For many, a trip to any of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom, be it England, Scotland, Wales or North Ireland, is a superb way to experience the patchwork culture of the British Isles, while also experiencing daily life in one of Europe's most dynamic modern cultures. The United Kingdom is an excellent vacation destination for travelers looking to explore diverse urban centers, such as London, Manchester, or Glasgow, or rural getaway destinations with spectacular coastal views and country charms. Whether you're planning on visiting for just a few days or you're planning an extended road trip of Europe, behind the wheel of a rental car in the UK you'll find yourself free to explore at your own pace, both conveniently and affordably.
Drink traditional ales, meander down picturesque country lanes, and soak in the culture of this dynamic country as you conveniently tour the United Kingdom with your rental car provided by Auto Europe. How you spend your time in the United Kingdom is entirely up to you; arguably the most challenging aspect of planning a trip is deciding where to spend your limited time when there are so many attractive destinations. This travel guide is designed to help you make the most of your driving tour of the United Kingdom. We'll cover everything you'll need to know about driving in the United Kingdom, including some driving tips and practical rules of the road.
If you're looking for recommendations on where to stop while on your self-guided road trip, or are looking for more general information about traveling in the United Kingdom, check out our comprehensive guide to the UK or our other extensive travel resources.
Driving in the United Kingdom, or any new place for that matter, can seem scary and intimidating at first, but after perusing our tips for driving in the UK, you'll find yourself enjoying a hassle-free vacation and driving like a Brit in no time!
In the United Kingdom you'll find yourself driving on the left side of the road, like driving in Ireland, India, Australia, or New Zealand. Driving on the left side of the road means many of your normal habits, such as turning, yielding, and knowing what direction to look for incoming traffic, will be quite backwards, which may appear dangerously unfamiliar at first. Taking a right turn at a stop sign in the United Kingdom means coming to a full stop, looking both directions, ensuring traffic coming from your left is not turning right, and then turning when safe, not just making sure there is no on-coming traffic coming from your left as you would experience driving in the United States or Canada, for example. The diagram below highlights the differences between driving on the left-side of the road versus the right-side when facing a traffic signal.
How to Navigate a Traffic Stop in the UK:
How to Navigate a Traffic Stop in the US:
If you're looking for more information on navigating traffic signals and understanding road signs, check out the road signs in the UK section of this travel guide.
The fact that you're probably driving on the opposite side of the road you're accustomed to should be reason enough to keep your eyes on the road, but this statement cannot be repeated enough. Whether you're driving in downtown London or a sleepy rural lane, there are obstacles aplenty that can quickly ruin a road trip, so be on the look out for other drivers, large trucks, and pedestrians either crossing or walking along the street. Driving vigilantly and defensively in a new place is the best way to ensure a stress-free driving experience, so keep your eyes off your GPS rental, cell phone, or map while driving.
Simply put, it's illegal to drive or ride a motorcycle while using hand-held phones or similar electronic devices anywhere in the United Kingdom, this is true even if you're stopped at a traffic light or waiting in traffic. Should you be caught using your hand-held phone while driving, you'll automatically receive a fine of £100 and receive three "penalty points". Six penalty points means your right to drive in the United Kingdom is forfeit for two years, so if you're caught using your cell phone while driving twice in one vacation, it means no more driving for you. Hands-free devices are tolerated while driving, but if a police officer thinks you're distracted and not in control of your vehicle, you'll be stopped and ticketed anyways, so only use your phone while in your vehicle to call an emergency number (such as 911) or when you are safely parked. Better safe than sorry.
Roads in the United Kingdom are well-maintained, with the road system being among the safest and well kept in Europe. Once new drivers have become accustomed to driving on the left-side of the road, they will likely find UK drivers in rural areas to be courteous, friendly, and accommodating, when compared to driving in other European nations. Driving in London or other large cities, especially during rush hour, can be hectic and other drivers on the road are likely to be less pleasant towards foreign drivers holding up traffic. Foreign drivers should be aware that in the United Kingdom, drivers will often flash their headlights at other drivers to indicate they can proceed, rather than as a warning of police of an accident ahead. Some other basic UK rules of the road followed by typical British drivers include never passing on the left (comparable to passing on the right in the US, which is frowned upon), you may not turn left on a red light, and there is no requirement to stop for school buses.
The United Kingdom is just absolutely littered with roundabouts, and it's nearly impossible to avoid them. There is no such thing as a four-way stop sign in the United Kingdom, as they are replaced by roundabouts. If you've driven in New England or Ontario before, you're likely familiar with roundabouts; vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way in every situation, except when marked otherwise (this is very uncommon). However, as you're likely still adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, navigating a roundabout can be very daunting your first time around. Take your time, and if necessary, drive around the roundabout several times until you're confident you're making the correct turn in the appropriate manner. Auto Europe recommends anyone driving in the United Kingdom opt for sufficient rental insurance including a collision damage waiver, as roundabouts are the most likely place you'll find yourself getting into a collision. Check out the diagram below that visualizes how to navigate a four-way roundabout with two lanes.
A vast majority of automobile collisions in the United Kingdom occur in congested urban areas, and for that reason, Auto Europe advises drivers to avoid city centers when possible, especially if they're still uncomfortable navigating roundabouts and driving on the left side of the road. Driving in London has become considerably safer as traffic authorities have altered policy to lower speed limits and implement additional pedestrian crossings, but as a result, if you want to drive in downtown London between 7 AM and 6 PM., you'll have to pay a congestion charge of £11.50 per day. It is certainly worthwhile to consider what seasons are most crowded in London and judge appropriately to decide onthe best time to travel to England.
Also known as highways, carriageways and motorways are the most time-effective and safest way to navigate the UK by car. Highways in the UK are organized by primary and regional destinations, where motorways (larger highways) connect primary destinations such as major cities, and carriageways (smaller highways, typically never more than two lanes in each direction) connect smaller destinations, such as junctions and smaller towns and cities. Very few highways in the United Kingdom require tolls to be utilized (typically only when crossing major bridges or tunnels), so driving on highways is arguably the most convenient way to get around the United Kingdom in your rental vehicle.
Wearing a seatbelt is a requirement by law for all UK drivers, the only exception to this rule is for medical reasons where a doctor has clearly stated you cannot wear a seat belt for medical reasons, or if you're unbuckling so you can turn your head to reverse and park. You'll be fined a whopping £500 if you're found driving without your seatbelt, so it's no laughing matter. There are more strict laws regarding child safety for passengers under 12, so check out our section on child safety while driving in the UK if you need more information.
Overtaking other vehicles in the UK is a slightly different process than in the United States or Canada, as law prohibits passing on the left (comparable to passing on the right in the US or Canada) except when the vehicle in front of you is signaling to turn right, and there are strict regulations in place to protect other drivers, motorcyclists, bikers, and pedestrians. We recommend you use common sense, don't pass if you're approaching a corner or bend, a bridge, or the edge of a hill, and use your directional to notify any other drivers or people on the road as to your intentions.