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So you want to drive in England?

Read on for some general guidelines and tips for driving the UK.

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General Tips, Car Rental, Signage, Parking, Passing, Traffic Circles, Speed, British Cars.

First, as you know, they (the Brits) drive on the 'wrong' side of the road. They don't think it's wrong, but the UK, Ireland,  Malta and Cyprus are the only countries in Europe that do so...  (Notice that trend? Only island nations...)

(Just wait for the stream of complaints in my guestbook from proud Brits for me saying that)

Next, are you sure you can afford to drive in England?? Gas (petrol) is astronomically expensive - pushing $6.00 a gallon !! and car rental (hire) is nearly double what you'd pay in America.

While you can't escape the gas prices - generally the same the country over - you may be able to save on your car hire...
My personal recommendation is:  If you're flying into London, don't rent a car from London or its surrounding airports- it's too expensive, and, you do NOT need a car in London!
Fly into London, do your sightseeing via the 'Tube' (subway) and via the buses, then take the train or long distance bus (coach) to your next destination, say Oxford or Bath or wherever and rent / hire your car from there.

(Better still come up 'North' to where I live - Derbyshire / Yorkshire areas [ Peak District, Sheffield, Leeds, Yorkshire Dales, etc. ] and see the 'real' England. There is PLENTY to see and do in these areas which are sadly missed out by many tour groups....)

General Rental tips: pre-book your car in one of these smaller towns / cities with your travel agent before you go, all the big American rental firms are here. It'll be cheaper than renting the same car in London and you will not have the stress of trying to drive in London.

Overall, it's not that difficult to adjust.  I, as an American, have been living here for over 15 years and have had no problems 'switching' over. It doesn't daunt me in the slightest, but I can imagine that the thought of driving on the wrong side for the first time could be a bit scary...
Although the general rules of road apply (just the opposite way around), there are a few UK specifics to go over.

The signs are done to international standards (it's America who is backwards in this respect) so brush up on your signage that is standard everywhere but America. The only American sign that makes it overseas occasionally is the STOP sign.

  • Yield: - The Brits don't yield, they 'Give Way' and you'll see these signs frequently. If you see a STOP sign, it'll be the normal American type, but, they very rarely use a full stop sign. You'll mostly see the 'Give Way' signs, which means just that: slow down, look and give way to traffic already on the road.

The Brits love their roundabouts, and they are generally a good idea, but ... they overuse them. While they're fine for city traffic, they litter the countryside with them too. For example, say you're driving down a fairly major, but still a desolate country road, just enjoying the momentum you've got going and the scenery. But wait, there is a turning to a small village coming up. Do they widen the road slightly and put a middle turning lane in? No... they put a roundabout in which forces everyone to put the brakes on and slow down.
So... no matter if you're turning on to this minor road or not, you will have to slow right down to near nothing to navigate this roundabout even though you're oblivious to the minor road turn and just wanted to go straight ahead. This is the design all too often... 

  • Seriously, the one rule you need to know about roundabouts is: Slow down when coming to one and 'give way' to traffic already on the roundabout. If there's a car already on the circle, they have the right of way.

Most parking lots (car parks) are done on a 'pay & display' basis. You park your car, pay for however long you plan on parking and put the ticket given from the machine onto your dashboard - clearly displayed.
Street Parking:  Besides the international 'no parking' signs you'll sometimes see in England, you'll mostly see yellow lines painted on the street next to the curb.

  • Double yellow lines = No parking ever

  • Single yellow lines  = Parking generally NOT allowed except during un-restricted hours only, usually after 6pm, check the sign.

  • Dashed yellow lines = parking allowed, but still check the signs for any time restrictions and still may need to 'pay & display.'

  • No lines at all = you can park for free.

You don't 'Pass' cars in England you 'overtake' them.
The only real difference for this in practice is: On American highways where there is a slowpoke in the middle lane of a 3-lane highway and you'd pass on either side of him to get around, you're not allowed to do this here. You're only allowed to 'overtake' from the lane closest to the median, so when driving on the left in England, that means the farthest right, or 'fast' lane is the only one allowed for passing.

