Road safety laws

Here you can find out more about the facts and road safety laws.

The facts

  • On average, three people die each day on country roads.
  • 60% of all fatalities in Great Britain occurred on rural roads in 2018.
  • The number of people killed on rural roads was more than 10 times higher than on motorways in Great Britain in 2017.
  • 10,729 people were killed or seriously injured in accidents reported to the police on rural roads in Great Britain in 2017.

The law

  • You must not drive faster than the speed limit for the type of road and your type of vehicle.
  • The speed limit is the absolute maximum and it doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive at this speed in all conditions.

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The number of people choosing to cycle for fun, fitness or to get to work has increased by more than a quarter in the last twenty years. An incredible 3.2 billion miles are cycled on our roads every year.

The aim of THINK!’s latest campaign is to raise cyclists’ awareness of the dangers of lorries turning left – the area where a third of collisions between cyclists and lorries happen.

We want to remind cyclists to ‘hang back’ at junctions to avoid getting caught between a lorry and left hand turn.

THINK! has also teamed up with the Freight Transport Association to remind HGV drivers to look out for cyclists.

The facts

  • The number of cyclists killed on our roads has fallen 30% since 2006.
  • 106 cyclists were killed and 3,397 seriously injured on our roads in 2016.
  • 90 cyclists were killed in accidents involving HGVs between 2013 and 2017 (17% of all pedal cycle fatalities).

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The facts

  • It is not possible to say how much alcohol you can drink and stay below the limit. The way alcohol affects you depends on:
    • your weight, age, sex and metabolism (the rate your body uses energy)
    • the type and amount of alcohol you’re drinking
    • what you’ve eaten recently
    • your stress levels at the time
  • So if you’re driving, it’s better to have none for the road.
  • The Institute of Advanced Motorists calculate that a drink drive conviction could cost between £20,000 – £50,000 as a result of fines, solicitors fees, increase in the cost of car insurance, and losing a job.

The law

There are strict alcohol limits for UK drivers:

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the legal alcohol limit for drivers is:

  • 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
  • 107 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine

In Scotland (from 5 December 2014), the legal alcohol limit for drivers is lower at:

  • 22 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
  • 50 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood
  • 67 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

The consequences

There are strict penalties if you are convicted of drink driving, including:

  • a minimum 12 month driving ban
  • a criminal record
  • a hefty fine
  • up to 6 months in prison
  • an endorsement on your licence for 11 years

However, this list does not reflect the everyday consequences of being caught drink driving which can include:

  • increase in car insurance costs
  • job loss
  • trouble getting in to countries like the USA
  • the shame of having a criminal record
  • loss of independence

In 2015, the drug driving law changed to make it easier for the police to catch and convict drug drivers.

The facts

  • It is now an offence to drive with any of 17 controlled drugs above a specified level in your blood – this includes illegal and medical drugs.
  • The limits set for each drug are different, and for illegal drugs the limits set are extremely low, but have been set at a level to rule out any accidental exposure (for example, through passive smoking).
  • Officers can test for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside, and screen for other drugs, including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at the police station. Even drivers that pass the roadside check can be arrested if the police suspect that your driving is impaired by drugs.

The law

The penalties for drug driving are the same as for drink driving. If you are convicted you could face:

  • a minimum 12-month driving ban
  • a criminal record
  • an unlimited fine
  • up to 6 months in prison
  • an endorsement on your driving license for 11 years

The consequences

The consequences of a drug drive conviction are far reaching and can include:

  • job loss
  • loss of independence
  • the shame of having a criminal record
  • increase in car insurance costs
  • trouble getting in to countries like the USA

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Studies have shown that drivers don’t fall asleep without warning. Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel have often tried to fight off drowsiness by opening a window, or by turning up the radio.

This doesn’t work for long.

The facts

  • Sleep-related accidents are more likely than others to result in a fatality or serious injury.
  • Peak times for accidents are in the early hours and after lunch.
  • Men under 30 have the highest risk of falling asleep at the wheel.

