • 26% said they were driving only a short distance
  • 7% thought it was acceptable to drive if they were not on a motorway
  • 13% thought they were only slightly over the limit so it didn’t matter
  • Men are more than three times as likely as women to be caught out
  • On average, morning after drivers consume 19 units of alcohol
  • Thames Valley Police made the highest number of arrests - 4783 - for drink-driving between 2011 and 2012.

According to LV, within the past year one in 30 drivers has got behind the wheel while over the limit – that equates to over one million motorists.

A key problem is the lack of awareness among drivers about how long it takes alcohol to leave their system. When asked how long it would take someone who has drunk two pints of strong lager or six units of alcohol, to process the alcohol and be under the drink drive limit, 46% underestimated the time or had no idea.

The law says that a driver can have a maximum of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, 35mg per 100ml of breath or 107mg per 100ml of urine. This equates to about four units for an average man and two to three units for an average woman, and if a person has more than this in their system, they would be over the legal limit to drive.

Generally, it takes about an hour for the body to break down one unit of alcohol, but alcohol tolerance depends on a number of factors including a person’s age, weight, gender and metabolism.

So far in 2013, the drunkest driver was arrested by Bedfordshire Police and had 299mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath – meaning they were more than eight times over the legal limit.

For more about drink driving, check out our page on the subject.

The law on wearing a seatbelt

If you run as fast as you can, into a wall, it’s gonna hurt. It’s the same when the front of your car hits something at just 15mph.

The car stops in the first tenth of a second, but you keep moving forward at the same rate the car had been moving – until something stops you. Like the steering wheel, dashboard or windscreen. This is at 15mph; crank that up to 30mph and the impact is four times as hard; it’s the same impact you'd feel if you fell three stories. Ouch.

This is why it’s so important to belt up before you set off; fail to do so and you could end up disabled for the rest of your life – or worse. 

You’re twice as likely to die in a crash if you’re not wearing a seat belt

Killer facts 

  • You’re twice as likely to die in a crash if you’re not wearing a seat belt.

  • Those aged 17-34 are the least likely to bother belting up – but the most likely to crash.

The law

Get caught driving while not wearing a belt and your licence stays clean – but you’ll be fined. As the driver, you’re responsible for wearing your own belt plus ensuring your passengers have theirs on too. That’s unless they’re over 14 – then they’re responsible for themselves. You can be fined up to 500 quid, although a £30 fixed penalty fine is more usual. There are a few exemptions, but the only one likely to apply is if you’re reversing your car. For all the gen, check out lawontheweb.co.uk/seatbelts

Key point

If you think you don’t need to wear a seatbelt because your car has airbags, think again. The proper term for an airbag is a Supplementary Restraint System (SRS) – supplementary meaning ‘in addition to’. That’s in addition to the seatbelt!

Taking a back seat

Most people will put on their seat belt when travelling in the front seats, but around 24% admit they sometimes don’t bother when travelling in the back. You’re risking serious injury by not doing so – even when sitting in the rear seats. For good reasons, it’s a legal requirement to wear a seat belt, if one is fitted, when travelling in either the front or the back of a car.

Do it right

For a seat belt to work properly, it needs to be correctly adjusted. Here’s how… 

  • Make sure it’s not twisted.

  • Position it so the lap belt sits as low as possible over your hips and doesn’t ride up over your stomach; heavy clothing can push the belt up too high.

  • The shoulder belt should lie across your chest – over your shoulder away from your neck. If the car has a seat belt with an adjustable top mounting point, adjust it so the belt sits comfortably across your chest.

  • Don’t put the shoulder belt under your arm. In a crash, this could lead to very serious injury.

  • Make sure there’s no slack in the belt. It can only work properly if it’s snug across your body at the start of an accident. Rear lap belts (and other non-automatic belts) should be adjusted to fit close and low over your hips.

  • Never put an adult seat belt around two people; it could lead to serious injuries, with the two people crushed together in a crash.