Contrary to what some people might tell you that haven't been here, the Brits DO measure their speed in Miles Per Hour, not Kilometers. The UK is the ONLY country in Europe to do so. Even though Ireland drives on the wrong side of the road too, they measure in Kilometers, but while in England you'll be at home with MPH.

(Never mind that they sell gas by the liter rather than by the gallon - generally they are quite a confused nation when it comes to metrics, more so than the Americans.)

The highway (motorway) speed limit is 70mph, and then it varies right down to 30mph in built-up city areas.
Unlike in the States where Mr. Policeman will sit / wait / and chase you down for speeding, this practice is un-common here. There are police patrols here of course, but you'd have to be doing something very bad for them to take on a pursuit.
What they do have is Speed Cameras! - speed cameras everywhere that will take a picture of your car / plate while speeding, track you down thru your rental agency and then send you a ticket! The good thing is that they generally warn you with signs that there are speed cameras in the area.

  • 90% of cars in the UK are a stick shift, get used to one - and in your left hand to boot!

  • Always 'Give Way' to all traffic coming from your right.

  • Those coming from states where 'right-on-red' is legal.  Forget it... the UK equivalent of 'left-on-red' is Not Allowed.

  • Watch for those speed cameras, or better yet, stick to the speed limit.

  • Don't try driving to first time in England while in a rush hour in London.  Rent your car from smaller town (cheaper too) and venture out anytime but rush hour!

  • There are no 'toll' roads in the UK (except a few bridges), we pay enough in road tax (over $200 per year!) and the aforementioned gas prices.

  • Only pass /overtake on the right.

  • Whatever time you estimated for your journey, add a lot more to it. Unless your journey is on a motorway on a Sunday afternoon, British roads are slower than you'd expect - for numerous reasons including the roads are much narrower than their American counterparts and then the endless roundabouts which you have to continually slow down for.

  • Though this doesn't pertain in the south, but a lot the UK (including Scotland & Wales) is very, very hilly. If you find yourself on a hilly, narrow British road that isn't big enough for both cars at once, the card going downhill generally 'gives way' to the one coming uphill, i.e. wait and let the car coming up go first.

  • "M" roads are proper highways / motorways. "A" roads are divided highways or single lane main roads. "B" roads are minor roads - but no matter how 'minor' a road in England, 99% of them are paved - but some "B" roads might be soooo narrow they're only one lane literally.

A lot of people will tell you that all British cars are small! Well this is not true. There are a lot of small cars here, maybe more so than in the U.S., but they do have the full range. 

I, for one, currently have one of those 'micro' cars;  a 900cc Fiat!! (see picture) Don't think you'd find one that small in America.. Cars go from that size (900cc) right up to 5.0 liter Jags, BMW's, Mercedes, and the like. But most cars are between 1.0 liter and 2.5 liter in size - you won't hear much talk of 'v4, v6, or v8.'

You'll see familiar shapes and sizes. GM and Ford are very big in the UK and always have been. Chrysler has recently re-invented itself here. They sell their MPV, Jeep, sedan and the PT cruiser here. 

Ford - well Ford has been here for a long, long time. But only Ford (and no Mustangs!) - no Lincoln or Mercury. You will see the occasional Lincoln stretch-limo, but they've been specially imported. GM goes by name of Opel in mainland Europe, but in England their trading name is 'Vauxhall.' Vauxhall and only Vauxhall - you'll see no Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles or Pontiacs. I think they've recently let the 'Chevrolet' name in only for their SUV. 

SUV's are very popular here (but not called SUV, just '4x4,' 4-wheel drive) and come from all brands including the Germans and Japanese. Those People carriers are popular too... 

But what is NOT popular here are pick-up trucks! The Japanese makers have always sold their pick-up's here, but they are seen only as work horse, or farm vehicle, not a 'toy' for everyday driving. This is very s-l-o-w-l-y changing. Ford has just introduced the 'Ranger' here, but NONE of the manufacturers have full-sized pick-ups for sale in this country.

Last, but not least, the French.  For a nation that supposedly despises the French, the Brits certainly buy enough French cars! All 3 brands - Citroen, Renault and Peugeot. (We've had two ourselves in the past). Though the French cars might not popular in the States, they are very popular here. And they are quite nice cars generally.





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