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In the UK there have been some recent changes to traffic law. It is being reported that this means a change in the law such saying thank you on the road has become illegal. In the same article it is stated that 19/20 people do it, and this would agreed with my experience:

Saying thanks at the wheel could land drivers with £1,000 fine - as 3 gestures you should not do revealed

National Tyres and Autocare recently did a survey which shows that over one in five drivers flash their headlights as a way of saying thank you. One in three, however, choose the classic wave to say thanks, with one in six opting for a thumbs up. One in 20 drivers don't say thank you at all, the survey said.

The Highway Code is strict on the position in which you should drive. This involves having both hands on the wheel or handlebars "where possible".

Classic wave or thumbs up - Up to £1,000 fine and 3 penalty points

The Highway Code says drivers should only ever flash their headlights "to let other road users know that they are there".

Flashing headlights - Up to £1,000 fine

The code is clear on this and says: "You MUST NOT use hazard warning lights while driving or being towed unless you are on a motorway or unrestricted dual carriageway and you need to warn drivers behind you of a hazard or obstruction ahead. Only use them for long enough to ensure that your warning has been observed."

Hazard lights - Up to £,1000 fine

It is surprisingly hard to find a copy of the old highway code online, but this looks like a government document of the changes between the old and new versions:

For the wave or thumbs up, we can find the quoted text and it exists in both old and new, and is present in the current version online:

Rule 160 Once moving you should

drive or ride with both hands on the wheel or handlebars where possible. This will help you to remain in full control of the vehicle at all times. You may use driver assistance systems while you are driving. Make sure you use any system according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

The rules for he others are not present in the comparison file file (rules 83 to 125 are missing from the comparison file). These are the rule numbers from the current one:

  1. Flashing headlights.
  2. Hazard warning lights.

Is it illegal to say thank you while driving? Was it illegal before 29th January 2022? Has anything changed?

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  • It has been reported by many papers but that does not invalidate your point.
    – User65535
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 22:06
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    Lots of common behaviours on UK roads are potentially illegal. Sounding the horn while stationary is illegal (unless in danger), but try telling taxi drivers. Moving out of the left hand lane on a motorway to let other vehicles join is contrary to the highway code, and people have been prosecuted for driving in the middle lane under careless driving laws. Using a phone while parked with the engine running is illegal. Indeed stopping with the engine running is often illegal.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 16:16

1 Answer 1

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The rules about use of lights, and keeping hands on the steering wheel are not new, but they may have been rephrased.

It has always been the case that you should be in proper control of the vehicle (both hands on the wheel), and not to use the lights for thanking, or for inviting. Here are two extracts from the 1999 edition of The Highway Code.

  1. Flashing headlights. Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights in an attempt to intimidate other road users.
  2. If another driver flashes his headlights never assume that it is a signal to go. Use your own judgement and proceed carefully.
  1. Once moving you should
  • keep to the left, unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise. The exceptions are when you want to overtake, turn right or pass parked vehicles or pedestrians in the road
  • keep well to the left on right-hand bends. This will improve your view of the road and help avoid the risk of colliding with traffic approaching from the opposite direction
  • keep both hands on the wheel, where possible. This will help you to remain in full control of the vehicle at all times

The recent changes concern vulnerable road users, and their priority.

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  • It would be helpful if there were an officially recognized use of headlights as a signal by which X could let Y know that X is aware of Y's presence and will actively seek to avoid colliding with Y, but without implying anything about other motorists' presence or awareness.
    – supercat
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 21:29
  • @supercat even worse is when a driver flashes you at night to say "thank you". Blinding me from a few metres away isn't any kind of thanks, just thoughtless. At night, if I want to make a courtesy signal with the headlights, I'll briefly turn them off and on. Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 21:46

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