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Clean Air Zones

Clean Air Zones: Why YOU Should Refresh Your Knowledge of Motoring Law

Clean Air Zones are appearing in a growing number of cities around the UK. If your vehicle does not meet emission standards, you’ll have to pay a daily charge if driving in the city centre. With active Clean Air Zones already underway in Bath, Birmingham, Bradford and Portsmouth, other cities like Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle are following suit, with staggered charges to be implemented from winter 2022. 

UK drivers are encouraged to give their knowledge of the highway code a refresher – alongside the new Clean Air Zones, you could be caught out by the implementation of a couple of recently updated driving laws. Just 40% of Britons feel ‘very familiar’ or ‘fairly familiar’ with the highway code, though it’s important to ensure your knowledge is regularly updated. 


Allan Hetherington, Head of Prestige Car Finance at Anglo Scottish Asset Finance, comments: “Many drivers are concerned about rule changes regarding Clean Air Zones because of the varying introduction dates and classes. But they’re also surprised to find their existing knowledge of motoring law isn’t up to scratch. There are plenty of driving nuances that could land you in hot water with the law, so we always recommend staying up to date with the latest law changes.”

Anglo Scottish Asset Finance, which worked with Bath and North East Somerset Council on its Clean Air Zone, has highlighted two new rule changes as well as some common areas where UK drivers may be likely to slip up. 

Key points

  • Just 40% of Britons feel ‘very familiar’ or ‘fairly familiar’ with the highway code.
  • Failure to pay Clean Air Zone charges within 6 days of your journey could result in a penalty charge notice.
  • After an update to the mobile phone use law, drivers can no longer use their phone whilst driving for any purpose. Previously, drivers were not allowed to use their phone to communicate but were permitted to use it to change songs and other small tasks.
  • Contrary to common belief, eating or drinking behind the wheel is not illegal. However, if you’re deemed to not be in proper control of the car, you could receive a £100 fine and three penalty points. 
  • Splashing a pedestrian with rainwater could net you a fine of up to £5,000 if you’re adjudged to be driving without proper consideration for others. 
  • You could receive a fine of up to £1,000 in court if you’re caught paying with your phone whilst the car engine is running and handbrake is off. 
  • You could receive a minimum of 10 points on your licence and a fine if you’re caught sleeping in your car whilst drunk. 
  • Flashing your headlights to give way could result in a minimum fine of £30. 

Clean air charges

Depending on your vehicle, you may be subject to charges whilst driving in one of the new zones. The rules of the new Clean Air Zones are in effect 24/7, 365 days a year, meaning drivers could easily be caught out during a late-night journey. 

If your vehicle doesn’t meet the emission standards, you’ll be liable to pay the charge. There are four different classes of Clean Air Zone in your city – A, B, C, or D, and they determine the types of vehicles covered. Drivers should also be aware that, if eligible, they have six days to pay their charges, or they could receive a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN).

The new mobile phone laws

Communicating on a mobile phone at the wheel has been against motoring law for many years – drivers talking or texting on the phone while driving have long been subjected to £200 fines and six penalty points on their licence. However, until recently, drivers were permitted to use their phone for non-communication purposes, such as changing the song they were playing. 

The new law stipulates that UK drivers may not use their phone whilst driving for any purpose. In order to use any unmounted handheld device behind the wheel, you must be parked with the engine switched off. 

This means that you could even be in trouble if you use your phone to pay for a meal at the drive-thru. Any driver caught using their phone whilst driving could then receive a further fine of up to £1,000 in court, so you could end up with a VERY expensive Big Mac if you’re not careful! 

Eating and drinking at the wheel

The actual act of eating or drinking whilst driving is not strictly illegal. However, if you’re distracted behind the wheel while enjoying a bite to eat and are spotted by officers, you could still be breaking the law. If they deem that you aren’t in proper control of the car, you could be on the receiving end of an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points.

Turning on a light in the car

At some point or another during your childhood, the chances are that you’ve turned on a light in the car, only to be scolded by your parents and told it’s illegal. Despite this long-held myth, there’s no law against driving with interior lights on. If the light is adjudged to be distracting for you or even other drivers, however, you may be charged with careless driving. 

Splashing a pedestrian with rainwater 

Ever driven through a deep puddle and drenched a pedestrian? Sometimes, avoiding a puddle might be impossible. However, if you’re deemed to have driven ‘without reasonable consideration for other persons,’ you could be in (hot) water yourself. In that event, you could face a fine from £100 up to an eye-watering £5,000.

Smoking in the car

Smoking in a car on your own, or in a car full of adults, is not illegal. However, if there are any under-18s in the car with you, smoking is not permitted and has been illegal since 2015. Offenders could be punished with a £50 fine and five points on their licence – even if it’s one of your passengers who is smoking with a child in the car.  

Driving in incorrect footwear

Did you know that certain types of footwear are prohibited behind the wheel? Though it’s not against the law, Rule 97 of the Highway Code states that ‘the footwear and clothing you wear whilst driving must not prevent you from using the controls in the correct manner.’ This means any footwear without a closed back or strap could earn you a £100 fine, as they could slide off your feet or get stuck under the brake pedal – so no flip-flops! 

Improper use of the hard shoulder

When you’re stuck in standstill traffic on the motorway, the hard shoulder could look like a great way to get around. However, since March 2018, this has been a finable offence. With fixed charges of £100 and three penalty points to be dished out for hard shoulder users, don’t get caught out!

Sleeping in the car whilst drunk 

You’ve had a few too many and – correctly – decide that driving would be far too dangerous. Probably best to sleep in the car and drive home in the morning when you’ve sobered up, right? Wrong. The law states that whoever is in charge of a vehicle should not be inebriated, and police have often classed sleeping owners as being ‘in charge.’ You could therefore receive 10 points on your licence and a substantial fine. 

Flashing your lights to give way

You see it daily on the road – a driver flashing their lights to allow another driver through, or to allow a pedestrian to cross the road. Many of us see this as a polite and helpful gesture, but you aren’t legally allowed to do this – you could encourage someone to make a manoeuvre when it isn’t safe. Using your headlamps in this way could carry a minimum fine of £30. 

So, how many of these infractions were you aware of? And how many have you managed to avoid doing so far? It’s always worth giving your knowledge of the road a refresh from time to time to ensure that you are driving as safely as possible for yourself and the other drivers on the road.