Driving in the UK: A Survival Guide for Americans

Hi, I'm Chris Orcutt. I'll be your narrator. This is me in the Great Glen, Scotland.

Hi, I’m Chris Orcutt. I’ll be your narrator. This is me in the Great Glen, Scotland.

In June 2013, Alexas and I decided to use the earnings from my books to take another Big Trip. I say another Big Trip because in Sept. 2012 we used the first half of my earnings to spend two weeks in Paris and Normandy.

For this second trip, we debated between the UK, Italy, Paris again, and, briefly, Egypt. But there was never really any contest: we both wanted to see London and castles and all things Jane Austen, and I wanted to see Sherlock Holmes locations and the land of my ancestors—the Scottish Highlands.

So we decided on a trip to the UK, and Alexas began creating a budget and making inquiries.

Then, in July, we watched two motorcycle-adventure travel programs: Long Way Round and Long Way Down, starring Ewan McGregor of Star Wars fame and his friend, Charley Boorman. Our original plan for the UK trip was to fly to London and take the train to all of the other places we wanted to go. But once I saw Ewan and Charley drive all the way around the world, and in the second series from the northern tip of Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa, I knew I wanted to drive the UK. I wanted a taste of the adventure they had experienced, albeit with plenty of nourishing pubs and comfortable beds along our route, and none of the tsetse flies.

Alexas had been investigating the cost of rail passes for us, but she quickly discovered that not only are they not cheap, the trains wouldn’t take us everywhere we wanted to go. Also, traveling by train would lock us into specific schedules, and while we planned on pre-booking our lodgings so we would be at certain locations on certain dates, we wanted the ability to come and go whenever we chose. And I’m glad we did that, because for several legs of the journey, we ended up doing a lot of our driving in the very early morning, when the traffic was light, allowing me to take my time at complex junctions and roundabouts. But I’ll get into the specifics of when and how we drove in a moment.

After a few days in London, we took the train south to Brighton, where we hired our car. Then, following a brief visit to the white cliffs at Birling Gap (the southeast shore), we began our zigzagging journey north to Scotland.

 

Why I Wrote This

A view from the car while driving through the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

A view from the car while driving through the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

I wrote this because when I was preparing for this adventure, I scoured the Internet for a good, clear, comprehensive guide for Americans to driving in the UK . What I ended up finding were a ton of small websites, blog entries, videos and PDFs, all offering different advice—some of it contradictory. What you are about to read is the best, most complete guide to driving in the UK for Americans.

By the time we reached the Cotswolds in England (a nightmare to drive, by the way; trust me, skip the damn place), I knew that when I got back, I wanted to write something that would be a true help to American travelers—a clear, thorough, well-written blog entry that provided travelers with everything I think they’ll need to know in order to have a successful road trip through the UK.

One final note before I dive into each topic: Don’t think that you need to cover all of one topic before you move on to the next one (e.g., doing all of your Driving Preparation before your Route Planning). Just because I wrote the topics in a certain order doesn’t mean you need to learn them in that order. Ideally, you’ll be learning a little bit of all of them simultaneously.

 

Get Organized

The organizing suggestions I’m about to make should be in addition to whatever you’re doing to organize the trip as a whole. In our case, Alexas created a binder, and just before we left she filled it with hard copies of all of our flight, car and hotel information; the day-by-day driving directions; the GPS/SATNAV coordinates; and other information. However, what I’m talking about here is organizing your study and workspace. I recommend taking the following steps:

1. Create two separate bookmark folders on your web browser: “General UK Trip Info” and “UK Driving Info”—or use whatever names make sense for you. The point here is that as you’re bopping along, studying the driving aspect of your trip, you’re going to find websites and resources about attractions, restaurants, tips, etc.—and vice-versa—and you don’t want to clutter one subject with the other. Keep the driving stuff in the Driving folder, and the General Trip stuff in the other folder.

2. You might want to create sub-folders in the Driving folder—“Videos,” “Roundabouts,” “Laws and Rules of the Road,” etc.—but this is up to you.

3. Make sure you have a Google account, or if you don’t have one, I suggest setting one up exclusively for the trip (e.g., “JonesUKRoadTrip@gmail.com”) and have everything travel-related go to that account. Then, use that account for when you start working with Google Maps and Street View (more on this later).

4. Get a spiral notebook or a legal pad to use exclusively with your driving study and route preparation. As you’re watching a video or reading an online article about driving in the UK, take notes. It helps to reinforce what you’re learning, and then you have the notes to refer to later on. In my case, I ended up with about 20 pages of notes that I was able to read on the plane on our way to London, then on the train on our way to pick up the car hire (rental car).

