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Driving after a long break? Here’s all you need to know

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March 2, 2021
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If you’re considering driving after a long break, perhaps because of lockdown, disqualification, illness, or any other reason, what steps do you need to take to ensure you are fit and capable of driving safely and legally?

Here the car insurance experts at Adrian Flux offer some timely advice about getting back behind the wheel after a long lay-off. Whether you haven’t driven for a year or even 10 years, find out what you should do here.

1. Check your paperwork

Before driving after a long break, check your road tax and insurance are still up-to-date as it is an offence to drive without them.

Also, check you are qualified to drive the type of vehicle you plan to drive  — for example,  if you passed your test in an automatic, you can’t drive a manual. You should find out your legal obligations before driving.

If your motor insurance has lapsed since you last drove you will need to renew it. But, remember, your no claims bonus may have expired. If you speak to a broker rather than using a computer-managed price comparison site, you can explain your driving history and you may still get a discount. We still recognise expired no claims bonuses.

2. Test your car’s roadworthiness

If you plan to take your own car out driving after a long break, its condition will probably have deteriorated.

The most common cause of failure to start is a flat battery, so check yours is fully charged. If it isn’t, you have three options: put it on charge, jump start it, or replace it.

Check the tyres for loss of pressure and cracks that may have developed while it has lain dormant. Don’t forget it’s important to check the spare too.

driving after a long break

Depress the pedals. If any have gone spongy or fail to rise back to the rest position, investigate further.

When a car sits without turning a wheel for a long period of time, the handbrake can seize, so release it and make sure that is working too.

Check the wiper blades are clear and that all your lights and indicators are clean and bulbs are working.

You will also need to top up oil levels, coolant and window washer levels and ensure you have sufficient fuel to get you where you want to go, or at least to the closest filling station.

3. Make sure you’re ready to get back on the road

You will need to check you are personally roadworthy too. It may be a number of years since you passed your test; can you still read that number plate from 20.5 metres (about five car lengths) away? If not, you’ll need to get prescription glasses before you can drive.

If you have been told by your doctor that you should not drive, it is an offence to do so. Find advice on which medical conditions are “notifiable” here, meaning your doctor will tell you not to drive.

4. Find out about the car’s new technology

Inside of new car with high tech dashboard

If you’ll be driving after a long break in a different or new car, read the handbook and check out any new features it may have.

Newer vehicles, for example, will now boast advanced driver assistance technologies that you may be unfamiliar with.

Driver assistance aims to make driving easier while increasing road safety at the same time.  Some systems help you drive, others alert you to errors or hazards.

More recent systems developed include:

  • drowsiness detection
  • lane departure detection
  • adaptive cruise control
  • anti-lock braking systems
  • GPS satellite navigation (satnav)
  • accident prevention systems
  • automatic braking
  • blind-spot detection
  • intelligent speed control
  • daytime running lights

5. Read your Highway Code and look into new driving laws for 2021

Re-read the Highway Code and do a little research into laws that may have changed if you plan to go driving after a long break. We’ve outlined some of the new driving laws you should prepare for in 2021.

Rules on emissions

Recent laws have laid down guidelines on the emissions your vehicle is allowed to produce. Even if your vehicle meets those guidelines, there are restrictions on driving in some cities because of emissions, like in London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). It should also be noted that ULEZ has changed from 1st March 2021 – if you drive a heavy vehicle, you’ll need to comply with the Euro VI standards or face a daily charge.

In other parts of the country, plans for additional low emission zones have been postponed to 2021, so you might want to check the status of these when you drive. Cities that delayed their low emission zones include:

  • Birmingham
  • Bath
  • Oxford
  • Bristol

Smart motorways

Smart motorways may also be a new concept to you. Whilst you would generally drive in much the same way as you did previously, you must remember that on smart motorways, lanes with a red “X” overhead must not be driven on. If you do and you are caught, you face a penalty fine of up to £100 and three points on your licence.

Crackdown on mobile phone use

Person using their mobile phone while driving

Whilst you could get away with taking pictures or videos while driving because of a previous loophole, the laws have now been amended. In 2021, if you’re caught holding your phone or satnav, you’ll face six points on your licence and a £200 fine.

You’ll still be able to use your satnav if it’s secure in your vehicle (or built-in), but if you’re holding it you would be breaking the law.

Although most drivers are aware that they cannot use their mobile phones while driving, there are also a number of other rules that you probably don’t know about, which could lead to a fine and points on your licence.

The MOT extension has finished

Whilst MOTs were extended until 31st July 2020, the government has confirmed that they won’t be extended again. As a result, you’ll have to get an MOT before driving anywhere else if you’re due for one. Thankfully, most MOTs have remained open throughout the lockdown.

Potential pavement parking ban

Scotland has already fully banned pavement parking, as have some parts of England, such as London, but recently the government consulted on a nationwide ban on pavement parking. It might be best to err on the side of caution and avoid parking on pavements – or check the rules before you consider it!

Driving in Europe after Brexit

Following the finalisation of Brexit, you’ll need to carry around your green card when you drive in Europe. You’ll also need your car’s V5C logbook if your car is under 12 months old.

6. Start slowly

Quiet suburban road, perfect for driving down when returning to driving

Take time to familiarise yourself with the car’s controls, warning lights and dimensions.

Make sure your first time back driving after a long break isn’t an epic trek at a busy time of the day while it’s raining cats and dogs. Go out for a short drive if you’re allowed to, and make sure you go in good conditions, when the roads are quiet, ideally taking an experienced driver with you.

You could even have some refresher driving lessons or take a course like PassPlus if you’d feel more comfortable having a professional driver with controls on their side too. This has the added benefit of reducing car insurance premiums when you take out a policy with us too!

Perform some manoeuvres, such as reversing, parallel parking, three-point turns and hill starts, to build your confidence and travel on a variety of roads, from country lanes to dual carriageways, before hitting the motorway.

Now you are ready to get back behind the wheel to start driving after a long break – bon voyage!

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