Driving Offences

Some driving offences – like driving the wrong way up a dual carriageway – are pretty obvious. Others are a little more complicated and can be easy to commit without realising (although the police don’t accept that as an excuse!). If you commit one, you might end up getting a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) in the post.

Here are a few of the most common ones, explaining what they are and what you need to do to avoid them:
If you’re still not sure about anything, you can always get in touch via our contact page.


Speeding laws and fines

If someone is caught speeding, the minimum penalty they can get is 3 penalty points on their licence and a £100 fine.

Depending on the speed, and how the offence was captured, there’s a few other things that can happen.

If a safety camera records someone committing a low-end Speeding offence, they’ll be sent a Notice of Intend Prosecution (NIP). This could either be a £100 fine (or possibly the option to take the course). If the camera records a high-end speeding offence, the driver will have to go to court automatically.

If a police officer stops someone for a speeding offence, they can:

  • Give a verbal warning
  • Issue a fixed penalty notice
  • Order the person to go to court (a letter will come in the post)

For more information on safety cameras, take a look at our page here.

Mobile phones in the car

Can I use my phone in the car?

The law on driving and using hand-held devices, including mobile phones is often misunderstood by many people. The first thing to understand is the reason why we have such stringent laws in the first place.

Driving requires 100% of your attention, 100% of the time. One of the biggest risks posed to road users is from distracted drivers and in particular from drivers distracted by their mobile phones.

It is an offence to use a hand-held phone or other hand-held device whilst driving. The only exception is if you are calling the emergency services to report a genuine emergency and cannot practically stop driving to do so.

Let’s look at some of those terms in more detail:

  • ‘Driving’ includes when you (the driver) are stationary in traffic, say in a traffic queue or at traffic lights. This includes when the engine has stopped (fitted with ‘stop/start’ system). You must stop in a safe parking space and switch your engine off before using your phone or other device.
  • ‘Using’ a hand-held device includes making or receiving a call, texting, emailing or simply interacting with the internet for any purpose. This includes using a sat-nav system.
  • ‘Hand-held device’ is defined as a device which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data. In addition to mobile phones, other electronic items such as tablets, laptops, music players and two-way radios (excluding police) are covered by the law.
  • Misusing your mobile phone or other hand-held while driving isn’t just dangerous, it also carries some hefty penalties. You face six points on your driving licence (remember, 12 points = disqualification), and a £200 fine. Much larger fines and even imprisonment may be imposed if the driving is deemed to be careless or dangerous.
  • Passed your driving test within the past two years? Well, if you use your phone behind the wheel, you risk losing your full driving licence. You may have to resit your theory and practical driving test (in addition to the six points and £200 fine).

What about sat navs and hands-free kits?

Using a phone or other device ‘hands-free’ is legal but only up to a point. A lot of drivers mount their phones in a cradle but it can still cause distraction. This puts you and others at risk and may result in a penalty if you are deemed to not be in proper control. This rule applies to many activities that drivers do when they are driving.

Some examples include:

  • Touching a sat nav screen (cradle-mounted or built into the car)
  • Changing a CD or radio channel
  • Applying make-up or brushing hair
  • Drinking a hot drink or smoking (how might you react to spilling hot coffee or dropping a lit cigarette whilst driving?)

Our advice is to place your mobile phone out of sight and arm’s reach or activate it’s driving/silent mode. Better still, use a Signal Blocker phone wallet. It will prevent you from being distracted and retains any missed texts and calls for you to check once you have stopped driving.

Driving without due care and attention (Careless driving)

This occurs when a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle (any sort of vehicle that is powered by fuel, gas, electricity, etc) on a road or public place without due care and attention (Section 3 Road Traffic Act 1988).

It will be considered ‘careless’ if, the driving falls below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver. This amounts to something more than a minor mistake or momentary inattention. Inexperience is no defence and it may be aggravated if the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or someone dies as a result of the driving.

Other potential aggravating factors include:

  • Excessive speed
  • Aggressive driving such as following too closely
  • Performing another task whilst driving, for example – lighting a cigarette or even having a ‘hands free’ telephone conversation
  • Driving whilst tired or unwell
  • Driving contrary to medical advice
  • Taking a medication that advises against driving (side effects such as drowsiness)
  • Failing to conform to a traffic signal such as a red traffic light

In summary, if the driver demonstrates a disregard for the safety of others it is likely to be considered careless. Failure to take account of the road, traffic and weather conditions, is also likely to be considered careless.

On conviction, a driver may receive an unlimited fine and between 3 and 9 points on their driving licence. If the offence is aggravated they may be disqualified or even imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Dangerous driving

Defined as dangerous if the standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver or if driving the vehicle in it’s current state, including the manner in which anything is carried or towed would be considered to be dangerous to a competent and careful driver (Section 2 Road Traffic Act 1988).