5. Create a folder on your computer desktop that is exclusively trip-related, and include driving-related subfolders. Here’s a picture of the folder on my Mac to give you a starting point:

Snapshot_of_UK_Folder

Snapshot of the root UK Trip folder on my computer.

6. If you have an iPad or other tablet (or a good smartphone with a decent-sized screen), you should really consider bringing it—certainly in place of a laptop. Use it to contain all of your driving- and trip-related documents. The document management app I used for the trip is Documents by Readdle, and as of this writing, it is free. It was a cinch to transfer files between my computer and iPad, it performed brilliantly during the trip.

 

Driving Preparation

Because I would be doing all of the driving (and Alexas the navigating), I set out to learn as much as I could about driving in the UK before we got there. Instinctively, I knew there was more to driving in the UK than just staying on the left, so I watched dozens of hours of UK driving instruction videos, took countless UK driver’s written exams, and studied PDFs of road markings, traffic signals and signage.

To save you time with your own UK driving preparations, I’m giving you a list of the videos, websites and PDF resources that proved to be the most useful once I got over there and started driving. These are items that I’m really glad I understood ahead of time, because had I gone over there without knowing them, the trip might have been a disaster.

Let’s start with the videos. I’m convinced that the videos are the number one reason I was able to drive successfully in the UK. By watching so many of them, I became used to the car being on the left, so when I got over there and had to drive on the left for real, it was as if I had already done it.

When you watch each video, obviously pay attention to the main point (e.g., negotiating a busy roundabout), but try also to familiarize yourself with the road signs, road markings, pedestrian crossings, and parking conventions displayed in the video. I found that by doing this, I wasn’t distracted by any of these things when I started driving over there.

DrivingMagic (over 100 videos; excellent ones on roundabouts):

http://www.youtube.com/drivingmagiconline

“Big Tom” Ingram (dozens of videos; great on roundabouts and general driving):

http://www.youtube.com/user/2010BIGTOM

DriverSkills TV (only a few videos; narrated by a former UK police driver; good in-car perspective):

http://www.youtube.com/user/DriverSkillsTV

2Pass.co.uk (many videos of varying quality; the ones on motorway driving at bottom are excellent):

http://www.2pass.co.uk/video.htm

 • UK Road Signs Video (most of the major UK road signs in a 5-minute video):

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgfyXdwoYo0

• Highways Agency (better-produced videos; make sure you watch the “Stay Safe, Keep Moving” series):

http://www.youtube.com/user/HighwaysAgency

To give you an example of the “Stay Safe, Keep Moving” series, here’s one about the “hard shoulder” on UK motorways. Obviously, their “motorways” are the equivalent of our freeways (although theirs are better, and more clearly marked), and when they say “hard shoulder,” you should think of our shoulder or “emergency lane.”

 

 

Okay, so those are the major videos. Doubtless you’ll stumble across others, but I wanted to give you a starting point. Now for the websites and other resources.

The most important website for driving in the UK—as far as knowing the rules and laws are concerned—is the Highway Code. I didn’t read every word of it, but this page is a great reference, especially if you have questions concerning specific aspects of driving in the UK. Here’s the link:

https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/highway-code

A small sample of the UK road signs you'll encounter.

A small sample of the UK road signs you’ll encounter.

For knowing what all of the road signs and markings mean, you need the UK driving Bible: “Know Your Traffic Signs.” This is an essential PDF for you to have. I loaded it onto my iPad before the trip and made sure that my navigator had reviewed it thoroughly before we left. Part of this PDF covers signs that give directions, which are crucial for your navigator to understand.

“Know Your Traffic Signs” also contains a lot of information about road markings in the UK. In the UK, they use a wide variety of marks on the road (different colored paints and configurations) to communicate a lot of rules—about parking, passing, “giving way” (our “yielding”), and much more.

For information about the UK road system as a whole, including its numbering scheme, motorways, and the bad junctions you should avoid, check out http://www.cbrd.co.uk/.

This next site is geared towards the UK learner driver, but it contains a lot of information that is UK driving-specific (like negotiating roundabouts). It also has lots of videos and little animations to illustrate points:

http://www.2pass.co.uk/roundabout.htm

Finally, once you’ve watched plenty of videos and you’ve reviewed the PDF and other websites mentioned above, you’ll want to test your knowledge. I took about two dozen of these online driving exams before we left. Even if the actual driving proved to be a challenge, I at least went over there confident that I knew the rules, laws, signage, traffic signals, etc. There are online UK “driving theory” practice tests everywhere, but I found the following two websites to be the best:

The Official UK Government Site

Free Mock Theory Tests (over a dozen tests).

