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COVID-19: What motorists need to know

Here are the answers to some questions you might have about the how coronavirus will affect drivers.

We have all the information motorists need to know while in lockdown.

We have all the information motorists need to know while in lockdown.

COVID-19 has, and is, having a major impact on the lives of millions of people and businesses across the UK and the rest of the world. In the wake of the government effectively ordering the entire British population to stay at home, we detail some advice on how the pandemic will affect drivers, along with some things you can and can’t do, until the safety restrictions are lifted.

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What is COVID-19 (coronavirus)?

COVID-19 — also referred to as coronavirus — is, quite simply, a potentially deadly viral infection. Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the virus is highly contagious, with carriers only showing symptoms several days after infection. Most at risk are the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, though no one is immune. It’s on that basis that the UK government, along with most other global countries, imposed strict lockdown measures to limit its spread.

Can I still travel?

The UK government’s advice is to avoid both non-essential travel and crowded places, including public transport. As a result, the car is likely to be critical transport and for many people — most notably key workers — a lifeline.

I’ve put myself in self-isolation; can I still go for a drive?

Driving hasn’t been banned. However, it’s important to stress that you should take your car out only if you have no other alternative. According to the government, trips to the supermarket and pharmacy are permitted. So too is commuting for key workers. But until the full range of restrictions is lifted, simply going out for a drive is not advisable.

Should I deep clean the inside of my car?

If you think someone with the virus may have been in it, then definitely yes. But if the only people in the car are you and your family, and they are all healthy and virus-free, then no.

However, to further reduce the possibility of infection, it would be wise for you and your passengers to use a hand sanitiser before getting into the car. And if you have any further concerns, use an automotive antibacterial spray or wipe to clean the main touchpoints, including exterior and interior door handles, seatbelts, steering wheel, gearstick and handbrake.

How safe is refuelling my car at a petrol station?

While fuel stations remain open, fuel pump handles have — not surprisingly — been highlighted as high-risk touchpoints. It’s advisable therefore to wear gloves while filling the car, then either sanitise your hands immediately afterwards, or wash your hands thoroughly as soon possible.

It’s worth highlighting that you should try to pay by contactless card if you can — avoiding touching the keypad either at the pay desk or ideally, at the pump. Paying at the pump means you can observe social distancing guidelines by avoiding going into the store.

From 1st April 2020, the contactless limit increased to £45 which should help limit contact with chip and PIN machines for many.

Will there be fuel shortages?

Categorically, no. First, due to travel restrictions, overall demand for fuel across the country has dropped, so UK stocks are high. Urban demand remains steady, though lower than normal, while motorway service stations have reported a slump as fewer motorists embark on long-distance journeys.

The Petrol Retailers Association has also issued assurances there will be no fuel shortages during the coronavirus crisis.

My car’s MOT is about to run out; what do I do?

The government has granted car owners a six-month exemption from MOT testing. The extension comes into place on Monday 30th March.

According to the government, the extension will ‘enable vital services such as deliveries to continue, frontline workers to get to work, and people to get essential food and medicine.’

But while the exemption will apply to cars, motorcycles and vans, the Government warned that vehicles must be kept in a roadworthy condition.

How will the extension affect insurance claims?

It won’t. The Department for Transport has stated that by effectively extending MOT certificates by law, they will remain valid for insurance purposes.

I have a driving test booked; will it still go ahead?

No. The DVSA has suspended practical driving tests for up to three months. The only exceptions are those booked by critical workers, including NHS workers, those involved in local and national government, public safety and national security, key public services and goods delivery drivers.

If you have a test booked, the DVSA will contact you by email around two weeks before your original date to reschedule the test. You will not be charged for the rescheduling.

The driving theory test has been cancelled until 21st April. If you have one booked between now and then, the DVSA will issue a full refund. However, you can re-book your theory test online now for April 21st onwards.

I’m due to attend a speed awareness course; will it go ahead?

Yes it will, but they have been suspended by UK Road Offender Education (which runs the scheme for the Police Service) for a minimum of 12 weeks, from 20th March 2020. It’s worth checking with the authority in charge of running your course to see whether courses will be run online during the suspension period.

What should I do if my car breaks down?

Both the AA and RAC have confirmed that it is their intention to attend every breakdown they are called out to. Understandably they have asked customers to maintain a distance of two metres from their mechanics at all times while they’re on the scene.

Also, if you’ve come into contact with the virus, are self-isolating or experiencing the symptoms of coronavirus, you should let your breakdown service know when you call them. This information will allow the mechanics can take appropriate action when they reach you.

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Jim McGill

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