It also includes where there is a risk of injury to any person or serious damage to property.

Here are some examples:

  • Racing on public roads
  • Failing to have regard for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, etc.
  • Driving at a highly inappropriate speed for conditions (bad weather, busy peak time traffic)
  • Aggressive overtaking or ‘tailgating’ (following far too close to the vehicle in front)
  • Being distracted, for example, using a hand-held mobile phone
  • Driving a poorly maintained vehicle, for example, defective tyres
  • Driving an overloaded vehicle

A person found guilty of dangerous driving may expect a disqualification, up to two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. The offence becomes aggravated if it involves death (up to 14 years in prison) or serious injury (up to 5 years in prison) to anyone.


Wearing a seat belt can literally be the difference between life and death. The law on seat belts is quite straightforward: if there are seat belts fitted in the vehicle, we have to wear them!

Having a written medical exemption certificate is the only situation when it would be legal to not to wear a seat belt. The certificate, issued by a doctor needs be carried in the car at all times.

The fine for not wearing a seat belt is £100, issued to the person not wearing one if they’re over the age of 14. If they’re under 14, it would be their parent/carer who would be responsible for paying the fine.

Drink driving

There are a number of alcohol and drug related driving offences.

A person commits an offence if they drive a motor vehicle (anything made or adapted to be used on a road) on a road or public place having consumed alcohol in excess of the prescribed limit (Section 5 Road Traffic Act 1988). It is also an offence to attempt to drive or to be in charge of a motor vehicle in these circumstances.

The prescribed limits are:

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

A person may be deemed to be ‘in charge’ if they have the keys to the vehicle and are nearby (not necessarily inside the vehicle). They (the suspect) must show that there was no likelihood of their driving the vehicle whilst they were drunk.

A person supervising a learner driver (including a driving instructor) may be ‘in charge’.

A driver may be disqualified for 12 months, fined up to £5000 and even face up to 6 month in prison. A court may also order a driver to forfeit their vehicle.

Drug driving

A person commits an offence if they drive a motor vehicle on a road or public place and have in their body a specified drug, the proportion of which in their blood or urine exceeds the specified limit for that drug (Section 5A Road Traffic Act 1988). There are seventeen drugs specified under section 5A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The drugs and their limits are as follows:

Cannabis (THC)2 microgrammes (mgs) – detected by police drug test
Cocaine 10 mgsdetected by police drug test

The drugs highlighted in red are those that may be prescribed or supplied for medical or dental use. Any drivers found to have excessive levels in their blood or urine, may have a legal defence if they can prove that they took the drug in accordance with the instructions provided by their doctor, chemist or on the packaging.

This offence carries the same penalties as that of driving whilst over the prescribed limit for alcohol.

Driving whilst unfit through drink and/or drugs

This offence is committed when a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or public place and is unfit to drive through drink and/or drugs (Section 4 Road Traffic Act 1988).

A driver does not need to be ‘over the limit’ for drink or drugs – even small amounts of alcohol and drugs (taken separately or in combination) may cause a person to be unfit to drive.

Drugs include anything that may affect a person’s ability to drive, including medicines.

A person may be deemed to be unfit if their ability to drive is impaired. Driving places a high demand on the human brain and those persons who consume alcohol or who take drugs are often unable to drive to the same standard as a sober person.

Police may require a driver to undertake an impairment test, which require the driver to have good levels of concentration, coordination and the ability to follow instructions.

A driver found guilty may receive an unlimited fine, a driving disqualification and potential imprisonment for up to 6 months.

The offence is aggravated if it involves death or serious injury and may result in a driver being imprisoned for up to 14 years if found guilty.

Driving without insurance

Before you can drive anywhere in a vehicle, you need to be insured to drive it. This includes driving somewhere to get that insurance!

When do I need to get driving insurance?

A lot of us still buy our insurance over the phone rather than online. It’s an easy mistake to make to think that having made the call, we’re insured.  We’re only insured though, from the date the policy starts. Until that date, we’d be driving without insurance.

Is it illegal to drive a car you’re not insured on?

Yes – it’s illegal to drive without valid insurance (and the ‘valid’ is really important).

If you’re caught driving a vehicle that you’re not insured to drive, it’s six penalty points on your licence, a £300 fine. Your vehicle could also be seized.

If it ends up going to court, you can get an unlimited fine, banned from driving, and your vehicle can be seized and destroyed.

If your insurance is out of date or doesn’t cover you to use that vehicle – it is considered invalid. If you’re using it for a purpose you’re not insured for (work, for example, when you’ve only got personal insurance) it is still classed as not having ‘valid’ insurance and the penalties are the same.

Is all insurance the same?

Different insurances policies cover you for different things, and it’s always worth reading the small print to see what you’re insured against to avoid nasty surprises. The important thing legally though, is that the insurance is ‘valid’.