  • It’s okay to tilt your seat slightly backwards but don’t recline it too far. In a crash, it’s possible for the driver or passenger to slide forward and under the belt, if the seat leans too far back.

  • Airbags are designed to be used with seat belts. They’re not substitutes.

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The Honest Truth road safety campaign

It’s a sad fact that every year, dozens of young people are killed on UK roads. What’s just as depressing is the fact that most of these deaths go unnoticed by anyone other than friends and family.  

But when three young people were killed in a car crash in July 2009 it would have more far-reaching implications, as this event would lead to directly the launch of a UK-wide road safety initiative called The Honest Truth. 

The collision happened in Averton Gifford in Devon and those killed were aged 9, 17 and 18. As you’d expect, the emergency services were heavily involved in dealing with the aftermath of the crash, and they decided it was time to try to tackle the issue of youngsters dying on our roads for once and for all. 

A partnership was set up between the fire & rescue services, the police, plus representatives from the local authority and community safety. So far, so predictable. But this time there was an added dimension – the inclusion of approved driving instructors (ADIs). And why not? Driving instructors are at the heart of road safety and giving people the best possible start to their driving careers. 

Until the arrival of The Honest Truth, ADIs focused pretty much exclusively on the mechanics of driving. So you’d be technically competent at test time, knowing how to negotiate a roundabout or turn in the road, but you probably wouldn’t know all about the dangers of mobile phone use at the wheel or the consequences of drink driving. The Honest Truth set out to change that.

Eve's brother Tom was drunk when he crashed into a tree at speed. The car caught fire and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Eve speaks frankly about how the crash affected those left behind

Set up with just 25 ADIs and covering only the Devon area, The Honest Truth was a low-key programme initially. But with input from so many road safety professionals, it was a scheme that was bound to grow, as word spread about its effectiveness. Within less than two years there were over 300 ADIs involved across Devon and Cornwall, and that figure has now mushroomed to more than 1200 nationwide. 

One of the reasons for the tremendous success of The Honest Truth is the instantly recognisable imagery that it uses. Instead of depicting people in a conventional way, each type of driver is given the identity of an animal – and the traits that go with it. 

So the habitual mobile phone user is a parrot, the insurance dodger an ass (donkey), while a peacock represents drivers who feel the need to show off. If you’re hooked on speeding you’re a cheetah, while if you refuse to wear a seatbelt you’re a rhinoceros. Conventional it isn’t, but there’s no denying the campaign is eye-catching and memorable.  

So if you’re an ADI, check out The Honest Truth website to see how you can get involved. 

If you’re learning to drive, you can go to the same website and find out where there’s an ADI near you, who is signed up to the scheme and who can make sure that you get the best possible – and safest – start to your driving career.

The most common causes of car crashes

The most common causes of car crashes insert.jpg

Every week, around 35 people die on UK roads. If you’re shocked by that statistic, you should be; nearly half a dozen deaths every day is not a number to be comfortable with, yet our roads are among the safest in the world – and they’re generally safer than they’ve ever been.

Crash investigator Steve Cox comments: “The number one cause of accidents is failing to look properly, which accounts for over a third of all collisions; a couple of extra seconds checking before manoeuvring can make the difference between life and death”. 

The number one cause of accidents is failing to look properly

Next on the hit list is failing to judge another driver’s path or speed. Steve sheds light: “This is often combined with failing to look properly; it’s simply not giving yourself enough time to prepare for the manoeuvre you’re about to make.

"The classic scenario is a driver pulling out of a junction because they reckon it’s safe, when it isn’t – this often happens because a driver glances very swiftly left and right and pulls out of a junction without quite stopping first. Again, an extra couple of seconds weighing up the situation is all that’s needed to prevent a potentially fatal situation from arising”.

Almost as common a cause of crashes is being careless, reckless or in a hurry; once again not focusing enough on the surroundings. Steve explains: “Instead of holding back and weighing up the situation, this is about keeping that pedal to the metal and driving into a situation which you would have seen unfolding if only you’d given it a bit more time.

