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

  • Between 2004 and 2020, serious injuries (adjusted) rose by 26% and pedal cycle traffic grew by 96%*
  • 141 cyclists were killed and 4,215 seriously injured on our roads in 2020.
  • 92 cyclists were killed in accidents involving HGVs between 2015 and 2020 (14% of all pedal cycle fatalities)

*The stats for 2020 are slightly skewed due to events of the pandemic. We saw overall road casualty figures were lower due to a reduction in traffic during the pandemic, but for pedal cycling the opposite pattern was true as there was more pedal cycle traffic and therefore more casualties.

The law

The following are offences for which people cycling in Great Britain can be prosecuted:

  • Dangerous Cycling: “Dangerous” refers to danger either of injury to any person or of serious damage to property. Demonstrated by cycling on a road in a way that falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful cyclist.
  • Careless, and inconsiderate, cycling: Demonstrated by cycling on a road without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road.
  • Cycling when under influence of drink or drugs: Cycling on a road or other public place while unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle).
  • Wanton or furious racing or driving: Causing harm to any person as a result of wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect.
  • Unauthorised cycle racing on public highways: promoting or taking part in a race or trial of speed between cycles on a public way which is either unauthorised or which does not comply with conditions imposed in respect of the event.
  • Riding an Electrically assisted pedal cycle under the age of 14: This is an offence on a road.
  • Cycling on a pavement.  

People driving in Great Britain can be prosecuted where their actions harm or risk harming cyclists and other road users. Relevant offences include:

  • Dangerous driving: “Dangerous” refers to danger either of injury to any person or of serious damage to property on a road or other public place.It is an offence if the driving style is dangerous, or where danger arises from the state of the vehicle.
  • Causing death by dangerous driving: Causing the death of another person while driving dangerously on a road or other public place.
  • Careless and inconsiderate driving: Driving without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or public place.
  • Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate driving: Causing the death of another person while driving without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons on a road or other public place.
  • Driving under the influence of drink or drugs: Driving or attempting to drive on a road or other public place, while unfit to drive through drink or drugs.
  • Driving or being in charge of a vehicle with alcohol concentration above prescribed limit: Driving or attempting to drive, or being in charge of a vehicle, on a road or other public place, after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in the person’s breath, blood or urine is above the legal limit.
  • Causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs: Causing the death of another person while driving on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, when the driver is unfit to drive through drink or drugs, has consumed so much alcohol that the proportion of it in his breath, blood or urine is above the legal limit, or there is a specified controlled drug in his body and the proportion of it in his blood or urine exceeds the specified limit for that drug.

This offence can also be committed by the driver refusing, without reasonable excuse, to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine when required to do so within 18 hours of the time when he is driving, or by refusing  to give his permission for a laboratory test of a specimen of blood, where required to do so by a constable, without reasonable excuse.

  • Failing to stop after an accident or failing to report an accident: Where a driver is involved in an accident on a road or other public place which causes personal injury or property damage and does not stop and provide their name and address and also the name and address of the owner and identification marks of the vehicle to any person reasonably requiring that information, or if not required to provide that information, fails to report the accident.
  • Breach of requirements as to control of vehicle, mobile telephones etc: This includes driving while using a hand-held mobile telephone or other hand-held interactive communication device.

The maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving, and for causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs is life in prison, with a minimum driving ban of five years.

Further detail on penalties for cycling and driving offences can be found here: The Highway Code – Annex 5. Penalties – Guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Operation Close Pass

Operation Close Pass is being carried out by selected police forces across the UK to educate drivers on the safe passing distances when overtaking cyclists. The operation places a focus on education rather than enforcement, with in the moment education being offered to offending drivers. If drivers refuse this offer, they are typically issued with a Traffic Offence Report.

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The facts

  • Drink driving is illegal and puts lives at risk.
  • 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.
  • IAM RoadSmart calculates that a drink drive conviction could cost up to £70,00 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
  • an unlimited fine
  • up to 6 months in prison
  • an endorsement on your licence for 11 years

The maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs is 14 years in prison, with a minimum driving ban of two years.

In addition to these penalties are 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 maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drugs or drink is life in prison, with a minimum driving ban of five 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 using a hands-free phone than if you drink drive, and this increases to three 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 phone or similar device for any purpose when driving. This means you cannot hold a phone or similar device in your hand to follow a map, read and send messages, make or take calls, use the Internet, take a photo, or change a music track.
  • 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 use a handheld phone if you
    • need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop
    • are making a contactless payment at, for example, a drive-thru
    • are parking the vehicle remotely using an App on the phone.
  • You should wait until you are safely parked before using a hand-held mobile phone.
  • If you’re caught using a handheld phone while driving, you’ll get 6 penalty points on your licence, a fixed penalty notice of £200 or a fine of up to £1,000 (or £2,500 if you’re a bus or lorry driver).
  • You’ll also be risking a driving ban; 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 a specific offence in the same way as using a hand-held mobile phone. However, if this distracts you and affects your ability to drive safely, you can still be prosecuted by the police.

The consequences

  • You risk a driving ban
  • 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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  • Download our new Seat belts and Child Restraints leaflet for more information on the fitting and wearing of seat belts, child car seats and information on the fitting and wearing of child restraints.
  • Additional sources of information include:

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.
  • 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