While you’re not looking, driving regulations are changing

The media has had an awful lot to cover in 2021, and not much has changed as 2022 gets underway. As Covid continues to dominate news coverage, some other stories aren’t getting get much of a look in.

Take, for example, changes to UK driving regulations. A host of regulatory updates are quietly making their way into law without much news coverage, or not on TV at least. We’ve picked out four and summarised what you can expect.

1. Not using your mobile phone now means not using your mobile phone.

Way back in 2013, a ban was put on using hand-held mobile phones whilst driving (emergencies aside). However, in a clear example of not keeping up with the times, ‘using’ a phone actually only covered calls and texts. That left a loophole you could drive a bus through, as scrolling through playlists, taking photos, playing games and so on were technically exempt from prosecution. Now the law is being brought up to date. From 2022, it’s expected that virtually all mobile phone use will be banned while you’re driving, even if the vehicle is currently stationary.

The changes to the law are being made following a public consultation which found that 81% supported tougher restrictions on mobile phone use when driving. Presumably, the other 19% expressed concerns that without regular updates, their Instagram following might diminish during a long journey.

2. New Clean Air Zones are springing up like organic mushrooms.

Most of us know about the ULEZ in London, in which drivers of the most polluting vehicles are charged a hefty sum for entering the area. This has been in force since 2019, though in October 2021 the area was expanded dramatically and now covers all areas within the North and South Circular Roads.

What’s less well-publicised, unless you live in the affected areas, is that a slew of additional low emission zones are springing up. Known as Clean Air Zones, they are already in place in Bath, Birmingham and Portsmouth. In 2022, they will also apply in Bradford, Greater Manchester, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee, Oxford, Bristol and Newcastle

There are some variations between regions in what vehicles are targeted. For example, driving a 1985 diesel Mercedes 240 won’t cost you anything in Bath or Portsmouth, but incurs an £8 per day charge in Birmingham. The easiest way to check is using the government’s number plate checker, which seems pretty straightforward.

If you break the rules, Birmingham will hand you a £120 fine, which reduces to £60 if you pay a fortnight. In Bath, it’s also £120, but your footman can pay in guineas.

3. Pedestrians and cyclists have more rights of way.

Extensive changes to the Highway Code are on the way, subject to Parliament’s approval. One of the most significant reforms is the principle of a ‘hierarchy of road users’. Essentially, this means the code is designed around trying to protect those who would be worst off in a collision. This deserves an article in itself, but for now let’s focus on the changes regarding rights of way for cyclists and pedestrians.

This is how the RAC puts it:

Currently, drivers are only required to give way when someone steps onto a crossing, while pedestrians are told they shouldn’t start to cross until vehicles on the road have stopped.

The new rules – due to be published this autumn – will strengthen right of way for pedestrians on pavements and when crossing, or waiting to cross, the road.

The updated Code will also give cyclists priority at junctions when travelling straight ahead, as well as issue guidance on safe passing distances and speeds.

The DfT has made it clear that the hierarchy “does not remove the need for all road users to behave responsibly.”

What will it all mean in practice? If the comments section on the RAC article is accurate, it’s the end of civilisation as we know it. But that’s also true of every comment section on every motoring article, ever. The principal fear seems to be that bolshy pedestrians and aggressive cyclists will be emboldened by their new status.

Whether chaos will really ensue remains to be seen. Our hope is that if you’re already considerate and super-vigilant regarding cyclists and pedestrians, the changes won’t actually make much difference, but watch this space.

4. From Spring, you can drive hands-free in your ALKS car (probably)

ALKS (Automatic Lane Keeping Systems) ia a set of technologies which can keep a car within a lane without driver input. This means that you could, for example, take your hands off the wheel while the car monitors and adjusts itself, a bit like cruise control for steering. However, as things stand, ALKS cannot legally be used as the manufacturer intended. Under the Road Traffic Act (1991), your hands-free cruising could be designated as ‘driving without due care and attention’.

That’s expected to change in the Spring following lengthy discussions and consultations by MPs. The adoption is likely to be cautious at first, with proposed changes only allowing hands-free driving up to 37mph on motorways.

It’s not entirely clear what you’ll be legally entitled to do whilst your ALKS is minding the shop, as the proposed regulations stipulate that:

“If the vehicle is designed to require you to resume driving after being prompted to, while the vehicle is driving itself, you must remain in a position to be able to take control. For example, you should not move out of the driving seat. You should not be so distracted that you cannot take back control when prompted by the vehicle.”

That would seem to imply no faddling with your phone, for example. Time will tell whether millions of bored drivers, with their cars doing all the work, can resist the siren song of their mobiles.

The times may be changing, but one thing is a constant — great service and reaosnable prices at Welsh VW Specialists.We are an independent garage specialising (as the name suggests!) in the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. Welsh VW Specialists provide services, repairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.