When I talked about ‘driving abroad’ on Twitter, Bill was so nice to write down these helpful car driving tips. He talks from his own experience when he visited the UK.
Are you venturing across the ocean to spend time in the United Kingdom? Are you going to rent a car and drive around the country? I don’t pretend to be an expert in driving in the UK but after spending 11 days and driving between 1,300 to 1,500 miles around the country I feel I have a few helpful car driving tips that you may not know.
- GPS – If possible I would highly recommend renting a GPS. In the UK GPS’s are not as easy to get even with well known rental companies (we used Hertz) but it will save you a lot of headaches if you plan on driving any distance.
- Road Map – If you can’t get a GPS buy a good detailed road map. We found one at Border’s books by Michelin that cost $22. We bought it a week before we went so we could mark off all the routes we were going to travel on.
- Mapquest – Even with a detailed road map the roads in the UK are difficult to navigate. The signage can be minimal 7 sometimes well hidden. We found it helpful to use Mapquest UK in addition to the road map. The directions given by Mapquest include the exit in each roundabout you go through. This is a big help as roundabouts can be a little confusing (see below).
- Driving on the left – I found driving on the left to not be as big of a problem as most people make it out to be. The time to be careful is on turns, remember that a left hand turn is into the closest lane & a right hand turn into the furthest lane. For the first few days I reminded myself of this each time I was going to make a turn. If you get that part down the rest is really pretty easy.
- Rental car – Rent the smallest car you’ll feel comfortable in. Many of the roads in the UK are very small & people park pretty much anywhere (well it seems that way we’ll talk about the parking rules later) because of the small lanes & the parking even in a smaller car (we had a Ford Focus 4 door) you tend to feel like there’s not enough room to navigate. Especially if you plan to travel on some of the smaller routes in the Cotswolds or some of the coastal cities we traveled through.
- Roundabout’s – These can be very confusing. Getting into them & out of them isn’t to bad but knowing which way to go is another story. Keep careful watch when entering a roundabout that you are in the correct lane & most roundabouts they don’t use compass directions (N,S, E & W) they instead use the names of towns. These towns can be the next closest town or a town many miles away. Study your route before you go to make sure you know what towns you want to head towards & use the Mapquest directions as noted above.
- Speed Limits – The UK really tries to confuse you here. The national speed limit is not on the signs. When you see a round white sign with a black hash-mark on it then you know you can drive the national speed limit. Check UK websites before going but the national speed limit on dual carriage roads (expressways) is 70mph on all other highways it’s 60mph. There’s not a lot of notice for the change in speed limits so pay attention. Many towns are only 20mph or 30mph so you have to slow down quickly. There are speed cameras all over the country so be careful to drive the speed limit.
- Parking – I found this very confusing. I chose to park in lots called “pay & display” lots. They are called this because you get a ticket that you put on the drivers window showing the amount of time you paid for. Most of these “pay & display” lots don’t take paper money or credit cards so be sure you have plenty of coins to pay when you get there. Parking in the cities are as follows: 1 yellow line means no parking Monday – Saturday during regular working hours. 2 yellow lines means no parking anytime. A broken yellow line means parking ok for short periods & a white line means it’s ok to park.
- Seat belts – In the UK seat belts are mandatory so make sure you wear one all the time. There are fines if you are caught without one on.
- Insurance – make sure you have the proper insurance on the car. Especially if you’re traveling in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland a lot of insurance companies won’t cover you there. So you have to take the rental coverage which can double the price of the rental car.
- Big Cities – In London if you drive into it there’s a congestion charge of ₤8 just for driving into the city. Plus parking in London is very expensive if you can even find a spot to park. We found that many times it’s easiest to park on the edge of the city & either take a bus into town or walk. Parking is generally cheaper & it’s rather confusing getting around cities as the street signage is not very good.
- Rental car return – I read before I went of several people getting charge for damage or excessive wear on their rental car after dropping it off. The way I avoided this was to return the car when the rental car company was open (careful many are closed on Sunday & are only open for ½ a day on Saturday) & to get a receipt stating there were no additional fees.
In general I didn’t find driving in the UK to be that difficult just take your time & have good directions & things should workout well for you.
Thanks Bill for sharing these great car driving tips! You can follow Bill on Twitter: @Timberwolf123.
More information on car driving tips in Europe and the USA.
You want to know more about driving abroad than just car driving tips, then check out:
Is your countries driver’s license sufficient to drive abroad?
Driving Abroad: general information