  • It needs to be ‘in date’ (not before the start of the policy or after it’s expired)
  • It needs to cover you on that specific vehicle/class of vehicle
  • It’s got to be fit for purpose – if you’re driving for work, even temporarily – you need business insurance

If I’m insured on one vehicle, am I covered to drive others?

Whether or not you can drive other cars depends on your insurance policy. Not all policies, even ‘comprehensive’ insurance policies, let you do that. You’ll need to check your policy. It is always worth checking, as the police won’t accept not knowing as an excuse for driving without valid insurance.

If someone else has third party insurance, do I need insurance as well?

You can’t drive a vehicle, even if the owner has third party insurance, if you aren’t personally insured on any vehicle at all.  The only exceptions are if you’re taking driving lessons, or if you’re hiring a car – that will be covered in the cost.

Incorrect child car seat

It’s absolutely critical to have children in the right car seat for their age, and that it’s fitted correctly. Putting a child in their seat at the start of a journey isn’t enough, if they wiggle out of it on the way, the penalty is the same.

The penalties for children not being in the right car seat are the same as for an adult not wearing a seat belt – a £100 fine and a fixed penalty notice.

We’ve got a guide to help you understand what child seat is needed to keep little ones of all ages safe.

Driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence

Driving ‘otherwise than in accordance with a licence’ covers lots of different offences. What it really means is that a person has been driving in a way that they don’t have a licence for.

Things ‘driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence’ might cover are:

  • Driving with a provisional licence without a supervisor
  • Driving with a provisional licence without ‘L’ plates
  • Driving under-age
  • Driving without a licence

The penalty is a fine of up to £1000, up to six points on your licence (if you have one) or disqualification from driving.

Driving with a disqualification

A driving disqualification or ban – means that you’re not allowed to drive under any circumstances. You can be banned from driving if you’ve built up too many points on your licence. You can be banned for a one-off offence which was judged to be serious. If you were banned at a court hearing that you weren’t at, it still counts as being disqualified. Your absence wouldn’t be accepted as a reason for still driving by the police.

What happens if you drive when you’re banned?

Driving when you’re disqualified is an arrestable offence. This means, quite simply, that you’re likely to be arrested – and you can be imprisoned for up to six months. A court can decide that an unlimited fine and a longer disqualification can be applied instead of a prison sentence.

Driving without an MOT

An MOT (Ministry of Transport) test checks that your vehicle is road safe and meets environmental standards. It needs to be done by an authorized garage. You can get fined up to £1,000 if your vehicle doesn’t have a valid MOT.

You’ll need to get an MOT by the third anniversary of your vehicle’s registration, and the anniversary of its last MOT every year after that. There are a few exceptions where the vehicle needs an MOT the first year after its registration. You can see which ones need that here.

If your vehicle fails its MOT (we all dread that phone call) you won’t be able drive it until it has been brought up to passing standard. This also applies if your vehicle was tested before its due date.

Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN)

A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN), or a ‘conditional offer of fixed penalty’ is an alternative to a prosecution from a magistrates’ court. You can be given them on the spot, or they can come from us and the police.

If you’ve had an FPN, or a NIP (Notice of Intended Prosecution) and aren’t sure what to do, we’ve got a list of FAQs to help.

FPNs come in two types – endorsable or non-endorsable. Endorsable means that you’ll get points on your licence and a fine, non-endorsable means it’s just the fine without the points. They’re issued for less serious driving and traffic offences. FPNs aren’t given for things like drink and drug-driving as they’re treated as more serious offences.

An FPN fine can range from anything between £50 – £300, depending on the offence. They’re used for things like speeding, careless driving, not wearing a seat belt and using a phone while driving.

If you accept guilt and pay the fine/collect the points, you won’t get a court summons. If you do decide to challenge the FPN, you’ll need to go to court.

Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP)

A Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) is a notice issued by the police to the registered keeper of a vehicle that has been involved in a road traffic offence.

It’s simply a notice that the police intend to prosecute the person responsible. When you get a Notice, it doesn’t automatically mean that a prosecution is going to take place. It is a warning that you might face prosecution. A Notice of Intended Prosecution puts a legal obligation on the registered keeper of the vehicle. They must provide the details of the driver at the time of the alleged offence.

The NIP must be served on the registered keeper of the vehicle within 14 days of the offence otherwise the offence can’t proceed to court. A notice is deemed ‘served’ on a person if it was posted to them at their last known address. If the registered keeper has changed address and not informed the DVLA, the NIP will still be counted as served.

Any small mistakes on the notice don’t make it invalid unless it would mislead any potential defendant.

Once you get a NIP, it’s really important to reply to it straight away, even if you think it might not apply to you. Take a look at our FAQs page for more help.