Careful, the new Highway Code doesn't like it Dipesh Gadher, Transport Correspondent
Beware tinted car windows, in-car navigation systems and driving
your motorised wheelchair at more than 8mph on the road.
These are the new scourges for the modern-day driver identified
in proposals for an updated Highway Code, the road-users’ bible.
Following parliament’s decision last week to outlaw smoking in
public places, motorists will also be told for the first time
that smoking at the wheel is a potential distraction which
might cause them to crash.
The code, which was last amended in 1999, is one of the
biggest selling non-fiction books in Britain, with about 1m
copies purchased each year. A revised edition is due to be
published in the spring of 2007.
Ministers claim the changes — which went out to public consultation
last week — reflect emerging trends on the nation’s highways,
legislative reform and recent advances in technology.
But critics believe some of the new advice may be driven
by political correctness and a nanny state approach.
Proposals include the addition of a “diversity statement”;
a suggestion that drivers on long journeys should drink
two cups of coffee and have a catnap of up to 15 minutes if
they feel tired; and “green” advice to reduce harmful
emissions by switching off the engine when a car is stationary.
“When the code was launched in 1931 there were just 2.3m vehicles
on the roads and today there are over 30m,” said Stephen Ladyman,
the minister of state for transport. “It is essential reading for
everyone who uses the roads.”
The advice on satellite navigation — or sat nav — systems
proposed by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) says:
“There is a danger of driver distraction being caused by
in-vehicle systems such as route guidance and navigation systems . . .
Do not be distracted by maps or screen-based information
(such as navigation or vehicle management systems) while driving.”
The proposal also warns against drivers being lulled into
a false sense of security by other technological innovations:
“Do not rely on driver assistance systems such as cruise
control or lane departure warnings. They are available to
assist but you should not reduce concentration levels.”
More than 2.2m vehicles are now equipped with a sat nav system,
according to a government estimate. A fifth of new cars have the
systems fitted as standard, but the majority of sat nav units are
bought “off-the-shelf” in shops such as Halfords and Dixons.
About 1m of these units are thought to have been sold in 2005 alone.
Sat nav systems rely on a global positioning device which
receives a satellite signal to track a car’s movements.
Drivers punch in their starting point and destination and
the quickest route is automatically plotted on a screen.
An automated voice can provide instructions on some units.
New research by Privilege insurance will show this week that
almost one in five motorists (19%) admits losing concentration
while fiddling with the sat nav unit during a journey — 2%
more than drivers who fumble with conventional road maps.
Another addition to the Highway Code proposed by the DSA may
disappoint criminals and celebrities keen to hide their
identity behind blacked-out windows. “You MUST NOT use a
vehicle with excessively dark tinting fitted to the windscreen,” it says.
Under existing laws to ensure clear visibility, all windscreens
must allow in 75% of the light, 70% for side windows. These
standards are maintained by vehicle manufacturers, but police
are concerned about a growing trend for darker tinting film
added to cars once they are on the road.
Last year Gary Neville, the England and Manchester United
footballer, was reportedly fined and forced to change the
windscreen of his car because it was too dark.
The revised Highway Code will also feature a new section on
powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters, under the DSA proposals.
The move follows a spate of accidents involving elderly or
disabled people — nicknamed “hell’s grannies” —
driving their motorised wheelchairs in a reckless manner.
In 2004 seven people were killed, including a woman who
reversed off a pier into the sea and a man who was run over
by a wheelchair painted in the colours of Ferrari.
The speed limit for motorised wheelchairs and mobility
scooters is 4mph on the pavement and 8mph on the road.