UK lockdown: What are the new rules for drivers and how far can people travel?

Sean O'Grady
UK lockdown: What are the new rules for drivers and how far can people travel?
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People are now permitted to drive to other destinations for their daily exercise under easing of lockdown measures for England announced by Boris Johnson.

In his address to the nation, the prime minister said the government was changing its guidance around motoring, specifically in reference to commuting to work and outdoor exercise.

The UK has been in lockdown since the 23 March. Mr Johnson described the lockdown restrictions on freedoms as “a kind that we have never seen before in peace or war.”

He said the rules have “prevented this country from being engulfed by what could have been a catastrophe in which the reasonable worst-case scenario was half a million fatalities.”

So what are the new rules around motoring?

According to the prime minister’s broadcast people in England are allowed to drive their cars to get to work and to go somewhere to take “unlimited exercise”.

How far can people drive?

There are no mileage limits set for the distance people could drive and you may note the government’s discouragement of public transport. Walking and cycling are favoured, but your car is an option once again.

“You should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited,” announced Mr Johnson.

What are the possible issues around changes to motoring rules?

You can see the issues. First, local authorities and employers will need to give serious consideration to where everyone will be able to park, and how much it will cost. Relaxing parking restrictions and reducing or abolishing charges (including the London Congestion Charge) would help, as would scrapping bus lanes, if temporarily.

Parking in parks may be needed, and pedestrianised streets de-pedestrianised, admittedly not an attractive idea; but the congestion will be intense if nothing is done to free traffic flow.

Of course, this will all mean dirtier, more polluted air and a sudden jump in NOx and CO2 emissions.

There will also, inevitably, be more road traffic accidents, (including with cyclists) meaning more strain on the emergency services, and more unnecessary social contacts at petrol stations, garages, motorway services and the like.

Will the two-metre rule be rigidly observed in every single branch of Kwik-Fit, motorway loos or Shell filling station? Will the occupants of the vehicles always be strictly from the same household – given the motor car’s traditional role as mobile clandestine love big? It remains to be seen.

Under England’s new freedoms, the “R” rate may accelerate faster than a Bugatti Veyron, with Boris’ rev counter-style R-gauge racing fast into the red zone. The new rules will also prove impossible to police, given the likely volume of traffic back on the road.

How does this differ in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

According to the Welsh government, people should still try to drive "as little as possible" and are urging people to try and meet all of their household’s needs within walking distance if possible.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, there is “strong advice” for people not to travel more than five miles for leisure. "“You will also be permitted to travel short distances for outdoor leisure and exercise but advised to stay within a short distance of your local community and travel by walk, wheel and cycle where possible."

In Northern Ireland you must have a "reasonable excuse" to make a journey, including travelling to meet frieneds or family outdoors, to get exercise and to go to work.

Staying alert in this next phase of the crisis doesn’t just mean being awake at the wheel; it also means a thorough understanding of what amounts to a new coronavirus-inspired Highway Code. Mind how you go.

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