Travel and Tourism
Driving in the UK
This is a broad introduction; more information will be added here later as needed.
To state the obvious to start with, in the UK traffic drives on the left, i.e. the left side of the road. This means that the driver in a car made for the UK sits on the right side of the car, although the pedals are laid out in the same order wherever you are in the world.
The gear stick/selector (manual or auto) is still in the middle of the car. There will be an option with larger rental cars to choose an automatic transmission, but the majority of UK cars have manual gearboxes. If you do not want a manual gear change, make sure you specify that it must be an automatic when you book your car.
Generally driving on UK roads is free, although be aware that a number of major bridges (such as the Severn Bridge and the Humber Bridge) and some tunnels (such as the Dartford Tunnel on the M25) charge a toll. The M6 Toll (not to be confused with the normal M6 motorway) north of Birmingham is, as the name implies, a toll road.
Rules and customs
As with anywhere in the world, driving is potentially hazardous although the UK’s roads are among the safest. As you might expect, some of our traffic laws differ from those in other countries and it is a very good idea to have an understanding of our laws, our ways and standards of driving, our road signs and regulations, and so on.
The Highway Code is a very useful publication for these purposes, containing a wealth of information and advice on driving on UK roads; it is mandatory reading for our learner drivers and all UK drivers are expected (by law) to know it. It’s a distillation of the laws; if it says to do, or not to do, something then you can be sure that there is a law to that effect. It also describes good driving practice and explains much that you will be expected to know and understand. The Highway Code applies to England, Scotland, and Wales, whilst Northern Ireland has its own version.
The Highway Code is published by TSO (The Stationary Office) and is obtainable in many bookshops and online. It is also available in electronic form as TSO have published it as an ebook and as an app. In addition it can be read for free online, although it’s not as well organised for downloading in that form, nor is it available as a PDF. The Northern Ireland version, on the other hand, can be downloaded as a PDF here.
The ideal place to park a car is on private land, such as the car park of your hotel. When travelling about, the main places are official car parks and on-street parking. For official car parks there are a few things to check before leaving your car, including:
- the charges – as they can vary greatly (and especially as some have very high rates for over, say, four hours in order to discourage all-day parking)
- the time stamp on your ticket as the clocks (especially on pay-and-display machines) can be incorrect, so compare this with your watch before setting off
- the time the car park closes – you don’t want to find your car locked in all night!
When parking on the street, check the parking restrictions carefully. In towns and cities some areas are “residents only” which means that you must have a permit (and it must be for that specific area or road). Be aware that some towns and cities have other controlled zones: they are posted as you enter them, but once inside the zone there are no additional signs to tell you what the specific restrictions are.
Car parking at service stations, such as on motorways, is often restricted to two hours of free parking after which a charge applies; check carefully when parking in these places as the charges can be quite high.
Driving faster than the speed limit is, of course, illegal. In order to enforce speed limits, the authorities make use of cameras, amongst other things. There are fixed cameras (which are marked on some road maps and of which some SatNavs will warn you), mobile cameras (set up by the side of the road on a random basis), and average speed cameras (which are in sets and record the exact time you went past each one – so you really need to watch your average speed as it’s no good simply slowing down when you pass the cameras).