If you are an American, driving in Britain is not for the faint of heart! To begin with, the steering wheel is on the right side and it takes some time to adapt to driving on the left side of the road. And if your car rental is stick shift, remember that you will be shifting with your left hand as well. Even if you have had the experience of driving on the left side of the road, it is wise to take plenty of practice time in a parking lot before hitting the road.
You will also want to acquaint yourself with some of the other complexities of driving in Britain. When you come to an intersection with a stop sign, you will usually find a dotted line and an inverted triangle across the road where you should stop. Don’t forget to yield to oncoming traffic, especially if you’re turning to the right. Remember, your vehicle must cross traffic to make a right turn.
Speed limit signs are posted in “miles” with measures of tens, not fives as they are here in the United States. They are round and are easily seen. The road route signs are marked with a larger town or city that is in the direction you’re traveling. So, having a “navigator” on hand to look at a map is very helpful. In urban areas, speed limits are 30-40 mph (50-60 kph.) On one-lane rural roads, the speed limit is 60 mph (81 kph), and on highways or rural two-lane roads, the speed limit is 70 mph (110 kph)
We do not recommend driving in London: there is very heavy traffic in London and there is actually a congestion fee to drive in London’s city center between 7:00am and 6:30pm on weekdays. As soon as you enter the zone, your plate number will be photographed and you have until 10:00 pm on that day to pay the £5 charge at garages and kiosks.
Roads in rural areas can be very narrow and you can expect “roundabouts” at intersections instead of traffic signals. These are becoming more popular in the USA as well, but here they are called “traffic circles”. They are actually very easy to use and make for smooth, even traffic flow. When approaching a roundabout, you will notice a sign that gives you a diagram of the roads that you can take from the roundabout. The sign will give route numbers as well as the name of the next larger town. We usually use the sign to count the number of exits to the one we need before we enter the roundabout. Then, once we enter, count again. Each exit should also have directional signs to help you.
Roundabout traffic moves in a clockwise direction and it is very important that you yield to oncoming traffic approaching from your right. If your turn is the exit closest to your right as you approach the roundabout, you must travel clockwise all the way around the circle to that exit. (If you miss your exit, don’t worry – you can go around the circle more than once to get your bearings before you exit.)
On motorways, the outside or far left lane is the “slow” lane. This is also the exit lane. Exits are very clearly marked and you’ll have plenty of notice before your exit approaches.
A-roads are primary roads, either divided highways or two way roads. They are the most numerous roads in Britain.
B-roads are secondary roads that can lead you into quaint villages and lovely peaceful towns.
Seat belts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers. Children must have the appropriate child seats and restraints.
Drinking and Driving
It is illegal to drive or to be in control of a vehicle (this includes sitting in the driving seat at the side of the road with the engine switched off) if the level of alcohol in your blood exceeds 80 milligrams per 100 ml of blood. British police use breathalyzers to check how much alcohol is in your system. If you are found to have more than 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 ml of breath you will be arrested. If the police stop you and ask for a breath sample you must give one. The penalty for non-compliance is the same as for drinking and driving.
It is against the law to drive while talking on a cell phone.
Be sure to find the fog lights on your car. The fog light is not a headlight, it is a tail light that is required to be in use during foggy conditions. It is also important to turn off the fog lights when conditions improve because it is illegal to drive with fog lights in good weather.
Parking in larger cities is a major problem, but parking meters are available. Just be sure to keep the meter plugged or your car will be towed. In tourist areas, look for signs with the letter P; it indicates a public parking lot. Double yellow lines on roads in towns and villages indicate a “No Parking” zone. Do not park on double yellow lines. And, do not park in spaces where you see a round sign with either an “X” or a “slash” inside.
The emergency services (police, fire, ambulance, coastal rescue) number is 999
If you find yourself with a car problem, there are 24hr organizations that will help. You should first try to reach your car rental agency, but if it is after-hours call the following numbers.
AA (Automobile Association) Tel: 0800-887-766
RAC (Royal Automobile Club) Tel: 0800-828-282
National Breakdown Tel: 0800-400-600