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The UK’s changing driving habits

The UK’s changing driving habits

Modern drivers must be doing something right. Since the 60s, Britain’s roads have been getting safer and safer (despite there being more cars around). So, what’s changed? We’ve delved into the archives to dig out some of the most shocking facts about old-school driving habits to compare them with what's best practice – and the law – these days.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
minute read
posted 24 JANUARY 2020

Drink Driving

Then: shocking as it may sound today, drink driving wasn’t always as strictly penalised as it is today. Officially it’s been an offence to be drunk in charge of a motor vehicle since 1925, but the first legal drink driving limit was only set in 1967. While breathalysers were beginning to be phased in, the primary way police could check your ability to drive would still be determined by nothing more scientific than testing the driver’s ability to walk a straight line.

Now: these days you could face an unlimited fine or up to 6 months in prison if you’re caught driving over the limit. If you cause an accident, the sentence could be much longer. 

When it comes to car insurance, if you’re over the drink drive limit and have an accident, any claim for injury to you, or damage to your own car may not be paid. Any third party injury or damage would still be paid, but your insurance provider might try to recover their costs. Plus, in general, any kind of criminal conviction increases your premiums. Find out more about drink driving and UK laws.


Then: imagine cramming a handful of kids in the car and not reminding them to put their seatbelts on… the thought would make a parent cringe. But the idea of actually being strapped safely into your seat is a modern one – wearing a seatbelt didn’t become a legal requirement until 1989.

Now: everyone must wear belts unless they're reversing or have proof of medical exemption. You can be fined up to £500 if caught not wearing one. If you have an accident while driving without wearing a seatbelt, the chances of fatality increases by up to 200%, so make sure you abide by the law and stay safe.

Did you know?
The modern seatbelt was invented in 1959 by a Swedish engineer, Nils Bohlin, who spent a year perfecting the design.

Speed limits

Then: speed limits? What speed limits? Drivers were free to go as fast as they liked (or could manage) along motorways… until a 70mph limit was enforced on motorways in 1965. This limit was meant to be a temporary measure, but when the Government Road Research Laboratory discovered there had been 20% fewer crashes, effectively saving 60 lives, it was made permanent two years later.

Now: speed cameras were introduced in 1992 and each road type has its own individual speed limit. If you don’t spot any speed limit signs, be sure to stick to the speed limit for built up areas (30 miles per hour). If you are caught speeding, the minimum penalty is a £100 fine and three points on your licence. Depending on how much you were exceeding the speed limit, you may be offered a speed awareness course. You face a driving ban if you accumulate six or more points within two years of passing your test, or if you accumulate 12 points in three years.

Child seats

Then: unbelievably, the very first child seats, around since the 1930s, weren’t designed to protect the child, but simply to boost them up so they could see out of the window and stay in one place!

Now: after 2003 it became law that ALL children must use an approved child car seat until they’re 12 years old (or 135cm tall, whichever comes first). Hospitals won’t allow babies to go home without first checking they have the correct rear-facing child seat, and if drivers are caught with children not in seats or strapped in as per the law, the driver may receive a £500 fine. A record of this could also increase your insurance premium. Find out more: car seat buying guide.

Did you know?
Regardless of height or weight, it’s the driver’s responsibility to ensure any child under the age of 14 wears a seatbelt or appropriate safety restraint.

Did you know?

Holding a mobile phone or sat nav while driving is against the law. If you use your mobile you can get 6 penalty points and a £200 fine, your case could go to court and you could be disqualified from driving and get a fine of up to £1,000. You'll also lose your licence if you passed your driving test in the last two years.   

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