Finally, although you don’t have to become an expert in British car terminology, you should learn their names for the major parts of the car. You need to do this so, at the very least, you can be on the same page with the car hire (car rental) company and any petrol (gas) stations you roll into. This handy PDF covers a number of car-related terms, as well as more general road- and driving-related terms.

Because I don’t like unpleasant surprises, I tend to over-prepare for new endeavors. For example, before our trip to Paris in 2012, I spent three months learning a good deal of practical French. (And I’m proud to say that because of my study, in terms of day-to-day communication with Parisians and getting around, I kicked ass over there.) This time around, I viewed driving in the UK as another foreign language and prepared similarly.

This being said, you might not need to spend weeks preparing as I did. However, I strongly advise you to spend at least 12 hours (perhaps 6 two-hour sessions) reviewing as many of the above websites and videos as you can, and familiarizing yourself with a) how roundabouts work, b) UK road signs and markings, and c) the UK road system and numbering scheme.

Lastly on this subject, here’s a brief “wiki” overview/checklist of many of the most important things you need to know about driving in the UK:

http://www.wikihow.com/Drive-in-the-UK

 

Route Preparation

Me driving on the A27/Eastbourne Road on the southern coast of England. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

Me driving on the A27/Eastbourne Road on the southern coast of England. Note the GPS/SATNAV. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

Route preparation is essential for driving in the UK, so in the weeks before your trip, you should plan to spend many hours on Google Maps.

Now, I know what some of you are saying: “I don’t need routes. I’ll just bring my GPS (or SATNAV, as the Brits call it), put in my destination, and go.”

Let me tell you, if you go over there without planned routes, you will regret it. Here’s why:

1. Most roads in the UK have at least two names—a route number (e.g., A27) and the old-fashioned, legacy name (e.g., “Eastbourne Road”)—and your GPS will sometimes use one, and sometimes the other.

Just a sample of the *narrow* roads you'll encounter in the UK. This picture was taken on the 2nd floor of a bus as we drove into Bath, England. And this road was *wide* compared to some we traveled!

Just a sample of the *narrow* roads you’ll encounter in the UK. This picture was taken from the upper deck of a bus as we drove into Bath, England. And this road was *wide* compared to some we traveled!

2. Your GPS always wants to take you via the shortest route, which will often send you down narrow lanes, and through crowded residential streets. Several times our GPS sent us down residential streets so narrow, and so packed with parked cars, that we barely made it out.

3. You want to know that should your GPS fail, or you lose it, or some other problem befalls you, you will be able to get from place to place.

To prepare my routes, I knew ahead of time each site that we would be visiting, and the hotels/inns where we would be staying each night, so I used Google Maps to construct routes between these destinations. In some cases, I created several routes between locations, so in the event of traffic problems, or if we decided to skip a location, we would have a backup route.

I tried at least half a dozen journey planners before committing to one, and I have to say that Google Maps was the best. And, while over there, I discovered that their directions are highly accurate.

Something else when it comes to route preparation:

Once you have your routes planned, it doesn’t hurt to spend a few hours virtually driving portions of those routes using Google Maps Street View. You do this by dropping the yellow “Peg Man” onto the section of road or location that you want to see from the street. Rather than explaining how to use Street View, however, I’ll simply include this how-to video:

 

 

Obviously, to do a Street View of every segment of your journey around the UK (we logged over 1,500 miles) would take forever, so I don’t recommend doing that. (Also, if you were to virtually-drive the entire route, what would be the point of doing your road trip?) However, I do strongly recommend using Street View to get an advance look at small sections of your trip (especially critical junctions and roundabouts)—a few miles here and there of each leg. Knowing the “lay of the land” ahead of time is especially helpful when it comes to knowing how to get into car parks, finding the entrances of historical sites, or avoiding routes that look (or you’ve read are) too dangerous. A final point about that: If you think a road looks narrow on Street View, wait until you get there!

Vistas like this one in the Lake District, England are the payoff for good preparation. Photo by Chris Orcutt.

Vistas like this one in the Lake District, England are the payoff for good preparation. Photo by Chris Orcutt.

