Can you go for a drive during the Coronavirus lockdown?

Can you go for a drive during the Coronavirus lockdown? (updated)

Here’s what the government is saying

New controls on leaving the home have been introduced by the government in order to stop the rapid spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. The rules were announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 8pm on March 23 and came into effect immediately, with his clear message: “You must stay at home.”

The tighter measures are a result of people flaunting social distancing measures at the weekend, with people heading to parks en masse despite government advice. The Snowdonia National Park Authority said that Snowdon had seen its “busiest day in living memory”.

There are very limited circumstances under which citizens are allowed to leave their homes:

1 Shop for basic necessities such as food and medicine, as infrequently as possible
2 Exercise once a day, for example a run, walk or bike ride
3 Any medical need, or to provide care to a vulnerable person
4 Travelling to and from work, when absolutely necessary

However, the BBC said police were inundated with calls asking for clarification on specific reasons for being able to leave the house, and since the announcement members of the public have been seen walking in remote rural areas, having driven there by car.

Is going for a drive allowed?

Unless it’s covered by one of the above four reasons, no, though many people have assumed travelling to a quieter, perhaps more rural area, is permitted as it is covered by the exercise allowance. Several police forces disagree with this interpretation of the rules — Police in Durham and North Yorkshire have begun roadside checks on motorists and pedestrians, questioning them about their reasons for being out.

Drivers in Shropshire and Devon were given notes on their cars asking “Why are you here today?” and telling them they were “entitled to exercise once daily”, adding that this should be walking, running or cycling “from home”, not driving somewhere.

Officers now have the power to stop and question you regarding where you are going, and can fine you if your reason for travel does fit their understanding of the new measures. Laws that came into force overnight on March 26 that give officers the power to issue £60 spot fines, reduced to £30 if paid within two weeks, for anyone deemed to be breaking the rules. The fine will double to £120 for a second offence. Parents will be fined for any children caught outside without good reason.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs intervened said the public should “stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible”, adding: “Do not travel unnecessarily.”

The guidance, which reiterated that people stay two metres from anyone outside their household, also said that gatherings of more than two people in parks or other public spaces have been banned and said: “The police will enforce this.”

The tactic was branded as “sinister” and “counter-productive” by Big Brother Watch but Superintendent Steve Pont of Derbyshire police defended it and said people were “finding excuses or loopholes” not to stay at home.

Superintendent Pont told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “The point is that the government legislation said if you go out to take exercise, you should make your time away from home as short as possible, it didn’t say as short as possible unless you want to go for a drive in the Peak District.”

The government has said that if you are a key worker, you are permitted to drive your children to school in addition to commuting. And if you are a separated or divorced parent of a child under the age of 18, you are allowed to give your children a lift to the house of their other parent.

In short, you cannot go for a drive (or ride a motorbike) just to stop yourself from going stir crazy, or to blow off the cobwebs. Police numbers are predicted to drop by as much as 20-40% due to coronavirus, according to some estimates, and it is safe to assume that other emergency services are likely to take a hit as well. The government has asked former NHS workers to return to work, and St. John’s Ambulance is reportedly training thousands of volunteers to assist the emergency services.

Going out for a drive when unnecessary increases the risk of a collision which could add to the strain that the NHS is already under. The reason for these restrictions, said Boris Johnson, is to “protect the NHS’s ability to cope”.

And bear in mind that if you were in a road accident during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, not only would you be putting extra strain on the system but your chances of being attended to swiftly are greatly reduced and the possibility of contracting the virus while receiving medical treatment are greatly increased. Motorcyclists and cyclists, particularly those venturing off road, should bear this in mind, too.

Not going out for unnecessary drives also keeps the roads empty for those who most need them. That’s not just emergency services, but other key workers such as food delivery services.

What if you need to take your car for an MOT?

Garages are to remain open for emergency repairs, in order to keep cars roadworthy, though MOTs due in the next six months have now been delayed. MOTs for larger, heavier vehicles are also suspended.

Coronavirus: Can I still get my car MOT’d during lockdown? (updated)

Driving tests have been suspended for up to three months.

How drastic are the Covid-19 constrictions in the UK?

It is important to remember that, although these are the most severe restrictions on freedom seen in peacetime in living memory, the measures introduced are still not as drastic as those seen in other European countries.

“No prime minister wants to enact measures like this,” said Boris Johnson in his address. “I know the damage that this disruption is doing and will do to people’s lives, to their businesses and to their jobs.”

He added: “We will beat the coronavirus and we will beat it together and therefore I urge you at this moment of national emergency to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.”

Before then, your petrolhead urges will have to wait. 

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