Driving has not been totally banned during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown, but the government has said that you can only drive for certain reasons. Find out what these reasons are and what you should do to stay safe while driving.
During the emergency period, the government has said that you should only leave your home, and drive if necessary, if you have a reasonable excuse. Reasonable excuses include:
- For medical reasons, to provide care, or to help vulnerable people
- Travelling to and from work, but only when you cannot work from home
- To shop for basic necessities such as food. The government advises to do this as infrequently as you can, and use delivery services instead if possible.
You must not travel in a private vehicle with someone outside of your household.
Read the latest on how supermarkets are responding to the coronavirus outbreak.
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Can I drive for exercise?
You can leave your house for exercise. Official guidance on driving for exercise depend on where in the UK you live.
- In England, guidance issued by the police in mid April stated that it was OK to drive to exercise, provided that the time you spend driving did not exceed the time you spent exercising. Updated government advice that applies from Wednesday 13 May permits you to travel as far as you wish for exercise or outdoor activity; there is no limit on how often you can do this.
- In Northern Ireland, it is permitted to drive to exercise, provided you have a reasonable reason for needing to do so for that type of exercise, such as driving to a safe space or facility.
- In Scotland, guidance by the Scottish police is to stay local, use open spaces near to your home where possible and avoid unnecessary travel. You can leave your home to exercise more than once a day from Monday 11 May.
- In Wales, the Welsh government says you shouldn’t drive to exercise unless absolutely necessary and exercise should be taken in your local area and ‘as close as possible to the home’. There is a recognition that people with specific health or mobility issues may need to travel from their home area in order to be able to exercise. You can leave your home to exercise more than once a day from Monday 11 May.
Those that live in England should not drive to Scotland or Wales for exercise or outdoor activity.
The bullets above reflect official, country by country guidance. However, some Which? members have told us that – in countries where official guidance indicates that driving for exercise is permitted – some regional police forces may be taking a stricter approach. You can share your experiences of driving during lockdown over on Which? Conversation.
If you feel that driving is essential for you to be able to exercise safely, and you live somewhere that official guidance allows it, we recommend that you don’t drive further than you need to and avoid driving to areas that are likely to be busy.
If you have an allotment, you are allowed to visit it during lockdown, but drive only if walking is not possible. While visiting your allotment, observe social distancing rules, and clean your hands regularly. If you’re spending lots of time on your allotment right now, find out the best fruit and veg to grow and the best compost to use.
Specific driving rules for parents in certain circumstances
If you’re a divorced or separated parent of children under the age of 18, you’re also permitted to drive your children to and from the other parent’s home.
If your child is still at school, for example if you’re a keyworker, you’re allowed to drive your child to school.
When you shouldn’t drive
While driving is a safer mode of transport than public transport, as it involves less contact with other people, you should still avoid it unless it’s for one of the reasons outlined above. Even if you don’t plan to get out of the car, there is a risk of you breaking down or having an accident.
- Travel to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar is not regarded as a reasonable excuse for travel – people should remain in their primary residence, even if it’s in an area worse-affected by the coronavirus pandemic. However, students are permitted to move permanently back into their family home.
You should also not be going out for driving lessons with members of your household. Driving and theory tests have been suspended, though you can still book an emergency test if you’re a keyworker. To do this, email the DVSA.
Police officers have the power to stop and ask you where you are heading, and issue fines if they don’t believe you’re correctly following the new rules. Fines can start at £50 (if you pay within 14 days), but could rise greatly if people repeatedly flout the rules.
Those aged 70 or older, those who are pregnant, and those with certain underlying health conditions, are advised to be especially stringent. Our practical guidance for older people has advice on staying safe and how to avoid becoming isolated.
The NHS has also directly contacted people with some clinical conditions to say they should self-isolate and remain at home, and not drive if at all possible.
Anyone who is self-isolating because they or a member of their household has developed symptoms that are indicative of COVID-19 must not leave their home, even for the specific reasons outlined above – including the purchase of food or other essentials. Food and essentials must be delivered instead, and friends and delivery drivers should not enter the property.
Video: driving during lockdown
Watch our video to find out more about when you can and can’t drive during the lockdown, and what to do to stay safe while driving.
