It’s easy to travel the length and breadth of the country on Great Britain’s major roads. Although many of these are scenic, running through beautiful countryside, the most memorable views are to be found off the beaten track. Driving along single-track roads in the Scottish Highlands, down the winding lanes of rural England and across the mountains of Wales on your UK vacation, reveals many more facets of this diverse country. To make the most of your trip, it’s best to learn the basics of driving in Great Britain before setting off.
Insurance and Breakdown Cover
Third-party motor insurance is compulsory in Great Britain, with a minimum cover level of £1,000,000. If you bring your own car to Britain, you must have an insurance certificate that is valid in this country. You do not need a green card if you are an EU national, but you should check with your insurer before travelling to make sure you are covered on the trip. Most companies give you automatic coverage in EU countries for up to 90 days. Citizens of other countries will need green card insurance. If your policy has breakdown cover, check if it applies abroad. If not, it is worth purchasing additional breakdown and accident cover. Motoring organizations such as the AA and RAC may also provide assistance.
What to Take
In order to drive in Great Britain, you must have a valid driving licence issued in your home country, or an International Driving Permit. Drivers whose documents are not in English should bring an official translation from their embassy or internationally recognised motoring association. If your licence does not have a photograph, do carry your passport or other form of official photo ID. If you are bringing your own vehicle, or caravan or motorcycle, bring the vehicle registration. If it is not registered in your name, bring a letter of authorization from the owner. Great Britain does not yet require that you carry the visibility vests that are compulsory in many EU countries, though this may soon change. While it’s not compulsory to carry a first aid kit, it is a good idea. A warning triangle, torch (flashlight) and petrol container are also recommended.
Main roads in Great Britain are classified in three categories. Motorways have the prefix “M”. In theory they are the fastest way of driving long distances, but traffic jams are common around large cities such as London and Birmingham and you may experience long delays. Primary roads are indicated by the prefix “A” and may be either single- or dual-carriageway. “B” roads, or secondary roads, are usually single- carriageway (one lane in each direction). These, along with the smaller, unclassified roads in rural areas, may offer some of the most rewarding and enjoyable driving. There is currently only one toll road in Britain, the M6 Bypass at Birmingham, with tolls also being charged on the Dartford River Crossing and the Humber Bridge. If you have to drive into central London, you will have to pay the Congestion Charge (currently £11.50 per day). Information on how to pay is posted on the Transport for London website. Similar schemes are being considered in other cities and on busy roadways to help reduce the volume of traffic.
Speed Limits and Fines
Speed limits are given in miles per hour throughout the country. Unless otherwise posted, the speed limits are 70 mph (112 kph) on motorways and dual carriageways, 60 mph (96 kph) on single carriageways, and 30 mph (48 kph) in towns and built-up areas. Police cannot make on-the-spot fines for speeding violations in Great Britain. Speed cameras, however, are widely used; fines are automatic and tickets are sent to the address of the vehicle’s registration. You won’t escape the penalty by driving a rental car. The car hire company will bill you for the ticket, along with an administration fee. Speed camera detectors are illegal and will be confiscated. Do not drink and drive. The laws are very strict and penalties are high. The legal limit is 80mg per 100ml of blood (50mg per 100ml in Scotland) – about equal to a pint of strong beer. Police are authorized to administer a breathalyser test or a blood test at any time, and you can be prosecuted if you don’t agree to take one or the other.
Rules of the Road
Driving is on the left in Great Britain. Most visitors get used to it quickly, but pay extra attention at crossroads and roundabouts, where it is easy (and dangerous) to forget or get confused. Always turn left into a roundabout, and give way (yield) to traffic already on the roundabout and approaching from the right. Drive clockwise, staying in the right hand lane until you are approaching your left-hand exit. Overtake on the right. Do not overtake if there is a continuous white line in the centre of the road. At a junction where no road has priority, yield to traffic coming from your right. Seat belts must be worn at all times, by the driver and all passengers, front seat and back. Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal and carries a fine and penalties. Pedestrian crossings, often called zebra crossings, are marked by white striped lines across the road. Many have orange lights at either end to make them more visible at night. Drivers must yield to pedestrians if they step out into a zebra crossing and also at crossings when the “green man” is flashing, signalling it is safe to cross. Buy a copy of the British Highway Code from newsagents and petrol stations. Please note that some signs in Wales may be in Welsh.