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Driving laws the UK should adopt

Carlton Boyce / 07 February 2019

Carlton takes a look at the rules of the road elsewhere in the world and highlights the ones that he thinks we should adopt here in the United Kingdom.

Traffic lights to represent the laws of the road

When it comes to motoring matters, I’m not convinced that the UK Government is as on-the-ball as it could be. Introducing an MOT exemption for classic cars, for example, is just plain bonkers; no-one asked for it, no-one thinks it is a good idea, and no-one would be at all upset if it were repealed. In the meantime, we’ve given the green light to irresponsible owners to drive dangerous vehicles on the road with impunity.

Nor am I convinced that the legislature has mastered the concept of risk assessment when considering speed limits: while I’m firmly in favour of raising the motorway speed limit to 80mph when conditions permit – and with smart motorways, this could be done very easily and safely – I also think that there should be far more 20mph speed limits in built-up areas.

So, rather than sit in silence, I’ve taken a look at what they do elsewhere in the world and cherry picked the ones that I think we should adopt here in the United Kingdom.

If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his book How to Become a Motoring Journalist - available on the Saga Bookshop.

Turning left on a red traffic light

Many countries, including the United States of America, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico, allow drivers to turn right on a red light. Given our curious insistence on driving on the left, this would need to be transposed, of course, but there is no reason why it wouldn’t work here, too.

Drivers would need to come to a halt and treat the red signal as a ‘give way’ sign, but the benefits are clear and the risk needn’t be that great. After all, we already have slip lanes on the approach to some busy roundabouts that help smooth the flow of traffic and ease congestion.

We aren’t alone in thinking that this is a good idea, either; Gareth Roberts, of, said: “Clogged up British roads are a frustrating and polluting nightmare and no driver, or passenger, enjoys sitting at traffic lights unnecessarily. But allowing motorists to turn left on red lights – by that I mean hugging the inner corner – would reduce fuel emissions, decrease journey times and ease congestion.

 “As with the American version of this law, the left-turning driver would still have to stop and assess there is no risk before attempting the manoeuvre. It would remain criminal to cause danger to other road users, by not giving way to oncoming traffic or crossing pedestrians, or by ignoring signs in specific locations where turning left on red would not be practical.”

Passing on the left

I also think that it should be legal to overtake on the left when it is safe to do so. Many other countries permit passing on either side on a motorway or dual carriageway, and I think it’s high time the UK joined them.

How to avoid a middle lane hog fine

Introducing the ‘Dutch Reach’

Yes, while the more disreputable readers will be sniggering, the rest of us acknowledge that the so-called ‘Dutch Reach’ could save more than a few lives every year.

The Dutch Reach simply means using your left hand to open the driver’s door from the inside, or your right hand if you’re sitting on the passenger’s side of the car. The awkward twist that this necessitates forces you to look over your shoulder, which gives you a much better chance of spotting passing cyclists; opening car doors in their path is surprisingly common and results in fatalities and serious injuries every year.

The printed edition of the Highway Code is due to be updated to include this technique but we think it should be promoted far more widely and even enshrined in law, with drivers being prosecuted if they fail to adopt it.

You can find more information on the technique here.

On-the-spot fines

Many foreign police forces, including the Portuguese, insist on fines being paid at the time they’re issued. This seems very sensible to us given that everyone carries a debit or credit card these days – and issuing the police with portable card readers wouldn’t be too much of a logistical challenge, either.

Of course, if you wanted to dispute the fact that you’ve committed an offence then you should still be able to do so in court, but those who admit they’ve erred should be able to pay on-the-spot and carry on with their journey knowing that the matter is behind them.

The savings in administrative fees  alone would be huge, not to mention the increased revenue from having every single fine paid in full. We’d need more police, but I’m not sure many of us would object to seeing more bobbies on the beat either, would we?

Extra driving glasses

The authorities in Spain insist that drivers keep a spare set of glasses in the car if they need to wear them for driving.

This seems very sensible to us, and is something we’d encourage our readers to do, anyway.

Pull over for goodness sake!