Here’s an example of the value of knowing the “lay of the land” from Street View: While I was planning our routes, I did a Street View of a section of motorway in Southern England, where I was to exit onto another motorway that headed north towards Winchester. Because I planned on reaching this point before dawn, I wanted to identify ahead of time some landmarks that would tell me when I would be approaching this critical junction. And my planning paid off beautifully—when I drove this section of motorway a few weeks later, I knew the correct lane to get into, miles ahead of time, and we reached the Winchester Park & Ride half an hour early.

There’s one more thing that you should plan to do with Google Maps and Street View, and that’s locate the exact GPS coordinates of the important places you’ll be driving to, including your hotels, car parks, and historical sites. The reason for this is simple: It’s far easier to enter a few numbers into your device than it is to try to find them manually, or under the “Points of Interest” menu. The directions built into the devices are sometimes outdated, too.

It took many hours to do (okay, perhaps I’m obsessive), but I managed to put together a list of coordinates for the top 50–75 locations we would be going to (including everything from major historical sites to cathedrals to car parks to hotels to supermarkets), and we had both PDFs and hard copies of that list during the trip.

To save you time in looking up all of these sites yourself (at least a solid week’s work) , here’s a copy of the PDF I created. It includes coordinates for popular UK attractions including Chatsworth, Stirling Castle (incredible), Stratford Upon Avon, Stonehenge (skip it), and Hadrian’s Wall, as well as hard-to-find Park & Ride facilities outside of Winchester and Bath:

Select UK GPS/SATNAV Coordinates – by Chris Orcutt

Once we were over there, I discovered that the exact coordinates were the most reliable and accurate means of getting from one place to another. Our printed directions had occasional hiccups, and sometimes our atlas failed us, but when it came down to it, if we had the exact coordinates of a location, our GPS could get us there—every time.

A section of the A82 along Loch Ness—narrow, twisty and precarious.

A section of the A82 along Loch Ness—narrow, twisty and precarious. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

For the next part of your route preparation, I recommend that you read this article about the most dangerous roads in the UK and modify your routes accordingly. As a result of reading this article, and some other research I did, I avoided roads that I had originally planned on driving, including the notorious A537.

If you don’t read anything specifically admonitory about a section of road you’re planning on driving, but you’re studying your atlas and the section looks questionable, I suggest you do as I did and look for video on YouTube of a car driving that route. In my case, I was concerned about the A82 along Loch Lomond. On the atlas, it looked curvy, but I thought that the loch-side vista would more than compensate for its serpentine quality and any danger there might be.

And then I watched a video—this video—and said out loud, “F-ck this.” (The video has accompanying music, but I suggest you turn it off; it’s terrible and will distract you from what’s important—just how sinuous and suicidally narrow this road gets.)

 

 

Don’t worry: Although narrower (in some cases much narrower) than our roads in the US, not all of the UK roads are suicidal like the Loch Lomond section of A82. As a general rule, however, the roads in Scotland are narrower and more sinuous than the ones in England.

 

Car Hire (Renting Your Car)

While you’re doing your driving preparation and route planning, you’ll also need to line up your car hire. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on this step. Do your research—particularly when it comes to insurance (you want to be sure you’re covered). These are the steps that Alexas and I followed, and the lessons we learned:

Booking the car. Alexas handled all of our bookings for the trip, including the car hire, but here are some of her tips:

1. Use the various travel price-comparison aggregators (e.g., Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, etc.) to get a sense of what the general prices are, and who has the best prices.

2. Identify the companies with the best prices, and then investigate what those companies’ prices would be if you were to book the car directly through their foreign websites (i.e., “www.xxxx.co.uk).

3. Unless there is a major difference between the price you found on the aggregators and the one you found directly on the company website, book directly through the company website. Doing it this way gives you access to the contact information for the specific branch where you’ll be picking up your car.

Which company should I hire my car through? All of the major American-based car rental companies are in force in Europe, but Europcar seems to have the most locations, and therefore the most cars available. We rented through National, only to discover once we got there that Alamo and National are Europcar affiliates in the UK. The bottom line is, we probably should have rented directly through Europcar to begin with, and most likely would have gotten a better price by doing so.

Where should I pick up my car? Although the per-day prices can be significantly less if you pick up at an airport, we strongly suggest that you avoid airports—especially if this will be your first time driving in the UK. We took a train from London to Brighton and picked up our car at a branch on a quiet street. (And I knew ahead of time that the street would be quiet because I had used Google Street View to check it out.) Getting the car at a less busy location ensures that you will have at least a few minutes to get acquainted with the vehicle and to get used to driving on the left.

The Vauxhall estate car (station wagon) that we had to take because the branch didn't have the car we reserved.