Staying safe if you drive during the coronavirus pandemic
Take more care than usual while driving; while roads remain open, it’s important they’re kept clear for those that need them – including emergency services, for example.
If you have no choice but to drive, steps you should take to protect yourself and others include:
- Before and after using your car, thoroughly wash your hands, or use alcohol gel if this isn’t possible.
- Only you and members of your household should drive in the same car – don’t share with family members in a different household.
- For cars you share with others, wipe down the door handles, steering wheel, controls and touchscreen with soap and water, or a disinfectant if you’re confident it won’t damage the surface.
- Consider driving at less busy times of day if possible (avoid times when essential workers might be commuting to work).
- Avoid refuelling any more often than essential, and fully fill up your tank when you do. Petrol stations are one of the key areas where the COVID-19 virus can spread, for example through handling the petrol pump. Users are advised to wear disposable gloves. If possible, pay for petrol contactlessly.
What if I break down or have an accident?
If you do have an incident, bear in mind that the usual services you rely on may be operating differently to usual, and some might have closed.
Garages and petrol stations are allowed to remain open during the lockdown, but that’s no guarantee they will be.
Breakdown services are still running. If you need to call one out, make sure you maintain the usual social distancing rules with the repair person.
The AA has warned you may have to wait longer than usual for recovery services, and that their staff are following the latest hygiene advice including protective gloves and using cleaning products.
If you need to renew your breakdown cover, find out which are the best and cheapest services in our reviews of the best car breakdown providers for 2020.
Free AA breakdown assistance for NHS workers
On 2 April, the AA announced that it is offering free breakdown assistance to NHS workers travelling to or from work, even if they have not paid for cover.
The offer applies to anyone with an NHS ID card, covering 1.5 million NHS workers in the UK, including cleaners, nurses, porters and surgeons.
NHS workers can register online at www.theAA.com/nhs to receive a text message with contact details to get assistance. However, they will still be able to get help if they do not register. There is a dedicated hotline (0800 0725 064) for NHS workers to call if their vehicle has a problem while they are driving to or from work, or at home.
Maintaining your car during lockdown or self isolation
Don’t drive your car if you think something’s wrong with it – get it fixed first. Many garages will still be open for urgent repairs.
Any accidents on the road requiring treatment will add to the pressures on the NHS, and you would be putting yourself under greater risk of contracting the virus by needing treatment for injuries caused by an accident.
MOT deadlines have been extended for all vehicles during the coronavirus outbreak, but vehicles must still be kept roadworthy and drivers may be prosecuted for driving an unsafe vehicle. You can find out more about how to keep your car roadworthy in our guide on how to pass an MOT check.
Do I need to drive my car to maintain the battery?
Lack of driving, or only doing short journeys, can be bad for your car battery. If you’re not driving for several weeks or months, you could consider investing in an external battery charger that is compatible with your car.
There are several good practice rules you can follow to reduce the strain on your battery, particularly if its old:
- Use lights and heaters as little as you safely can while driving, as these are key threats that put a strain on your battery.
- Plugging items into the USB or 12V supply in your car can also rapidly flatten the battery.
- Make sure you turn off both exterior and interior lights whenever you park your car.
- To reduce the strain on the battery when starting the engine, depressing the clutch can help. This reduces the load on the starter motor, so it requires less power to turn the engine over.
- Watch out for the warning signs: unusual noises when you turn on the ignition, dimming of lights and a slow engine turnover are symptoms of a battery low on energy. Don’t take any chances if you see these signs. If you haven’t already started your journey, stay put; if you’re already en route, pull over in a safe place. Get the problem fixed before you drive any further.
If your battery is flat, it won’t recover by simply leaving it alone. Don’t keep trying if the engine fails to start – flattening the battery further could damage it.
For emergencies, you might need to jump start your car. Make sure you have everything you need to do this and know what steps to take in advance – see our expert advice on how to jump start your car safely.
This article was first published on 27 March, and is updated regularly to reflect changing rules in each country in the UK. Last updated on 12 May to reflect updated guidance on driving for exercise and outdoor activity in England.