As a UK license driver, I can share with you some UK driving tips for visitors so you can have a fun road trip adventure in the British Isles.
It might be daunting to drive in a foreign country and most especially driving on the other side of the road from what you’re used to in your home country. I’m sure you want to enjoy this trip and follow your planned UK itinerary, however, you must be mindful of the rules and regulations that govern UK roads.
Here are the helpful UK driving tips for visitors:
Check if you have a valid license and driving insurance
Before travelling to the UK, make sure to check if your driving license is valid to use here as a tourist. Not all international driving licenses are accepted by UK standards. You can check here in DVLA if your license is valid. Otherwise, you might have to plan for another alternative in travelling around the UK.
Car insurance is a must in every car in the UK even if you are only renting the car. Getting comprehensive driving insurance is a good idea before you set off for your road trip around the UK. Most car hire companies in the UK offer their own car insurance policies. Alternatively, you can buy some car insurance online for the duration of your trip.
Always drive on the left side of the road
One of the most important UK driving tips that I share is to always remember that the UK drives on the LEFT side of the road. This may make you feel a bit uncomfortable driving, to begin with, if you’re used to driving on the right side of the road. Make an extra effort to concentrate especially when you are approaching junctions, roundabouts and exits. Make sure to use the correct lane and follow traffic flow.
I find it challenging to begin with since I was from the Philippines and we drive on the right side of the road like the USA. Only 75 countries around the world observe Left-hand traffic (LHT) and most of them used to be a part of the British Empire or part of the Commonwealth.
The driver seat is on the right side of the car
The driver seat in UK cars is located on the right side. Make sure to familiarise yourself with where all the buttons are in your car. It is essential to know where to find these buttons and gears to ensure a smooth driving experience.
Since you will be seating on the right side of the car, the gear stick will be located on the left side. This can be a bit awkward if you are used to the right-hand side.
Give way on a roundabout
A roundabout is a circular intersection that is common in UK roads. They are used to effectively manage the flow of traffic in busy junctions. As a rule of thumb, you need to look on your right side to see if any incoming traffic. You always have to give way and the car in the roundabout has the right of way. Roundabouts flow clockwise.
Picking the correct lane in approaching the roundabout is crucial to make sure that you can safely go on your desired exit. Use the left lane, if you are turning left (typically the first exit) or straight on (less than 12 o’clock traffic flow) unless marked there is a specific lane for the straight-on traffic. Use the right lane only if you are turning right or past the 12 o’clock traffic flow.
It’s a must that you use your car’s signal to where you would like to go. This is to ensure the safety of all the road users who are also using the roundabout.
Pay attention to the bus lanes
Bus lanes are typically seen in busy town centres and cities. The proper usage of the bus lanes are strictly implemented throughout the UK. Bus lanes are usually labelled at the start of their lane and marked with a solid white line to tell the road user the restrictions of the lane.
Be careful not to use the bus lanes, otherwise, you will get a hefty fine. A traffic camera is usually installed either at the start or as a key strategic spot to catch the lawbreakers. Trust me on this one, I received a driving fine of £75 by following the GPS maps and didn’t notice the Bus Lane markings.
No Left on Red
In the UK, traffic lights are labelled specifically to indicate the left turn on red lights. So always make sure that you have the GO (Green Arrow) signal before moving off your lane. Failure to do this can cause traffic penalty violations and put other road users in danger.
Pay the Congestion charge in London
If you are planning to drive in central London, you have to pay the Congestion charge. A daily charge of £15 if you drive within the Congestion zones from 7 am – 10 pm excluding Christmas day.
There are numbers of ways to pay the Congestion charge.
- You can use the automated system app called Auto Pay.
- You can pay up to 90 days in advance or by midnight on the day of travel.
- You can pay by midnight of the third charging day after travel.
You can visit the Transport For London (TFL) website to pay the congestion charge. Failure to pay, you will automatically receive a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN).
My husband once dropped me at London St. Pancras International train station fairly early in the morning before 7 am to avoid the London congestion charge and had to wait a few hours before my train leaves. You can absolutely do that too, but if you are happy to pay the congestion charge and get an extra hour in bed that is still a very good option!
Pay the ULEZ and LEZ in the major UK cities
When driving around the UK, you will also have to be aware of the Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) in Central London and the Low Emission Zones (LEZ) in other major UK cities. These are the additional charges that you have to pay when your car do not meet the ULEZ emissions standards and LEZ emission standards.
For most vehicles, including cars, motorcycles and vans up to 3.5 tonnes has to pay £12.50. You can check here on the TFL website if your vehicle meets the current emission standards required by the ULEZ.
You can visit the Transport for London (TFL) website to pay for the ULEZ and LEZ in London only.
Strictly follow the UK road speed limit
UK road speed limits are in Miles. One of the important UK driving tips that I want to share is that the UK roads usually have speed limit markers along the roads from Motorway (Highway/Freeway) and dual and single carriage roads. The speed limit marker is in red circular signs with black text, white background.
Here are the common speed limits that are implemented in the UK:
70 MPH – The UK national speed limit. This is the fastest speed in Miles that any vehicle can go. Mainly used in dual carriageways and motorways. The white circular sign with a black band across it represents the national speed limit of 70MPH.
60 MPH – The typical single carriageway speed limit. 60 MPH is typically used in single carriageways across the UK.
30 MPH – Common speed limit in busy high streets, cities and residential areas.
20MPH – Common speed limit in school zones area.
Always be road aware of the speed limits on each road. The speed limit in each road can vary depending on the implemented limit, you can typically see this marked on the road or street signs as you enter the zone.
Giving way through headlight flashes
British politeness also reflects on their road courtesy. When driving in the UK, people typically give way to other road users by flashing the car’s headlight. However, you need to be extra careful with any potential hazards in your blind spots.
Headlight flashes could also mean that the driver behind you is trying to get your attention to warn you of any possible problem or hazard in your car e.g. loose number plate at the back of your car etc.
Motorways and dual carriage ways
The UK is known as one of the safest places to drive in the world. The UK’s motorway and main roads are well-equipped with safety features, markings and signals to ensure the utmost safety of the road users.
Always obey the traffic rules and regulations in the country to avoid any steep driving penalties. In case of road accidents or breakdowns, most roads in the UK has safe lay-by and hard shoulders (marked by solid white lines) that you can use.
Familiarise and follow the road signs and parking rules
UK highway code is the guide that every UK driver follows. Familiarising yourself with various signs and rules is one of the important UK driving tips for visitors that I can give. You can familiarise these important UK highway code road signs.
As for the parking rules, never park on a roadside with double yellow lines. Some parking lots have some pay and display rules and some have time-restricted parking only. Always look for signage and parking pay meter.
Do not beep your car’s horn unnecessarily.
Here in the UK, beeping your car’s horn unnecessarily or due to road rage is frowned upon and can put other road users at risk.
Only beep your car’s horn if you have seen a hazard or you are in danger while driving. You must not use your horn in a residential area between 11:30 pm – 7 am.
Wave to say “Thank you”
Saying “Thank you” is normal to British. As a form of road courtesy, British drivers normally make a simple wave or raising your hand as a form of gratitude towards the other road users when they gave way. So don’t hesitate to say your “thanks!”, when you are driving around the UK or you’ll be labelled rude.
I hope that these UK driving tips for visitors tremendously helped you be confident in the UK roads.
Enjoy your road trip adventure!