Fuel ‘gamblers’ risking fines and penalty points if they run out

AA warns drivers of low fuel gamble

Blocking the road or careless driving due to running out of fuel could land drivers in trouble with the police

20 February 2023

Drivers can be fined as a result of running out of fuel. The warning comes from the UK’s largest breakdown organisation after one of its members was fined by the police for causing an obstruction after running out of fuel.

Last year, the AA attended more than 10,500 breakdowns where members had run out of fuel or electrical charge – many of these on motorways or fast-moving roads. The high fuel prices and the cost-of-living crisis are thought to have contributed to this.

Whilst running out of fuel isn’t illegal in itself, under current legislation, drivers can be fined a minimum of £100 and three penalty points if their car obstructs the road as a result of an avoidable breakdown, or if running out of fuel is deemed to result in careless or dangerous driving. If a vehicle causing an obstruction is found to be at fault for a collision, the penalty can be more serious.

Rule 97 of The Highway Code states: Before setting off. You SHOULD ensure – that you have sufficient fuel for your journey, especially if it includes motorway driving.*

Fuel consumption

Edmund King, AA president said: “There can be some genuine reasons for running out of fuel such as a faulty gauge or undetected fuel leak. On occasions cars may get stuck in jams for hours due to bad winter weather or miles of disruption leading to Channel ports which could result in running out of fuel. Hence we advise to always have at least one quarter of a tank of fuel. Likewise, some EV drivers might run low or out of charge if several chargers aren’t working.

“One would hope that police officers would be reasonable in those circumstances. But where drivers negligently run on fumes, leaving themselves and others in danger on the road, the weight of the law can be brought to bear on them. Don’t be a fuel gambler by running on fumes.

“Most of the out-of-fuel cases the AA sees are a result of driver misjudgement, and the police have the power to give a warning or a penalty if it is deemed to be careless driving or causes an obstruction. If you are running low, you can use the AA route planner to find the closest and cheapest fuel.’

Fuel system damage

When a vehicle, especially a diesel, runs out of fuel, it can lead to engine running faults further down the road. Modern diesel fuel systems rely upon the lubricants contained within the fuel to lubricate the surfaces of components such as the fuel pump and injectors – once these have been run dry their surfaces can become scored and cause issues weeks or months later.

Nick Powell, AA Patrol of the Year, said: “There are some occasions when running out of fuel is totally understandable such as a fuel gauge developing a fault mid-journey, or the fuel tank has struck something in the road. But the majority of cases that we see at the roadside are where drivers have run out of fuel because they thought they could make it home or to a cheaper filling station. Running out can leave you in a potentially dangerous position.

“Many people are finding the cost-of-living crisis difficult, and fuel costs do hit hard on the family budget. We know anecdotally from our patrols that many people they rescue blame high fuel prices and the temptation to fill up as infrequently as possible.

“Our website has plenty of tips on eco-driving showing you can save an average of 10% by combining trips, removing unused clutter and roof boxes from your car or driving more smoothly by avoiding harsh acceleration. If you do find yourself out of fuel or charge do your best to get the car to the side of the road as safely as you can. If it’s away from the main traffic flow, it will be less of an obstruction and less likely to attract a fine.

“Our advice is simply not to chance it – being stuck at the roadside is potentially very dangerous and inconvenient – so fill up before the fuel warning light comes on. Adding the cost of a fine to the family budget will only increase the financial strain and can be avoided.”

If you do run out and you’re not a member of a breakdown organisation, the AA, will let you join on the spot but you will pay an additional ‘will join’ fee on top of the cost of breakdown cover. The fuel will be charged separately.