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New laws that affect motorists

Carlton Boyce / 28 January 2020

Discover the new laws introduced since 2015 that you might not be aware of…

A speed limit sign

The pressure on the motorist continues to build, with vilification and taxation the primary weapons being used against us.

New motoring laws, too. Lots and lots of ‘em, which led us to think that an article summing up every new motoring law introduced since 2015 might be useful.

Better make a brew before you start reading; it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride…

Low emission zones

April 2019 saw the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London, which replaced the previous T-charge scheme. Currently only in force in central London, it will be extended to incorporate the whole of inner London by the end of 2021.

An ULEZ zones means that diesel cars have to meet strict emission standards; if they don’t, then the driver will has to pay a charge to drive there. Older, more polluting cars are charged more heavily, meaning this is (another) tax that affects the poor more than the wealthy.

There have long been muttering from various other cities keen to jump on the bandwagon but Birmingham has been the first to commit, announcing that it will be introducing its own scheme in July 2020. A similar scheme, due to be introduced in January 2020 in Leeds, has been delayed.

Driving licences

The DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) will no longer be issuing the paper element of your driving licence.

When you need to hire a car, or otherwise confirm whether or not you have penalty points on your licence, you have to obtain a ‘check code’ from the DVLA, which lets a third-party inspect your licence online. Following consultation, the length of time the check code is now valid for has been extended to 21 days.

The MOT test

The MOT test has changed, and we covered the changes here.

Don’t forget that you can take your car for an MOT test up to one calendar month before the old one expires. This is well worth doing, as it gives you time to get any repairs done without the pressure of a ticking clock.

There have been rumours circulating on social media that your car cannot be used on the road (other than to take it to a pre-booked MOT test) if it fails this ahead-of-time test. Police have confirmed that this is not true; your car still has a current MOT certificate and the vehicle can be used and driven on a public road until its expiry date.

In other MOT news, since 2016 all MOT testers have had to have at least four years’ experience or a formal, relevant qualification before they are allowed to apply for relevant qualification that allows them to test vehicles.

Once enrolled, they will need to complete an approved training course and then pass MOT demonstration test in the presence of a DVSA examiner. Even that isn’t the end of the process, as they will need to continue to prove their skills with annual refresher training and assessments. Good news for all.

Pleading to minor offences

Back-in-the-day, if you were charged with a summary motoring offence that couldn’t be dealt with through a fixed penalty notice (or you wanted to dispute it), you used to have to attend court in person to argue your case.

But, the Government is rolling out a new ‘Make a Plea’ service, which means motorists will be able to make their case online through a secure website without having to attend court.

Middle lane hog fine

The £1,000 ‘middle lane hog’ fine levied on a motorist in Yorkshire a couple of years ago was a result of a tweak to existing laws that enable the police to issue a fixed penalty notice (or FPN) to drivers it believes are driving inconsiderately by committing offences such as  ‘tailgating’, ‘undertaking’, or refusing to move from an overtaking lane when the road ahead is clear.

Hurrah. Now all we need are the police officers to enforce the law and issue the fines. But it’s really simple, folks; just don’t hog the middle lane. Okay?

Smart motorways

It is illegal to drive in a motorway lane that has a red X sign above it to show that it has been closed. If you ignore the sign (and common-sense) and do so you could face a fixed penalty fine of up to £100 plus three points on your driving licence.

Legislators are said to be working on even stiffer penalties, which is, of course, easier and cheaper than binning the whole ridiculous idea and giving us back our hard shoulders.

Vehicle Excise Duty

The Chancellor announced that a new VED supplement would be applied to new diesel cars first registered after the 1 April 2018. However, this change does not apply to cars that meet the new mandatory RDE2 emissions. RDE2 stands for ‘Real Driving Emissions’, and is a new test that is supposed to more accurately reflect a car’s exhaust emissions under real world driving conditions.

If your brand-new diesel car doesn’t meet the RDE2 standard then you will continue to pay a First-Year VED rate that is equivalent to the next highest tax class.

The RDE2 becomes mandatory for all new diesel cars in January 2021.

Paying for your VED

Most people are now aware that, as of the 1 October 2014, you no longer have to display a tax disc in the windscreen of your car but not everyone knows that you can pay for your Vehicle Excise Duty in monthly instalments via Direct Debit with your bank, making it easier to budget for.

