IN WHAT has been labelled with tongue firmly in cheek as the “worst sequel yet”, England is now in a third national lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leading motorists to wonder for what reasons they are legally allowed to drive their cars.
Addressing the nation from Downing Street on Monday, January 4, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a national lockdown would come into force at midnight because if action were not taken, the NHS could find itself overwhelmed within three weeks, due to the new strain of the virus identified in southern areas of the UK before Christmas.
The new strain is estimated to be between 50% and 70% more transmissible than the variant that forced the first two national lockdowns, meaning it is far easier to contract and pass on to others than ever before.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” Mr Johnson said, adding that the number of people currently in hospital with the virus is currently 40% higher than during the first peak in April.
However, the inconsistency of coronavirus restrictions over the past year has, as ever, led to some confusion over what people are permitted and not permitted to do.
When am I allowed to drive my car during lockdown?
In terms of severity, the new national lockdown strikes a note similar to the first one in April: people are only allowed to leave the house for one of a short list of reasons, including:
- Buying essential shopping and medical supplies
- Going to work or providing voluntary/ charitable services if unable to do so from home
- Exercising, either alone, with your household or support bubble, or with one other person
- Meeting with your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, if you are legally permitted to form one
- To seek medical attention or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
- Attending education or childcare, for those eligible. Schools are to remain closed until February half term, apart from to children of those deemed to be critical workers. Michael Gove confirmed that pupils will not sit exams this summer.
These new rules came into effect from 00.01 on January 5, 2021, and will be codified into law on January 6. They will stay in effect until at least February 15, with some restrictions expected to last seven weeks or more.
Other reasonable excuses for leaving the home during lockdown
The government has outlined a list of “reasonable excuses” for leaving your home. As well as those outlined above, you can leave home for other specific reasons such as compassionate visits (e.g. to someone who is giving birth or dying), for animal welfare reasons like visiting a vet and to attend communal worship or life events like funerals.
You can find a full list of “reasonable excuses” on the government website.
What happens if I am stopped by police for driving during lockdown?
Going for a drive during the lockdown without doing so for one of the above expressed purposes is likely to be seen as a contravention of the rules. If you are caught by police leaving home without a reasonable excuse, you may be issued with a fixed penalty notice.
This fine will be £200 for your first offence, and will double every subsequent time you are caught up to a limit of £6,400. That’s a lot to pay for a leisurely drive.
Can I drive to a place of exercise during lockdown?
Exercise should take place locally to where you live and be limited to once per day. This means you should not drive unreasonable distances in order to exercise.
However, the government says that you can travel “a short distance within your area” if necessary, for example to drive to a park or other open space. Neither the phrase “short distance” nor “your area” are made specific in the government advice, so drivers are expected to use common sense.
Can I travel in someone else’s car during lockdown?
If you don’t have your own car then walking or cycling are encouraged over use of public transport. When the use of a car is necessary, the government says that you should avoid car sharing with anyone from outside your household or social bubble.
If you do have to share a car, you should make efforts to reduce the risk of transmission. These might include:
- Asking the driver/ passengers to wear a mask
- Facing away from one another
- Sharing transport with the same people each time, and minimising group size
- Opening windows for ventilation
- Considering seating arrangements to maximise social distance
- Cleaning the car between journeys using standard cleaning products, paying special attention to areas people are likely to touch like handles and seat belts
You should also expect a higher number of cyclists and pedestrians on the roads, now that exercise is one of the only reasons people are allowed to leave the house. Cyclists should always be given room by drivers but where possible, you should allow maximum social distance between you and others — for example, give cyclists ample room at traffic lights.
If you visit a petrol or service station, keep your distance from other drivers and pay using contactless if possible. You should always sanitise your hands when entering or exiting your vehicle. If you can find disposable gloves to use when handling the pump, that could also hep avoid spreading the virus.
What are the lockdown rules for driving in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
“Stay at home” orders currently apply in all UK countries.
Scotland has also entered a national lockdown (with the exclusion of some Scottish islands), meaning that you should not travel apart from for essential purposes. Those who remain in level 3 restrictions should not travel in or out of areas covered by level 4.
Wales is also at alert level 4, and the Welsh Government has said that people in Wales should “not travel without reasonable excuse”.
Northern Ireland is already in the midst of a six-week lockdown that began on December 26, but first minister Arlene Foster has said that the “stay at home” message, which has thus far not been legally enforced, will now be codified into law.
Quieter roads does not mean relaxing rules on speeding
If previous lockdowns are anything to go by, the number of cars on the road is likely to drop significantly, which may tempt drivers to put their foot down on emptier roads — it’s important to remember that, although there are fewer drivers there is still a large police presence on the roads, and any accident that speeding causes could take the attention of emergency services away from those struggling with coronavirus.
During the first lockdown speeding increased by 7%, according to government statistics.
– Not planning on driving your car during the lockdown? Here’s how to take care of your vehicle.
– Don’t panic if your car breaks down, breakdown services are available during this lockdown, as they were last time.
– If you’re planning on buying a car during the lockdown, read about how car sales were affected during the first during the first lockdown.