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Horses are large powerful animals, but they can easily panic and bolt if startled. The consequences to drivers, their car, the horse and its rider can be horrendous.

By following some basic advice, drivers and riders can help avoid accidents involving horses on the road.

The facts

  • Horses can weigh more than half a tonne – they are easily scared by noise and may panic around fast-moving vehicles.
  • 3 horse riders were killed and 117 seriously injured in road accidents between 2013 and 2017.

The facts

  • Drivers using a hands-free or handheld mobile phone are slower at recognising and reacting to hazards.
  • Research shows:
    • You are 4 times more likely to be in a crash if you use your phone.
    • Your reaction times are 2 times slower if you text and drive than if you drink drive, and this increases to 3 times if you use a handheld phone.
  • Even careful drivers can be distracted by a call or text – and a split-second lapse in concentration could result in a crash. At 30 mph a car travels 100 feet in 2.3 seconds.

The law

  • It’s illegal to use a handheld mobile when driving – including using your phone to follow a map, read a text or check social media.
  • It is also illegal to use a handheld phone or similar device when supervising a learner driver.
  • These both apply even if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.
  • You can only use a handheld phone if you are safely parked, or need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop.
  • If you’re caught using a handheld phone while driving, you’ll get 6 penalty points on your licence and a fine of £200.
  • If you get just 6 points in the first 2 years after passing your test, you will lose your licence.
  • Using a hands-free device (for example, for navigation) is not illegal. However, if this distracts you and affects your ability to drive safely, you can still be prosecuted by the police.

The consequences

  • points on your licence leads to higher insurance costs
  • losing a job

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Injuries to motorcyclists occur out of proportion to their presence on our roads. Motorcyclists are just 1% of total road traffic, but account for 19% of all road user deaths.

Be a better biker

We know you love riding. The freedom of the open road makes motorcycling an exhilarating way to travel. But accidents involving motorcyclists are out of proportion to the miles travelled by bike. We want to help keep you safe by reminding you of safe riding behaviours. Research shows that cornering, overtaking, speeding and fatigue are the most common factors involved in motorcycling accidents.

To help reduce casualties and fatalities among riders, Highways England has developed a campaign targeting these four behaviours.

The facts

  • Motorcyclists are roughly 52 times more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident than car occupants, per mile ridden.
  • In 2016, 319 motorcyclists died and 5,553 were seriously injured in road collisions in Great Britain.
  • The number of motorcyclists killed has fallen 46% since 2006.
  • Around 10 motorcyclists are killed or seriously injured at junctions every day.

The facts

  • In a crash you’re twice as likely to die if you don’t wear a seat belt.
  • Drivers and passengers aged 17-34 have the lowest seat belt-wearing rates, combined with the highest accident rate.
  • People are less likely to use seat belts on short or familiar journeys – putting them at serious risk of injury in a crash.

The law

  • Drivers and passengers who fail to wear seat belts in the front and back of vehicles are breaking the law.
  • Drivers caught without a seat belt face on-the-spot fines of £100. If prosecuted, the maximum fine is £500.

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When driving, a few miles per hour can mean the difference between life and death. The faster someone drives, the less time they have to stop if something unexpected happens.

If you kill someone while speeding, you will have to live with the long-term emotional consequences.

Speed limits are there for a reason.

The facts

  • Speed is one of the main factors in fatal road accidents.
  • The risk of death is approximately 4 times higher when a pedestrian is hit at 40mph than at 30mph.
  • Fatal accidents are 4 times as likely on rural ‘A’ roads as urban ‘A’ roads.
  • 3,121 people were killed or seriously injured in accidents where ‘exceeding the speed limit’ or ‘travelling too fast for the conditions’ was recorded as a contributory factor by the police.

The law

  • You must not drive faster than the speed limit for the type of road and your type of vehicle.
  • The speed limit is the absolute maximum and it doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive at this speed in all conditions.

Read more