Part Two: Highway Code Confusion

Blog post posted on 29/07/21 |

Opening doors without checking first

Do you always check to make sure the road is clear before opening your door? Not just your mirrors but the surrounding areas. Despite the Highway Code stating that you MUST check before opening your car door, this rule is often ignored and is to blame for thousands of accidents every year. Do you remember being taught about

Dutch Reach by your driving instructor?

Dutch Reach, is not currently included in the Highway Code, despite excitement over recent years that it might be added. We are still waiting. However, Rule 239 says you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when opening your door

To refresh your memory Dutch Reach is a simple technic taught to help you open

your car door safely. Instead of using the hand closest to the door, it means reaching across to open the door with the hand furthest from the door - your left hand if you're the driver. This naturally turns your body towards the window, helping you spot approaching cyclists, other cars, or hazards. 

Road signs

The Highway Code is the rule book, it’s the most important book and tells you what you must and must not do. Failure to do so can result in fines, convictions and even a prison sentence in extreme circumstances. However, it’s not a standalone education piece, you also need ‘Know Your Traffic Signs’ when learning to drive or ride to understand what all the different Road Signs mean.  Difficult even for experienced drivers, it’s key to ensure you do the same to refresh your knowledge. Generally, signs set in triangles give warnings, those in circles give orders and information is given on rectangular signs. Road markings painted on the surface of the road also serve the same purpose as signs and should be understood by road users too. Failure to obey will have consequences for road safety and penalties.

Flashing headlights unnecessarily

This is a Highway Code Rule that nearly every driver has ignored (or forgotten!) at some point. When there’s no other way to communicate with other drivers, a quick flash of the headlights to say thank you or to communicate in some way is just as tempting as it is easy. But did you know that flashing your headlights for any reason other than to let another driver know you’re there is contravening Rule 110 of Highway Code? How many of you put your hazard indicators on for a few seconds to thank someone for letting you in? Technically it's illegal to use hazard flashers for anything other than indicating a hazard - and illegal on a moving vehicle except on a motorway or unrestricted dual carriageway to warn drivers behind you of a hazard or obstruction ahead.

Crossing the white line

Although many of us will forget at least some of the Highway Code rules after passing our driving tests, every driver knows that you cannot cross a solid white line. There are a few times when this code can be broken – obviously to turn right and at other times such as to overtake a horse, bicycle or a road maintenance vehicle travelling 10 mph or less - but this rule is often ignored at other times as well.


There are two instances when it’s okay to pass a vehicle on the left: when the other vehicle is turning right or when stuck in congested traffic. Yet this rule is often ignored, and we’ve all seen a car undertake another at some point, especially on busy motorways. Do not move left to overtake. However, Rule 268 allows you in congested conditions to keep up with traffic in your lane even if you are passing traffic to your right that is moving more slowly.

It’s not all about one type of vehicle  

The Highway Code as detailed above isn’t just for one type of vehicle.

I’m often asked about filtering as there is some confusion over it with regards to the Highway Code, should it be done? Lots of mentions including Rule 88 below on manoeuvring. All pointing to the fact that filtering is allowed if you’re careful and aware of what’s around you.

Manoeuvring. You should be aware of what is behind and to the sides before manoeuvring. Look behind you; use mirrors if they are fitted. When in traffic queues look out for pedestrians crossing between vehicles and vehicles emerging from junctions or changing lanes. Position yourself so that drivers in front can see you in their mirrors. Additionally, when filtering in slow-moving traffic, take care and keep your speed low.

Rule 160 again mentions filtering. Encouraging riders and drivers to keep both hands on the wheel or handlebars where possible, and to enable you to stay in full control of the vehicle at all times. You may use driver assistance systems while you are driving according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Be aware of other road users, especially cycles and motorcycles who may be filtering through the traffic. These are more difficult to see than larger vehicles and their riders are particularly vulnerable. Give them plenty of room, especially if you are driving a long vehicle or towing a trailer

Room for all vehicles on the road.

Rule 163 and 211 recommend caution for drivers about motorcyclists and cyclist. Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. Consider that motorcyclists and cyclists are going to have issues with uneven road and may need to manoeuvre away from potholes. All this adds up to Rule 163, (actually Rules 211 to 215) advising on giving motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car.