Selling a secondhand car

New rules brought in in 2015 mean that you must cash in the VED (or car tax) on your car when you sell it, leaving the new owner to buy his or her own.

The refund is automatically issued when the DVLA receives the completed V5 (the vehicle registration document, or ‘log book’) telling it that you have sold, scrapped, exported or declared SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) on your car.

Mobile phone points double

The Government reacted to growing concerns over motorists using their mobile phones behind the wheel by doubling the number of penalty points from three to six for those caught using one from March 2017. The fine is now £200, too.

The changes mean anyone caught using their phone twice now faces a minimum six-month driving ban under the ‘totting up’ procedure. They could also be summoned to appear in court where they could be fined up to £1,000.

Changes to the driving test

The UK driving test changed on the 4th December 2017. The changes, which apply to England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland, are:

The ‘independent driving’ element part of the test, during which the examinee drives following road signs and verbal directions, has been increased from 10 to 20 minutes.

The candidate now has to follow directions from a sat-nav for part of that 20-minute drive.

The old ‘reverse around a corner’ and ‘turn in the road’ manoeuvres have been replaced with more real-life scenarios like driving into, and then reversing out of, a parking space.

The candidate is now asked one of the two vehicle safety questions - known as the ‘show me, tell me’ questions - while they are driving. These questions might include real-life scenarios such as turning on the heated rear screen.

Learner drivers now can also take lessons on a motorway as long as they are accompanied by an approved driving instructor and are in a car that is fitted with dual driving controls. However, these lessons are not compulsory.

The Government is also said to be considering introducing graduated driving licences for newly qualified drivers. These may restrict things like driving at night, imposing a curfew, limits on the number of passengers that they can carry, wearing mandatory ‘P’ plates, imposing lower blood alcohol limits, and placing restrictions on their car’s engine and/or power output.

Graduated licences were trialled in Northern Ireland in 2019.

Drug driving

It has been an offence since March 2015 in England and Wales (and Scotland since 2019) to drive under the influence of illegal drugs, such as cannabis, LSD and cocaine – a common-sense move that few would argue against. 

However, the legislation also includes some prescribed drugs such as diazepam, methadone and morphine.

If you are unsure whether your medication falls under the new law, you should seek advice from your doctor as those convicted of the offence will face an automatic driving ban, an unlimited fine, a possible jail sentence and a criminal record, bringing the offence in line with existing drink drive laws.

Drink driving laws in Scotland

Speaking of which, the blood alcohol limit for drink driving in Scotland was lowered to 50mg per 100ml of blood in December 2014, a move that brought it in line with most of Europe.

The blood alcohol limit for the rest of the UK stayed at 80mg per 100ml. 


It is an offence to smoke in a car containing anyone under the age of 18 in England, Scotland, and Wales. Anyone flouting the law could face an on-the-spot fine of up to £100 - and if the driver is not the one smoking they will still be fined, as will the smoker.

Speed limits

The speed limit for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in England and Wales is now 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways, up from 40mph and 50mph respectively.

Driving too close to a cyclist

The Government is encouraging police forces to start issuing fines to drivers if their driving has endangered a cyclist.

The move, which is aimed at aggressive drivers who deliberately overtake cyclists in a dangerous fashion, means they could face a fine of £100 and three penalty points on their driving licence if they are caught passing a cyclist with less than 1.5m between them.

The 1.5m rule is not yet included in the Highway Code, but the Department for Transport is said to be consulting on whether to introduce a nationwide minimum distance for the manoeuvre.

Traffic signs in Wales

All new traffic signs erected in Wales have had to feature the Welsh language from the 31 March 2016.

Bi-lingual signs have long been a roadside feature in Wales but local authorities had the power to decide which language to place first – and many chose English.

However, the new regulations read: “When you erect a new sign or renew a sign (including temporary signs) which conveys the same information in Welsh and in English, the Welsh language text must be positioned so that it is likely to be read first.”

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Changes to roadside signs

There have been a number of changes to law on roadside signs, but the one that will have the greatest effect on most of us is the one that deals with the need to place ‘repeater’ speed limit signs at the side of the road.

