Advice for visitors driving in the UK

Driving in an unfamiliar setting can be daunting, and the UK presents a number of challenges to visiting motorists. We’ve compiled this handy guide with everything you’ll need to know to get you safely on your way if you’re driving in the United Kingdom for the first time – or if you just need to refresh your knowledge.

Drive on the left

When you first arrive in a new destination, you probably have a lot to think about, from the unfamiliar surroundings to the best way to reach your hotel in time. When you sit down in front of the steering wheel, it can be easy to go into autopilot, but it’s vital to remember than when in the UK, you have to drive on the left. Also, keep this in mind when you pull off and when you are turning at a junction.

When you approach a roundabout, always give way to traffic coming from the right. Only join the flow of traffic when it is safe to do.

And if you stop for fuel or a break, please remember to stay on the left to ensure your own safety and that of all road users.

Single track roads

If you’re travelling off the beaten track, you will most likely encounter single track roads. These allow travel in both directions, but at some points are only wide enough for a single vehicle to pass. But if you follow some simple rules then you’ll be able to enjoy your drive in the countryside without any problems.

Along the road there are designated passing places on the left. If there is approaching traffic, pull in and allow it to pass. Other drivers should grant you the same courtesy. You should only pull into passing places on your left – never pull into passing places on the other side of the road. If the passing place is on your right, wait opposite to allow traffic to pass.

Passing places are not parking spaces and it is dangerous to stop in them for an extended period of time. Areas where it is safe to park will be clearly signposted.

Be aware that you will be sharing these roads with all kinds of traffic, so don’t be surprised to encounter cyclists, horse riders and hikers. There’s also a possibility that you’ll get stuck behind a tractor for some time. Don’t try to overtake – they’ll pull in and let you pass. Also, be aware that in remote areas wild animals may wander onto the road so always give way to flocks of sheep or herds of cows.

Plan ahead

If you’re driving in more remote areas like the Scottish Highlands, be aware that you may be travelling vast distances without much civilisation, and this includes service stations. So make sure you fuel up whenever you can, and carry plenty of water and food with you to get you through the day. You might not get a mobile phone signal in some areas, so if you’re relying on apps to help you navigate, it might be an idea to download the local area before you set off or even invest in an old-fashioned map.

Speed limits

In towns and cities, speed limits are clearly designated with signs and road markings. In the UK, speed limit signs are a white circle surrounded by red with a black number representing the limit in miles per hour. In a built-up area, the speed limit is generally 30mph but in some areas and at some times, it is 20mph.

You may also see a grey circular sign with a black stripe through it. This means that the national speed limit applies. On a single carriageway this is 60mph for cars and vans. On a dual carriageway and motorway, the upper limit is 70mph for cars and vans. If you are driving on a smart motorway, always follow the speed limits displayed on the overhead signs.

It is against the law to break the speed limit and often you are likely to encounter speed cameras, or average speed cameras, which measure speed over a prolonged distance. Any speeding violation will result in a fixed fine and points on your licence.

Crossings and traffic signals

While traffic signals exist around the world, it’s important to be aware of local conventions. When the light is green, you are safe to proceed. If it turns to amber, prepare to stop. Flashing amber means you can proceed if there are no pedestrians crossing. If it is red, you must stop. There is no situation on UK roads where it is safe to proceed when the light is red. When you are turning right at a junction, oncoming traffic has the right of way, so you must wait for either a gap, or for the filter light to change if one is present.

Also be aware of yellow box junctions on roads. These represent areas that must be kept clear at all times so do not stop here, even in a traffic queue.

Pedestrians have the right of way at zebra crossings, so if you see someone at the side of the road waiting to cross, you must stop.

Local conventions

While these have no basis in driving law, there are certain conventions it may be useful to know. You might notice people flashing their lights at you once. This is usually meant to indicate that you should proceed. Drivers will often hold their hands up to say thank you if you have been courteous in letting them pass or join the flow of traffic.

Rules to remember

Using a hand-held mobile phone is illegal when driving. While you can use a hands-free kit to make a call, it is recommended that you pull in where it is safe to do so to make a call. If you are using your phone as a sat-nav, you cannot adjust the settings or destination while you are driving.

The alcohol limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 30 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath and in Scotland this is just 22 micrograms. If you are caught drink driving, it could result in a driving ban. You can find out more information on the UK government website.

We hope you enjoy your visit to the UK. And remember, always drive on the left!

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