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Driving in the UK - on this page :

  • Driving on the Left side of the Road in the UK.
  • Automatic or Manual
  • If you do go for Manual make certain you know how to get in to reverse.
  • Modern highways
  • My, these roads can be narrow.
  • A few tips
  • My son's view of driving in England
Just like in Ireland, in the UK one drives on the left side of the road. On my visit to Britain in 1992, it took me a day or two to adjust to driving on the left side of the road. With my Ireland trip in 2004, being 12 years older, I found the mental change to driving on the left much more difficult to make. My driving was not that much better in the UK trip of 2006.
Photo Above - Steering wheel on the left side of the vehicle, for driving on the left side of the road. Notice the stick shift is on the left side of the driver

Due to the possibility of ending up on some rather narrow roads, I always request a small rental car. In my youth, I drove mainly manual transmission cars so I have always opt for the cheaper stick shift when renting. After this last trip to the UK, my son has convince me to request an automatic in the future, I had too much difficulty getting my left arm to follow the standard shift pattern; I often found myself shifting in to the wrong gear.

Photo Above - a do not enter sign. You see a lot of these in the UK.

The rental car company had no car for us when we arrived. Luckily, I was in no rush and they provided us with the first car that was returned, a larger vehicle than I desired but it did have GPS.

Soon we were off; the kind attendant had even parked us so we did not even have to back up to leave. At this point, we had not figured out the GPS but I kind of knew the direction we needed to go. Then I made a turn left, when I needed to go right, now how do we get back. With no cars behind or in front of us, I spy a spot almost big enough to make a U-turn. I veered left, then right, and bring the car to a stop squarely perpendicular to the flow of traffic, blocking both narrow lanes. Pushing the gear shift down, I try to force the lever to move left, in to reverse,.. with no success. A car is heading in our direct. With my son starting to have that, "Dad, you are going to get us Killed" sound in his voice, I frantically try to figure out the magical combination that will allow us to move backward. With every new attempt at reversing, our car nudges forward, ever closer to the brick wall in front of us. Then, in a moment of inspiration (actually, I think the last manual I rented worked this way) I pull up on the ring that is part of the gear shift leather cover and we are backing in to the small space behind us.

Before entering an intersection, us 'drive on the right people' will check for traffic making certain we look left last before pulling in to traffic; this is particular important if we have a limited view down the left side of the street. Driving on the left side of the street requires one to reverse the look left, last, habit. As cars on the left side of the street will be arriving at you from the right, you want to look right last before pulling out in to the intersection.

Modern divided highways make traveling the island a fairly speedy affair but pull off on to a winding, hedge lined, back road and your speed will/should plummet.

Back roads and many main roads are lined with hedges and often stonewalls, even at relatively slow speeds the roads make you feel like you are traveling fast.

Photo above - My son took this photo as I was driving down a, relatively, main road in England.

Note: While I was in the UK in 2006, authorities were considering lowering the speed limit on main roads as shown in the photo above (not the divided highways). Apparently there is a high number of deaths on these roads each year. During our visit, only a few cars ahead of us, a bus and car collided on a curve, killing the driver of the car. It appears to be the norm to drive these roads at a fair clip (it seems to take forever if you go slow). Never the less, you might consider driving a little slower than the locals.

In some areas of the UK the roads can be so narrow you will need to pick a spot to stop and allow on-coming traffic to pass.

As you travel down these beautiful hedge line roads, you might spot convex mirrors hanging in the hedges. When you are at an intersection, where you can't see down the road to check traffic, look for a mirror hanging across the way; it may be the only way to check for cross traffic.

I have a lot more I could add to driving in the UK, until I get the time here are a few Tips:

  • GPS or very good maps are essential to getting around the back roads of the UK. Be forewarn, even if you did not set the GPS for the shortest route, it can take you down some roads that are not roads. My advise, if the GPS tries to send you down a dirt road, study the map to see if the road is your only option; the dirt road we were send down turned in to a farmers lane. We literally came out in the stock yard, the farmers did not give us a first or second look, we really were on a road.
  • If you are planning to use your credit card insurance coverage for car rental, make certain it will cover you in the UK, most credit cards car insurance, will not cover you in Ireland.
  • Also, credit card rental car insurance, generally only covers physical damage to the vehicle. You may still need to get insurance for liability.
  • Usually, rental car insurance, even the insurance offered by the rental car companies as "you will not have to pay a thing for damages" does not cover tire damage.

My son's take on driving in England:

The first thing that needs to be said is,”please if you rent car, get an automatic.” On my trip to England I was lucky enough to be in the passenger seat. I wish I could say that it was a great experience, but most of the time I was in the car I was counting down the minutes, and praying we’d live to see another day. It’s really not that bad; of course, if you have to drive a stick, assuming you already know how to drive a stick, you should also realize that you will have to shift with your left hand so it’s all a little backwards.

Renting a car is nice because you don’t have to rely on public transportation, but when it comes to big cities like London I suggest the public transport. If you are going to visit during the summer months, I will warn you that the day before we left, England was witness to their hottest days in history and in the underground it would reach up to 50 degrees Celsius or 122 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words pretty darn hot, almost hellish.

Another suggestion that comes to mind is that if it’s possible you find yourself a car with GPS. One of the handiest inventions I have ever laid eyes on. I really don’t think we would have gotten very far if we had not had one. Well I’am sure we would have gotten far just not in the right direction, sometimes my father and I are quite good at being unproductive.

Driving on the left side of the road, well I’am not sure how hard it is to accomplish but I do remember having to remind my father a couple of times to make sure he picked the right side, or should I say the left side.

By Jeremy VanNocker


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Information on this page comes form my July, 2006 visit to England
This page last updated September 2006