The Vauxhall estate car (station wagon) that we had to take because the branch didn’t have the car we reserved.

What size car should I hire? This is a question of your comfort level with driving on roads much narrower than the ones you’re used to in the US, and it’s also a question of how long a trip you’re taking, how many people will be in the car, and how much baggage you have. One thing is certain: do not hire the smallest available car. I don’t care that it’s dirt-cheap.

Our concept of “small” in the US is very different from the UK or European concept of “small.” If you get the smallest, most basic car, you are going to be unhappy. Also, you will need some power on the motorways and to get through roundabouts. Finally, if you’re going to be spending any length of time in the car, as we did (11 days), you want to be comfortable.

In our case, although we booked a car that was on the small end of the spectrum (a “compact,” which was third from the smallest, if I remember correctly), the branch in Brighton where we hired it was out of cars when we showed up. It was only when I slipped a 20-pound note into the manager’s hand that an “estate car” (our “station wagon”) miraculously became available. (To the Alamo branch’s credit, I was given the bigger, more luxurious car at the same price as the compact I’d reserved.)

Me, saying in American fashion, "I got this." However, I had done my homework and driven for a day before I let my American swagger come in. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

Me, saying in American fashion, “I got this.” However, I had done my homework and driven for a day before letting my American swagger creep in. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

It’s about finding the right balance between space inside the car, power, fuel economy, and the size of the outside of the car, and obviously there are tradeoffs. In our case, the longer and slightly wider body made certain maneuvers tricky (e.g., driving down narrow village roads where lots of trucks were unloading), but overall, I’m really glad we had the larger vehicle. The car had considerable power for accelerating onto the motorways, and it was roomy and almost luxurious inside. Although we seldom drove for more than three hours at a stretch, when we arrived at our destination, we always felt relaxed, and over the 11 days of driving, I didn’t develop muscle knots or other discomforts, as often happens to me during long road trips in my own car in the US.

What type of transmission should I book: manual or automatic? In my opinion, unless you are a NASCAR driver, you should absolutely book an automatic. I am a pretty damn good driver, and although, in retrospect, I think I could have handled a manual transmission, I’m really glad I went with the automatic. Doing this takes another variable out of the equation—the shifting. And believe me, when you get to busy roundabouts—where you have to be able to accelerate quickly into them—you’ll be glad, too. Get the automatic! And make sure your car hire reservation is explicit: automatic transmission. If you don’t specify, you will be given the default—a manual or standard transmission.

What about insurance and other details? This is where you have to decide what is best for yourself. In our case, we investigated the per-day charges for insurance first, and then we found out that because we had the American Express card, we could pay a one-time fee of about $25 that would cover everything car-related for the duration of the trip. This saved us hundreds of dollars.

To get this coverage, you have to call up American Express and talk to their travel services people, and you need to activate it before each trip. Once you’ve activated it, they will send you a letter saying you are insured for your next trip. Make sure you bring a copy of this letter with you, in case you have to prove to the car hire company that you have insurance. Before we left, I read somewhere that in some cases, if you decline all of their insurance coverages, they will insist on seeing proof of coverage. We were never asked to furnish the letter, but we had it with us just the same.

This brings me to my next point: Whether you go with American Express’s insurance plan or another outside company’s, in 99% of cases, in order for the coverage to be valid, you MUST decline ALL of the car hire company’s insurance packages. This is critical! Again: If you’re using an outside plan, you MUST DECLINE ALL of the car hire company’s insurance packages. Your insurance provider can explain the details to you about this.

Now, if you don’t have an American Express card, you might consider getting one (seriously, the car rental insurance plan alone makes it worthwhile), or look into whether or not your own credit card company offers insurance on foreign rentals. Many do, but one thing, though—with all of the companies (including American Express), rentals in certain countries are NOT COVERED. In the case of AmEx, I believe they didn’t cover rentals in Ireland, Italy, Greece, and certain Eastern European countries. Again, you need to talk to your specific company and get the details.

Following are a few PDFs that we found very helpful when renting the car:

Tips on Car Hire in Europe

Car Rental Insurance Checklist

Rental Car Safety Checklist

 

What paperwork do I need to bring to the car hire location? Above all else, MAKE SURE you have the following with you: 1) your passports, 2) your US drivers’ licenses, 3) your International Driving Permit—one for each driver, and 4) your proof of outside (“third-party”) insurance—if you decide to go that route. Chances are, you’ll never need your International Driving Permit, but get it. Better safe than sorry.

