Travel Advice

Top Tips For Driving In The UK

First welcome to the UK, sorry about the weather. If you are arriving from the US then you’ll probably be landing at Heathrow or Gatwick airport near London. Firstly, don’t think about renting a car if you are staying in the centre of London, traffic is a nightmare, there is congestion charge of £11.50 a day, and parking is very expensive. The standard of driving is also not the best (just think of Ben Hur). Public transport is your best option for this part of your trip.

If you intend to explore the rest of the UK, especially the more out of the way places then a car would be your best option so here are some completely unauthorised but practical tips and quirks about driving in the UK for the first time.

Choosing Your Car

Most cars in the UK are manual (stick shift) so make sure you specify an Automatic if you are not used to driving these. Also, the big difference – the steering wheel is on the right (the ‘correct’ side of the car) and we drive on the left, definitely the most important thing to remember!

Right Hand Drive

Manual transmission and steering wheel on the ‘right’ side

Apart from the transmission, the cars are no longer that different from the US. UK cars tend to be slightly smaller but not as small as they used to be and the engine sizes are generally smaller although this bears no resemblance to their speed. Most Europeans do like a bit of speed, we’ll get onto that later.

The Roads

There is a range of road types and speed limits but generally speaking, you will encounter:

  • Town roads and built up areas where the speed limit is usually 30 mph
  • Single carriageway roads – 60mph
  • Dual carriageways and motorways – 70mph

However, as you drive along your first motorway and had to guess what the speed limit was by the other cars, you would probably answer 80, 85…. maybe 90 mph.

Surprisingly, the highest speed limit is 70 mph but you will be sitting with the lorries (trucks) on the inside lane.

This brings onto another significant difference to US driving. Apart from very few instances (such as in traffic jams or leaving the motorway in a designated left turn lane), you are not allowed to undertake. The outer lanes of a motorway are for overtaking, Once, you have passed, DO NOT sit there in the outer lane, pull back over to the inside lane. If you don’t you will soon experience the wrath of a senior sales rep in his Audi flashing his lights only inches behind you.

An important note – unlike mainland Europe, we British are not big ‘horn blowers‘. When it is used, it is often the last step before extreme violence ensues.

Roundabouts

Approaching a roundabout
Don’t worry too much about roundabouts, you shouldn’t get stuck on one like Chevy Chase In National Lampoon’s European Vacation – “Hey look, kids, there’s Big Ben and there’s Parliament.” There are lots of different styles, some with arrows on the road, some with traffic lights, but the basic rules apply. In all cases, give priority to traffic approaching from your right which is already on the roundabout.

Turning Left (1st Exit) – approach in the left-hand lane and signal left, turn left.

Straight On (2nd Exit) – approach in the left-hand lane but do not signal, keep left as you go around the roundabout, once you have passed the first exit signal left and turn off at the 2nd exit.

Turning Right (3rd Exit) – approach in the right-hand lane if there are two lanes, indicating right. Enter and go around the roundabout on the inside still indicating right until you have gone past the second exit, then indicate left and leave at the third exit. Be careful there is no one on your outside as you exit, there shouldn’t be if they are driving correctly but be careful!

Speed Cameras
Speed Camera

Watch out for the speed cameras!

There are a lot of speed cameras especially in towns so watch your speed. On motorways, there is also a trend for average speed checks with cameras monitoring your speed over a long stretch of road.

Variable speed limits are also used on busy stretches of motorways like the M25 around London. These are often backed with speed cameras so again, make sure you slow down.

Petrol Stations (Gas Stations)
Petrol Station

Types of fuel at a ‘Petrol Station’

Not much difference here except that you are not required to pre-pay, just go into the shop once you filled up. Regular unleaded is green and diesel is black coloured at the pump. The regular lowest grade of unleaded petrol is 95 RON which is much higher than the US regular.

When you are in the petrol station you must try a ‘Ginsters Pasty’, the Culinary Excellence for any long distance driver.

Unlike the gas stations in Mississippi, we stopped at, ninja throwing stars are not available in UK petrol stations.

Useful Driving Related British Words & Phrases
  • Car Hire – Car Rental
  • Saloon – Sedan
  • People Carrier – Mini Van
  • Estate – Station Wagon
  • Boot – Trunk
  • Bonnet – Hood
  • Manual – Stick Shift
  • Windscreen – Windshield
  • Handbrake – Parking Brake
  • Petrol – Gas
  • Motorway – Freeway
  • Car Park – Parking Lot
  • Give Way – Yield
  • Slip Road – On / Off-Ramp
  • Lorry – Truck
  • Central Reservation – Median
  • Pedestrian Crossing – Crosswalk
  • Flyover – Overpass
  • Indicator – Turn Signal
  • Wing – Fender

We hope you haven’t been put off from driving in the UK, it’s not really that different from driving in the USA.  Renting a car will give you the freedom to explore the UK in your own time and discover the real Britain, it can be very different from London.