Rule 211 continues this cautious advice. It is often difficult to see motorcyclists and cyclists, especially when they are coming up from behind, coming out of junctions, at roundabouts, overtaking you or filtering through traffic. Always look out for them before you emerge from a junction; they could be approaching faster than you think. When turning right across a line of slow-moving or stationary traffic, look out for cyclists or motorcyclists on the inside of the traffic you are crossing. Be especially careful when turning, and when changing direction or lane. Be sure to check mirrors and blind spots carefully.

Remember you are not the only vehicle allowed on the road and detailed in the Highway Code so be considerate and know the rules MUST and SHOULD.

Distracted driving

Perhaps one of the most pressing issues we face in driving today is distracted drivers - even though it’s against the Highway Code. It’s something the UK government is attempting to crack down on with measures, but there are more potential distractions than ever thanks to mobile phones, tablets, and other entertainment devices (many of which are built into the car) - many of which didn’t exist when the Highway Code was first written.

Try to avoid all in-car distractions

We’re all aware of the legal requirement to keep hands well and truly off our mobile phones while in control of our vehicles. But how many of the Highway Code’s list of distractions to avoid are we squeaky clean on?

The Code reminds us that safe driving needs concentration, and to ‘avoid’ the following distractions when driving:

  • loud music (this may mask other sounds)
  • trying to read maps
  • even a hands-free device will cause a distraction
  • inserting a cassette or CD or tuning a radio
  • arguing with your passengers or other road users
  • eating and drinking
  • smoking

In short, we’re regrettably probably all guilty of violating the Code on this front from time to time.

Have you ever considered how disruptive your children, animals or partner are in the car? It only takes a second or two of distraction to cause a major accident. Think about what you can do to minimise the chances of them distracting  you in the car. Are those road spotting games as appealing now?

Driving over painted roundabouts

A painted roundabout - as opposed to a built-up roundabout - is still a roundabout, even if driving round it does feel pointless. Driving over a painted roundabout is against both the Highway Code, all traffic MUST pass around the central markings except large vehicles which are physically incapable of doing so (they are designed to slow traffic at a point of possible conflict but be non-damaging), and the law and could land you with a Fixed Penalty Notice if you get caught (failing to comply with a traffic sign).


Do you always carry your documents with you? Drivers are advised to keep their driving licence, proof of insurance and MOT (you no longer get a certificate, but records are accessible virtually to the police) to hand when behind the wheel. They will be required by the police if the vehicle is involved in an accident, however you have seven days grace so it’s not illegal. And what happens if the car is stolen? More importantly know what to do in the unfortunate event of a collision. You must make sure you supply your name, address and telephone number, the make and registration number of your vehicle, who it belongs to and details of your insurance company (in cases involving injury, you also need to collect these details from the other party involved. It is a legal requirement for both parties to exchange these details).

Now with the mobile phones it’s ideal to take a picture and if GPS is on it will record the exact location. Nowadays you might also be asked if there are any cameras in the vicinity or witnesses that can collaborate your story. So, to confirm you do not have to carry your driving licence with you when you are driving. However, it is strongly recommended. A Police Officer can ask to see your licence at any time even though this information is readily accessible to them via the Police National Computer (PNC).


The rules surrounding honking a car’s horn seem to be the most disobeyed road law. Drivers should only use them while the vehicle is moving because they need to alert or warn other road users of their presence. It is also illegal to use a horn when the vehicle is moving on a restricted road between 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m. A restricted road is anywhere with streetlights and a 30-mph speed limit. This applies to Highway Code Rule 112 with the only exception of when another road user poses danger. Drivers are not allowed to sound their horn with aggression, regardless of the situation.

Stopping distances

Drivers who sat their theory test many moons ago will remember the agony of trying to learn each individual speed’s stopping distance. Stopping (or braking) distances are how long it takes a vehicle to come to a complete stop after the driver has seen a potential hazard, from thinking to applying the brakes to coming to a complete halt. The distances have not changed but it is worth a brush-up, as they are still as important as ever.

20mph – 12m stopping distance in total.

30 mph –23m stopping distance in total.

40 mph –36m stopping distance in total.

50 mph –53m stopping distance in total.

60 mph –73m stopping distance in total.

70 mph –96m stopping distance in total.

Can you get in trouble for splashing a pedestrian with a puddle?

Yes. If a police officer catches you splashing someone at the side of the road you might be charged with ‘driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users.’

Breaking the rule could land you with 3 to 9 penalty points added to your licence for 4 years. However, if you are avoiding another hazard you might be forgiven but ultimately observation, anticipation and sound planning should prevent you from doing this.

Read part one here.