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Driving myths: your questions answered

19 Dec 2012 at 11:51

There are plenty of old wives tales and myths when it comes to driving. Now, finally, you can sleep sound or settle that argument as we’ve got the definitive answers to some of the most common questions around.

1. Is it illegal to eat when driving?

No. It’s not illegal to eat and drive at the same time. However, if you present a significant danger while snacking on the move, the police could prosecute you for careless driving if they consider you not in proper control of the vehicle.

A study by Leeds University found that motorists who ate while driving were actually 44% slower than usual…

2. Is it illegal to drink when driving?

No, not the alcoholic variety – we all know the penalties for that – but soft beverages. Similar to eating, drinking at the wheel is not illegal, but it can carry the same careless driving penalty.

The same Leeds University study found that those who took a sip of drink at the wheel were 22% slower and 18% more likely to show erratic lane control.

3. Is it illegal to smoke when driving?

Smoking at the wheel is not an offence in itself, but if it leads to careless driving it could land you in trouble with the law. In fact, if lighting your cigarette reduces your focus on the road it could go beyond careless driving and escalate to a charge of dangerous driving.

Defined as when driving standards fall far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver to a point where it is obvious that driving in that way would be dangerous, it could leave you open to 11 points on your licence and an automatic 12-month ban.

4. Is it ok to make a phone call using a hands-free system?

Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal, punishable by three points on your licence and a £60 fine. It isn’t illegal to have a conversation hands-free, however. Voice-controlled Bluetooth systems eradicate the need to touch your phone, but if you have to handle your phone to make a call, that’s breaking the law – even if you’re using a set of headphones.

It’s not the speaking that’s illegal – although it does drastically reduce your concentration – rather the physical operation of the phone.

5. What are the rules on driving with a sat nav?

The rules on using sat navs at the wheel are similar to mobile phones. Although it still reduces your concentration and reaction time, according to the Government, “You can use hands-free phones and sat navs when you’re driving. But if the police think you’re not in control of your vehicle you could still get stopped and penalised.” The same stands true for driving in less than practical footwear.

6. Are women better drivers than men?

This is a difficult one to answer, not least because of the issue of discrimination. According to recent figures from car insurance price comparison website Moneysupermarket.com, female drivers are actually 20% safer than men. Data from an NCP survey also proved women are better at parking than male motorists, scoring 13.4 out of 20 for manoeuvring compared to an average 12.3 for guys.

7. If a speed camera doesn’t flash does it mean I’ve not been caught?

The short answer is no. There are many different variations of speed camera but only the Gatso type flash to take a picture of you speeding – others catch you using infra red light while travelling towards the unit. Remember: no flash does not mean no conviction. There is a simple way to avoid being caught speeding though – stick to the limits.

8. But I can go 10% over the limit and still be ok, right?

Wrong. While many vehicles’ speedometers have a 10% error built-in, this doesn’t mean you can drive at 33mph in a 30 zone, for example. Simply put, if a police officer catches you with a mobile radar speed gun exceeding the limit, you are liable for prosecution. The level of discretion they use in dealing with you is a different matter, however.

9. How many drinks can I have and still drive?

It’s a common myth that men can have ‘a pint or two’ or women a large glass of wine and still be safe to drive afterwards. Your blood-alcohol level actually depends on many factors other than the alcoholic drinks you consume – if you’ve eaten or exercised, how tired you are, or even if you’re taking any medication can all affect how your body processes the chemical. To avoid any confusion, don’t drink if you’re driving.

10. Does my fully comprehensive insurance policy cover me to drive other cars?

In many cases, with the owner’s permission, the answer is yes. But if you’re under 25, have certain previous motoring convictions or the car you’re intending to drive is particularly unusual, you might find that you aren’t insured to drive it. The best policy is to check your policy. It should outline your level of cover and any clauses or stipulations. Failing that, check with your insurance company.