Right Driver

Is it illegal to drift on the road even if you are still in control?

Let’s say you put a professional drifter in a car – someone like Duane McKeever, someone who has consummate car control even when going sideways at 90mph – would they be allowed to drift on a public road? While there is no definition in legislation that covers drifting (unlike in New Zealand where they have a ‘sustained loss of traction‘ clause), drifting comes under definitions of dangerous driving that including racing, going too fast or driving aggressively. The offence relates to a standard of driving which would not be considered as ‘careful.’

If you are found guilty of dangerous driving, the fines are pretty much unlimited, you will be banned from driving for a period of time and you could end up in prison for up to 14 years.

Losing traction momentarily, for example a small ‘chirp’ from your wheels as you pull away from the lights (which often happens as your wheels cross white lines) would not be considered dangerous driving unless you exhibited other dangerous actions such as deliberately cutting someone off.

In the legislation, the meaning of dangerous driving is defined in the Road Traffic Act 1988, c.52, part I, driving offences, section 2A:

Meaning of dangerous driving.

(1)For the purposes of sections 1 [F2, 1A] and 2 above a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if (and, subject to subsection (2) below, only if)—

(a)the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and

(b)it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

(2)A person is also to be regarded as driving dangerously for the purposes of sections 1 [F2, 1A] and 2 above if it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous.

(3)In subsections (1) and (2) above “dangerous” refers to danger either of injury to any person or of serious damage to property; and in determining for the purposes of those subsections what would be expected of, or obvious to, a competent and careful driver in a particular case, regard shall be had not only to the circumstances of which he could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused.

(4)In determining for the purposes of subsection (2) above the state of a vehicle, regard may be had to anything attached to or carried on or in it and to the manner in which it is attached or carried.]

Part 3 refers to the likelihood of injury to any person or serious damage to property. What makes something like drifting dangerous is:

  1. Tyre smoke obscures the view for other motorists
  2. Road surfaces are far more variable than race tracks meaning that the driver cannot accurately predict the level of grip. This increases the chances the driver will lose control
  3. Other road users will not be expecting another vehicle to appear at such a speed or position and may panic, causing an incident
  4. Aggressive driving like driving damages the road surface
  5. As the vehicle is significantly sideways while drifting, it is more likely to cross the centreline
  6. Drifting is likely to require driving in excess of the speed limit
  7. Drifting on the road encourages other less-skilled drivers to attempt it in an unsafe environment.

Obviously, we have a great many motor racing competitions in the UK that happen on the roads which do contain driving which would be considered dangerous, but they are operated on closed roads where this is minimal risk that the public will be affected. However, it has happened in the past that a rally competitor has experienced an accident with a local who hasn’t realised the road is closed.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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