"I recently investigated a case where a young driver overtook a stationary bus in an urban street. Instead of being cautious, the driver ploughed on at 30mph – into a young child which had broken free from its mother. The child was killed and while it wasn’t the driver’s fault, more caution could have made all the difference”.

Number crunching

These are the 10 most common reasons for crashes in the UK, in order; speeding sits outside the top 10 for drivers as a whole, but those aged 17-24 are much more likely to crash from driving too fast for the conditions. 

  • Failed to look properly 42%

  • Failed to judge other person's path or speed 21%

  • Careless, reckless or in a hurry 16%

  • Loss of control 14%

  • Poor turn or manoeuvre 14%

  • Pedestrian failed to look properly 10%

  • Slippery road (due to weather) 10%

  • Sudden braking 7%

  • Travelling too fast for the conditions 7%

  • Following too close 7%

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Killer facts

The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) looked at 250,000 crashes over a six-year period and found: 

  • Men are twice as likely to crash as women.

  • Drivers under 25 are particularly likely to be in a collision.

  • The risk of being in a crash peaks immediately after passing the test, and gradually reduces over the following year.

  • Those who drive old cars are most likely to be involved in a smash.

  • Friday and Saturday nights are peak times

  • Rural roads present a particular danger – young drivers are especially likely to be caught out by bends on country roads.

  • Young men are 10 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a car crash than those aged 35 or over.

The UK's most dangerous roads

If you were given the option of an ultra-dangerous road to get home tonight, or a really safe one, which would you choose?

Unless you’re an adrenalin junkie, the chances are you’d take the safe option; after all, you’re probably keen to see your next birthday. The thing is, how do you know whether your journey home tonight is likely to be event-free or likely to end in disaster? 

Of the 833 roads assessed in the UK, 23 were so bad they achieved no stars in the ratings

The answer is to check out the EuroRAP website, and specifically the pages which cover the UK, as this is where you can find out just how dangerous the UK’s major roads are.

You’ve probably never given it much thought before, but if the markings on a road have virtually disappeared, or there’s a junction hidden round the bend on a fast road, there’s a pretty good chance of a smash at some point.

The thing is, your lack of experience behind the wheel means it’s you who is more likely to be in that smash than someone who already knows just how poorly engineered many of our roads are.

After months of research, EuroRAP (the European Road Assessment Programme) discovered that the most dangerous road in the UK is Scotland’s A889, which has an accident rate almost double that of the next most dangerous road, the A537 from Macclesfield in Cheshire to Buxton in Derbyshire.

If you’re based in Southern England, don’t think all the danger is up north though; the third most dangerous road is a short section of the A12 between Romford in Essex and the M25.

Of the 833 roads assessed in the UK, 23 were so bad they achieved no stars in the ratings. Another 90 received just one star, while another 213 were awarded a mere two stars. With 415 getting three stars, the worrying thing is that of all the roads surveyed, just 92 UK roads were given the maximum four-star score.

If that’s just a load of meaningless figures, put it this way: you’re ten times more likely to have a smash on a zero-star road than one with four stars. Do you still think all roads are the same?The research didn’t just look at how many crashes occur on any given stretch of road; they also take into account how much traffic uses those roads.

Hopefully, this will allow designers to re-engineer roads to reduce the number of crashes, and especially the four most likely to end in death or serious injury. These are head-on crashes, accidents at junctions, collisions with vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists), and vehicles hitting objects at the side of the road.

Each year in the UK, 500 people die from crashing into trees, lampposts, signs and other roadside hazards; by fencing these off or removing them, this number could be dramatically cut.

Indeed, by sticking to a set of road engineering guidelines, it’s hoped to slash in half the number of people killed on Europe’s roads each year.

John Dawson is chairman of EuroRAP; he comments: "We have to make roads more forgiving – human error shouldn't carry a death sentence. People should not be dying on major routes because basic protection is absent from entirely predictable collisions, such as with unfenced roadside objects.

