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3 Jun 2020

Can I drive during the coronavirus lockdown?

We outline the latest rules on driving during the coronavirus outbreak and what you should do to stay safe while driving.

The rules on driving during lockdown differ depending on where you live in the UK, and are regularly updated.

During the emergency period, the government originally said that you should only leave your home, and drive if necessary, if you have a reasonable excuse. Reasonable excuses included:

  1. For medical reasons, to provide care, or to help vulnerable people
  2. Travelling to and from work, but only when you cannot work from home
  3. 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.

The rules on leaving the house, and driving, are gradually being eased, but the precise rules depend on which country in the UK you live in.

Regardless of where you live, 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.

Keep up to date with our latest coronavirus news and advice.

Can I drive for exercise or outdoor activity?

You can leave your house for exercise. Official guidance on driving for exercise depend on where in the UK you live; all the rules below are on the basis that social distancing is maintained between people from different households.

  • In England, you can travel as far as you wish for exercise or outdoor activity (such as sunbathing); there is no limit on how often you can do this. From Monday 1 June, you can also visit friends and family in parks or private gardens, in groups of up to six.
  • In Northern Ireland, it is also permitted to drive to exercise, and groups of up to six people can meet outdoors.
  • In Scotland, from Friday 28 May, people from two households are permitted to meet outside in groups of up to eight. Travel within your local area is now allowed - although there is 'strong advice' not to travel more than five miles for leisure.
  • In Wales, you can drive to exercise provided that you stay within your local area. No journeys outside your local area should be taken to exercise in the countryside. You can exercise with members of one other household.

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. You can share your experiences of driving during lockdown over on Which? Conversation.

If you have an allotment, you are allowed to visit it during lockdown. 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 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, we recommend that you don't drive further than you need to for exercise or outdoor activity, and avoid driving to areas that are likely to be busy.

Even if you don't plan to get out of the car, there is a risk of you breaking down or having an accident.

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.

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.

Please note that this video was created before lockdown rules were relaxed, and so the information on when you can and can't drive may be out of date. However, the video also contains useful and and current advice on staying safe while driving.

Staying safe if you drive during the coronavirus pandemic

Steps you should take to protect yourself and others if you drive during the COVID-19 outbreak 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.
  • Consider regularly wiping 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 may be closed.

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. You may be asked to do things slightly differently to normal; for example, if your car needs to be towed, you are unlikely to be able to ride in the recovery vehicle.

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 breakdown assistance for NHS workers

Several breakdown providers, including the AA and the RAC, are 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.

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 3 June to reflect updated guidance on driving for exercise and outdoor activity.