The law, which came into force in 2016, means that local authorities are free to make their own assessment as to how many speed limit signs are needed, a move that many believe will lead to a reduction in the number of repeater signs - the small signs that are posted within a speed limit to remind drivers of the current speed limit - in order to save money.

Many observers worry that this will lead to confusion as to what the speed limit is, increasing the likelihood of an accident occurring and/or a speeding fine being issued.

The Government says that the move merely gives local authorities the freedom to remove unnecessary and obsolete road signs, pointing out that the number of road signs increased by 83% to 4.57 million in England between 1993 and 2013.

Parking on kerbs

Finally, ministers are said to be considering making it illegal to park on the pavement or kerb, something that has been illegal in London (unless a specific bylaw allows it) for the past four decades. This has been rumbling on for a while now, but the rumours persist, so keep your eyes and ears open.

While it is already illegal to park in such a way as to cause an obstruction, extending this to include a ban on all pavement parking seems like a common sense move, even if some motoring pressure groups warn that the changes could be seen as something of a cash cow for local authorities keen to make up for deficits in their budget.

Booster seats

Backless booster seats, which are sometimes referred to as ‘booster cushions’, must now be labelled to restrict their use to children who are taller than 125cm and weigh more than 22kg.

However, the new regulations only apply to new products entering the market and won’t be applied retrospectively to products already in circulation and being used by parents, grandparents and carers. However, please do make sure that the seat you're using has the correct requirements in terms of your child's height, age and weight. Halfords, or any good car accessory shop can advise you if you are uncertain.

The law came into force in March 2017.

Stricter child car seat rules

When we were children, it was perfectly acceptable for us to slide around on the vinyl rear seat of the family car unencumbered by rear seat belts, much less car seats!

Thankfully, cars are much safer now and the law is much tighter with specific regulations depending on the age, weight and size of the child.

It can be quite complex, so we’ve broken it down into age and weight ranges to help you understand how to keep your grandchildren safe in the car.

From birth to nine months (up to 9kgs)

Babies must be secured in a rear-facing child seat and harness until they are around nine months old or 9kgs in weight.

These seats must not be fitted in the front of the car unless the airbag can be turned off.

Nine months to three years (9-18kgs)

From nine months to three years (or weighing between nine and 18kgs), children can use either a front- or rear-facing child seat.

They must be restrained in that seat with either a harness or a safety shield, which spreads the load of a seatbelt in an accident.

Three to 12 years (15-36kgs)

Children aged three years and up must use a front-facing child seat or high-backed booster seat until they are 12 years’ old or 135cm/36kgs in weight.

When they weigh 22kgs (roughly 5-6 years old), they can use a booster cushion instead of a full seat, using the car’s seat belt to restrain them.

Twelve years and older

Once they are 12 years’ old, it is perfectly safe for them to travel with just a seat belt. However, if the seat belt adjusts for height it should be adjusted to fit.

When your grandchildren reach the age of 14, the responsibility moves from the driver to them, meaning they’ll be paying the fine if they refuse to belt up!

i-Size car seats

You might have heard of i-Size child car seats. This is a new European standard that is based on the child’s size rather than weight. The two standards will run alongside each other for the time being.

i-Size gives even better protection, so if you are buying a new child car seat i-Size is the way to go.

They also fit into the car using ISOFIX fittings, which are easier and stronger than using your car’s seat belts to hold the seat in place.

However, if you have an older seat, please don’t worry. The new ones might be an improvement but the old ones still give a very high level of protection.


While we would always recommend using a child seat, the law provides the following exemptions:

  • Taxis, licensed mini-cabs and minibuses are exempt. Children who are under three must travel on the back seat, while children who are three or over can travel in the front or back but must wear an adult seat belt.
  • If the car journey is unexpected, necessary and over a short distance, then an exemption from needing a child seat in a car is given for children aged three and over but the same rules for taxis must be followed. Children who are younger than three must be restrained using an appropriate child seat, however urgent or unexpected the journey.
  • If the car is so old that it doesn’t have rear seat belts fitted, then no offence is committed if you carry children aged three and older unrestrained. However, children who are younger than this must be restrained using the appropriate child seat, so can’t travel.
  • If there is no room for a third child seat on the car’s rear seat, the third child must sit in the front.

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