“The EuroNCAP car crash test programme has done wonders for car occupant safety in a few short years, but we have some major roads around Europe which fall so far short of known safe design that they give little margin for survival in the event of a simple driver error, whatever car you're in.

“We cannot demand five-star cars from manufacturers and then settle for one-star roads. The cars we drive, the way we drive and the roads we drive them on are all part of a single safety system”.

The UK’s most dangerous roads… 

  • A889: A86 - A9 (near Dalwhinnie)

  • A537: Macclesfield - Buxton

  • A12: Romford - M25

  • A4137: A49 - A40 (west of Ross-on-Wye)

  • A628: A616 - Penistone

  • A1001: Hatfield

  • A534: Welsh boundary - Nantwich

  • A533: Runcorn - A56

  • A682: M65 Junction 13 - A65 Long Preston

  • A13 (now A1306): Aveley A1306 - M25

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The hidden dangers

It doesn’t take much to turn a dangerous road into one that’s safe; you just need:

  • Clear markings

  • Decent lighting

  • Anti-skid surfaces

  • Legible signs

  • Clear traffic lights

  • Pedestrian crossings

  • Good sight lines

Why breaking the speed limit is a bad idea

Despite everything you hear, speed does not kill. Necessarily. Drag racers, Formula One drivers and land speed record heroes are testament to this fact.

But while speed on its own rarely kills, combine it with something else and you’ve potentially got a surefire recipe for disaster. For example, it might be perfectly safe to drive at 60mph on a fast rural road with good visibility, but how do you know you’ve got good visibility? 

You might think you can work out a safe speed for the conditions, but hazards often lurk that you might not know about

Can you guarantee that something won’t come out of that gate from the field, that there isn’t a pedestrian just out of view or some diesel hasn’t been spilled on the bend you’re approaching?

Then there are the things within your control. Load your car up with mates and the handling – plus the stopping distances – will be adversely affected. Reach for the radio or get involved in a conversation at just the wrong moment, and it could be curtains.

Then there are the issues of mobiles, slowed reaction times from having had a drink and handling screwed up because your tyres are bald or under-inflated. Throw a few of these factors into the mix and just an extra few miles an hour really can make the difference between life and death.

That’s why speed on its own isn’t guaranteed to harm anyone, but adding the word ‘inappropriate’ to the mix puts a whole new complexion on things. That’s why we have speed limits; you might think you can work out a safe speed for the conditions, but hazards often lurk that you might not know about – and which mean you need to take it carefully.

The problem with speed limits is that they’re often seen as a target rather than a maximum; falling into that trap can prove fatal. Also, while we’re all taught to obey speed limits, some drivers assume they only have to ensure they don’t exceed the number on the sign and they’ll be safe. That’s not the case though; a skilled driver will take into account a stack of other factors, such as the weather conditions and whether or not there are other road users around.

Paying the penalty

If you’re not driving like a complete idiot, but you’re caught driving over the speed limit, you’ll be fined 60 notes and given three points. Two of those and if you’ve passed your test within the last two years, you’re walking for the next year; to get your licence back, you’ll also have to take an extended driving test.

You might be offered a speed awareness course instead, typically for £90, but without the points. Such courses aren’t available everywhere, not everybody gets the option, and you can attend one of these courses only once every three years.

If you receive a summons for speeding and you're sure a mistake has been made, check out our page on how to deal with a speeding ticket.

Excuses

Camera partnerships have heard them all; don’t try to wriggle out of a fine by trying any of these: 

  • I picked up a hitchhiker who commented that they liked my car so I let ‘this person’ drive the vehicle. I don’t have their name or address.

  • My car was stolen overnight and returned to the same point. I didn’t report it, as the first thing I knew was when a summons for speeding turned up.

  • I was in the airport’s flight path and I believe the camera was triggered by a jet overhead, not my car.

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