If you have visited the UK, how did you find the driving?  Did we leave out anything important?

 

Top tips for driving in the UK

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Stuart Forster
    October 14, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Good post. A lot of North American friends ask me about driving on roundabouts. I fear driving standards in the UK may be on the decline as we see more and more street parking.

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 14, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      Roundabouts are quite easy but I can understand how they can seem daunting if you are not familiar with them. Saying that a lot of UK drivers don’t seem to indicate properly on them.
      Maybe just the crowded cities and the stress of daily driving are some of the reasons for the decline in general standards.

  • Reply
    Sofia
    October 14, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    This is such a great guide! I’m afraid to drive in Paris (I’m originally from Canada) so I can’t even fathom in the UK haha!

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 14, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      It’s the other side of the road that causes most of the confusion, Yes Paris can be a bit tricky.

  • Reply
    Marvi
    October 14, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    This is such a useful post especially nowadays that a lot of travelers prefer driving on their own to explore cities! 🙂

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 14, 2017 at 6:22 pm

      Driving does give you the freedom to get out there and explore the less touristy and crowded spots.

  • Reply
    Dana
    October 14, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    This is such a great guide! It’s terrifying driving in a new country. Too bad a lot of us Americans aren’t used to driving stick, definitely makes things harder when visiting Europe!

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 14, 2017 at 6:25 pm

      Most rental companies do have ‘automatic’ cars available but you have to make sure you specify one or you’ll probably get a stick shift.

  • Reply
    Kate
    October 15, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    This is funny. We do have our annoying tendancies here in the UK. People flashing as soon as you get in the lane to overtake is my favourite. You can feel the irritation of passive aggressive drivers before you hear a horn! Roundabouts are a pain for locals and visitors alike, especially with lack of indicating. I like your section on different words we use. That will help. Great information

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 16, 2017 at 10:07 am

      Yes, a lot of people are not that keen on using indicators, especially on roundabouts.

  • Reply
    Kirstie
    October 16, 2017 at 10:01 am

    I always take public transportation when traveling. This is because I am trying to avoid accidents and other fortuitous events that might happen. I’ll have to agree public transpo is best. However, there’s indeed magic with driving around on your own in a foreign place. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 16, 2017 at 10:09 am

      Although public transport can be quick and easy sometimes you are limited where you can get to. The car can give you that extra bit of freedom.

  • Reply
    Aleah
    October 16, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Great tips for driving in the UK! I have learned to drive manual so it won’t be a big deal. However, being on the “wrong side of the road” might be. LOL We call roundabouts “rotonda.” Will keep these new vocabs in mind when I visit.

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 16, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      It’s the ‘right side of the road’ everyone else is wrong, lol!

  • Reply
    Cai Dominguez
    October 16, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    I never been to UK but for sure the driving condition is way better than here in Manila. And I’m not aware that traffic is also terrible there..

    “We British are not big ‘horn blowers‘. When it is used, it is often the last step before extreme violence ensues.” I hope Filipinos will learn when to blow their horns too. You guys are impressive!

    Thank you for sharing your very interesting article. I learn something new today!

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 16, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      Yes, although the roads in the UK and especially the cities are busy most drivers do obey the rules.

  • Reply
    Paige
    October 17, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    These are absolutely wonderful tips! I’m heading to the UK for the first time next summer and I was hoping to rent a camper van, so this is so helpful! I love that you gave us a dictionary to help me drive as well. I’ll need to print this out as a reference guide. 😉

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 17, 2017 at 5:50 pm

      I’m sure you’ll quickly get used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. You will have a great chance to explore with a camper van.

  • Reply
    Linda de Beer
    October 17, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    I’m glad to say that as a South African living in Austria I am now used to driving on both the “right” and the “wrong” side of the road. I couldn’t help smiling about your comment that the British only use their horns as last resort before violence ensues! Your tips are very practical and handy, especially about the speed limits and how to overtake and not undertake on the highway.

    • Reply
      Mr and Mrs W
      October 18, 2017 at 10:29 pm

      Forgot there are still a few other countries who still drive on the left as well. Although the British can be quite restrained we do like a bit of speed on the motorway!

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