Essentials of Driving UK-Style

No-fear Zone: Driving on the opposite side of the road

The road to Scotland's Highlands.

So you are contemplating renting a car for your UK vacation, but you're not certain about driving on the opposite side of the road?  I’m proud to say that I am one of many who did it and lived to tell, and I know that you can do it, too.  In this post, I will share ways to conquer your apprehension, tips for saving money on your rental, and making the most of this new skill set you will acquire.

  1. Reserve early.  The earlier, the better to claim an automatic shift, because you will really put yourself to the challenge with a stick shift on the left side!     If you know how to drive a manual gear shift and nothing else is available, I can tell you from experience, you can manage it.
  2. Satellite navigation.  If you are traveling in certain areas, especially in Scotland--where munros (mountains) rule the landscapes, do not rely on your cellular service ---you must use Sat Nav/GPS to find your way. Take this into consideration for any other areas of the world.  Remember, making the most of your time does not mean driving in circles like Clark Griswold.  (Also see #7).

  3. Buy a Learner's Sign.  Also known as the 'L' plate, this sign is displayed in your rear window to indicate you are a ‘Learner Driver’ (you will need some type of adhesive to keep it in place).  This will help other vehicles understand your status on the road, and may give you extra space.  If you forget to pack your sign with you, don’t fret, you can find them for sale at drugstores, or you can print them yourself using this link: http://www.drivingtesttips.biz/printable-l-plates.html#prettyPhoto

  4. The Buddy System aka The Monitor.  This is where your travel partner really shows their worth.  Even if you have experience driving in the UK on numerous occasions, you need your travel friend, aka, The Monitor. The Monitor keeps you from the frequent drifting over the center lane and into the danger zone.  This is also another reason you need the Sat Nav to do its work, while the Monitor focuses on keeping the Driver on the correct side of the road. The Monitor should also be your guiding voice and eyes during any merging traffic.                                                                                                                                            
  5. Know the Road Signs. Not all road signs are created alike.  Different countries = different meanings.  Note:  In the UK, you should also remember that the slow lane is the left lane.                                                                                                                     
  6. Roundabouts:  One takeaway from driving in the UK...roundabouts.  When you return home and encounter your 4th annoying stop sign in a mile, you may find yourself questioning why we don’t have these wonderful designs dotting our landscapes and conserving our gasoline.  You need to know how to navigate roundabouts properly, though.  There may be a single lane, or multiple lanes.

    Upon entering a roundabout, you must yield to everyone in it.  When traffic is clear, you enter and continue moving around the circle until you see your ‘exit’, which you take, as you have the right-of-way.  If you miss your turn, you can continue in the circle as many times as needed, so don’t panic. Here again, is another example where your travel buddy monitor is very valuable helping and guiding you.  If there are multiple lanes within the circle, the outside lane has the right-of-way to exit.  Those driving in the inner lanes should not be making double lane changes to exit, but... always be prepared for ‘that guy’.

  7. Speed Cameras.  Stick with the speed limit.  There are a plethora of speed cameras everywhere in Scotland. They will take a photo of your vehicle’s license plate and the rental company will then forward the ticket onto your home address.  Interestingly, our Sat Nav was equipped with an alert signal to give a convenient warning if we went over the speed limit or when we encountered a speed camera zone.

Driving UK-style is definitely a skill, and you never know when it will come in handy. It can save you money on a DIY trip, take you out of tourist traps, give you freedom to stop for those scenic views, or that extra cuppa tea and scone you’re craving. It can enhance your trip in so many ways. You can do it!        

Be patient, be kind, and enjoy the road trek!

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