13 driving myths uncovered

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 and drive?

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?

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 smoking while driving illegal?

The answer to this one is yes, sometimes.

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.

Smoking in a car that is carrying under 18s, however, was made illegal in England as of 1 October 2015.

This is still a contentious issue, however, because while health campaigners welcomed the legislation, it was uncovered in a Freedom of Information request last year that the law is not being enforced by the majority of police forces.

4. Is it illegal to have a light on in a car while driving?

There is no law against this. However, if a police officer pulls you over and adjudges your interior light to be a driving distraction they have the right to tell you to turn it off.

5. Is it illegal to have open alcohol in a car?

No. In some American states it is, but in England it is not illegal for a passenger to drink while being driven in a car, so by default it is not illegal to have open alcohol containers in a car.

The only alcohol and driving laws relate to the UK drink-driving laws where drivers can only drive if they are under the national drink-drive limit.

It is however, illegal to drink alcohol in a car while supervising a learner driver.

6. Is it illegal to drive with headphones on?

There is no specific law per se that says it is illegal to drive while wearing headphones. But it is highly unadvisable and could in fact come under such driving offences as driving without due care and attention and careless driving, should a police officer deem it so.

Listening to very loud music through headphones could be very distracting and it could render you unable to hear traffic warnings or even ambulance sirens.

7. 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 six points on your licence and a £200 fine. It isn’t illegal to have a conversation using a hands-free mobile phone, 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.

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

Sat navs, quite simply have to be in a fixed position, either on your windscreen or your dashboard, but we recommend on your dashboard so your view isn't impeded.

This includes using your smartphone as a sat nav. For complete clarity on mobile phones behind the wheel, visit our mobile phone laws page

9. Are women better drivers than men?

This is a difficult one to answer, not least because of the issue of discrimination. According to a study from moneysupermarket.com on driving habits in rental cars, female drivers exceed the speed limit 17.5% more often than men, however, males are five times more likely to cause damage to a rental car than female motorists.

Data from an NCP survey also proved women are better at parking than male motorists, scoring 13.4 out of 20 for maneuvering compared to an average 12.3 for guys.

The real answer is, bar any new in depth study that definitively examines every possible driving factor, it is impossible to say which gender is ultimately better - there may be genetic factors we haven't uncovered but as it stands it is down to the individual not the gender.

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

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.

11. Are you allowed to drive 10 percent over the speed limit?

No. While many vehicles’ speedometers allow a 10% error in overestimation (but not underestimation) 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 even at 1mph over the limit.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) suggests police forces don’t prosecute until drivers exceed a margin of error of 10 per cent of the speed limit to take into account driver concentration, plus 2mph for speedometer error.

But this is only a suggestion, they aren't the ones who enforce the law. Ultimately the level of discretion a police officer decides to use is his or her own.

12. 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.

There are many factors to consider, it is not a cut-and-dry rule. For more help on the matter read our complete guide to the drink-driving limits.

The best advice is don’t drink any alcohol if you’re driving.

13. 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 own car insurance policy before getting behind the wheel of another car.

It should outline your level of cover and any clauses or stipulations. Failing that, check with your insurance company.