While it’s commonplace for farmers to pull their tractors over and on to the verge to let a queue of traffic past them, few drivers of other slow-moving vehicles seem to bother.

If drivers towing a caravan or heavily laden trailer, for example, were required by law to pull over and let faster moving traffic past from time-to-time, the result would be more free-flowing roads at peak times, especially in the summer.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you all doing it now, something that would be a bit of a PR coup for the caravanning community…

Caravan driving tips

Park with care

Some cities, most notably Montreal in Canada, have banned drivers from parking their cars across household driveways. While we’re sure that you, like us, thought that this was already illegal here too, it isn’t. 

Introducing this into the statute books hardly seems like something that would tie up too much time in the houses of parliament.

Winter tyres

Many countries insist that drivers must fit their cars with winter tyres during spells of bad weather. Thus equipped, even the lowliest shopping hatchback can drive across snow and ice, almost with impunity; they can certainly get to places that even a specialist four-wheel-drive vehicle on standard tyres would struggle to reach.

Yes, the motorist would have to bear the extra cost but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages - and besides, switching to winter tyres for six months of the year means that your summer tyres would last much longer, meaning that the cost isn’t necessarily twice what it is at the moment.

You could also factor in the savings you’ll make by not having to claim on your insurance if you do have a bump in the snow; the excess on the insurance policy you will have to pay -  not to mention the increased premiums you’ll have to pay for a few years in the future because the risk you pose to the underwriter has increased – will almost certainly cost you more than a set of winter tyres will do.

And you can’t place a price on a human life.

Motorway speed limits

While I’m in favour of an 80mph speed limit when conditions permit, I do think we should emulate our French cousins and reduce the limit when it rains; again, smart motorways would make this a doddle to implement but even without the assistance of technology, reducing the speed limit to 60mph when it rains would see collisions and injuries fall dramatically.

Sensible drivers do this already, but then we tend to have to legislate for the lowest common denominator among us.

How to beat the smart motorway

Emergency vehicles to have the right of way

At the moment, vehicles being driven on blues-and-twos by the emergency services don’t have the right of way at junctions here in the UK, something that doesn’t seem to make any sense to us.

Nor does the fact that it is illegal to pass a red light under any circumstances, even if it is only by a few inches to let an ambulance, police car or fire engine creep past you.

Fog lights

Finally, while this isn’t the law in any country that I’m aware of, we’ve all seen idiots driving along clear motorways and dual carriageways with their front and rear fog lights on, haven’t we? And while I’m all in favour of shooting a few as a warning to others, even I have to admit that this is unlikely to pass into law. (At least not until I am world president, anyway.)

But, it’s not beyond the wit of man (and if it is beyond the capabilities of a man, then give the job to a woman. They’ll have it up and running in no time while juggling childcare responsibilities, planning what’s for tea, and ignoring the headache they’ve got from repeatedly banging their head on the glass ceiling…) to connect the car’s fog lights to a speed limiter, surely? So, if you want to put your fog lights on when there is a light sprinkling of mist in the next county, then please feel free but don’t complain when your car then can’t top 40mph, which is plenty fast enough for those times when you do actually need to use ‘em.

What do you think? Should any or all of these pass into law? Or has Carlton gone too far this time? Why not let us know your thoughts in the by email us on

Saga readers say...

'The only ideas that I endorse are basically permissive ones: left turn on red; allowing creeping over line on red to allow blue lights to pass; increasing speed limits. I would like to add one of my own: flashing amber lights on traffic light controlled roundabouts and some road junctions and road works during off peak hours to indicate that 'non-light' rules apply. This would ease the frustration of waiting when there are plainly no other vehicles about. Otherwise there are too many punishable rules; we need to hand decisions back to the motorist to use his own judgement.

Also, I use front fog lights on country roads at night to illuminate the grass verge. When the muck is thrown over the verge, it is difficult to see where the road ends and the verge begins - hit the soggy grass at any sort of speed and you will slew right off the road. I also use them to give me near vision, when dipping headlights for oncoming vehicles.' Mike, via email

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.