Finally, what should I do when I pick up the car? First, don’t let them rush you. Take all the time you need to learn how the car works. (You might slip your rental agent a few quid to motivate him or her.) Especially make sure that you find out how to operate the following: 1) the gas tank cover release, 2) the handbrake, 3) the headlights and fog lights, 4) the trip odometer/computer, 5) the hood or “bonnet” release, 6) the trunk or “boot” release, and 7) the windshield wipers. Verify that there is a spare tire and jack kit in the boot. Check to see that there is adequate windshield washer fluid in the reservoir.

The right-front tire (tyre) when we returned the car.

The right-front tire (tyre) when we returned the car.

Next, take time-and-date-stamped photos of the car (inside and out, and from all angles). Be sure to get close-ups on the tire rims, doors and both front and rear bumpers. Make sure that every single scratch, ding or other mark on the car is noted on the rental agreement—no matter how small.

Meanwhile, your navigator and/or co-driver should go through a checklist of everything on the car, verifying that everything works. Here I’ve attached two handy documents I created for our trip: 1) a pickup checklist that covers everything on the car that I could think of; and 2) an info sheet, on which you should write data such as the car license plate number, make and model of the car, pickup and return addresses, and emergency phone numbers. (To create these yourself would take hours. You’re welcome. :)

Hired Car Pickup Checklist

Hired Car Info Sheet

My final thought on the car hire is that this is an extremely important step, so be sure to spend some time on it, and double-check everything you do.

 

The Realities of Driving in the UK

So far, I’ve written 5,000 words about Driving in the UK without talking much about the actual driving, but this is because you will learn more from the above-mentioned videos than I could possibly communicate in 50,000 words. What I am going to do, however, is give you a few nuggets of wisdom—or what I learned from my own driving experience over there—that will prepare you for what you’re likely to encounter, and reduce the number of surprises.

In each case, I’ll give you the most important idea(s), without a lot of explanation. Some of these ideas will be presented as stream of consciousness—exactly as they occur to me—so they may be in incomplete sentences. Just know that these lapses are intentional. Anyway, each topic is underlined, and a few sentences about that topic follows it:

Roundabouts. Without question, the use of roundabouts in the UK at intersections (junctions)—as opposed to our endless traffic lights and four-way stops—is the biggest difference between driving there and in the US. It takes some getting used to—even more than the idea of driving on the left, which, after a few hours behind the wheel, you’ll be comfortable with. (By the way, I suggest you put a Post-It note on the car dashboard as I did, a note that reads, “STAY LEFT. LOOK RIGHT.”) The most important idea with roundabouts, in my opinion, is this: Get into the correct lane as soon as possible, and if you have a choice of lanes for your exit off the roundabout, choose the most outside lane. A couple of other points here: 1) Your Google directions, although highly accurate, will gloss over roundabouts, often saying, “Go through 3 roundabouts”; in other words, not every roundabout is mentioned. Also, Google often doesn’t count certain spokes or exits off a roundabout, so when it says, “Take the 3rd exit off the roundabout,” it’s sometimes wrong. 2) In really large, complicated roundabouts (these often have traffic lights on them), as much as possible follow the markings on the road; provided you’re in the correct lane, these will usually “spiral” you out of the roundabout naturally.

Tailgating/Aggressive Driving. Listen, I’ve driven in and around cities all over the US—Boston; New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Dallas; San Francisco—and I thought I knew tailgating and aggressive driving. Nope. But here’s the weird thing: Every English person and Scot we had the opportunity to talk to—from London to Bath to Newcastle to Glasgow to Inverness—every single man and woman was friendly and welcoming to Alexas and me. However, put them in a car…and, well, something happens to them. Many of the English—and especially the Scots—are obnoxious tailgaters and aggressive drivers. I mean the worst. It’s so pervasive, it’s as though it’s the UK national pastime. Prepare yourself for it, because it’s going to happen, and you’ll be shocked every time it does. No matter what happens, drive at a speed you’re comfortable with, and if a long line of cars develops behind you, and there’s a “lay-by” or turn-out where you can safely pull over, do so and let the traffic pass. When you get fed-up and angry about how everyone in the UK drives this way (to varying degrees), stop and relax for a while. Have coffee or lunch, or just get out of the car and breathe.

Lack of Turn-outs or “Lay-bys.” This can be frustrating because there are going to be many places where you’ll wish you could stop and get a photo, and many times when you want to get the hell off the road and let traffic pass, but lay-bys are rare. So, my advice to you is this: When you do come upon one, if you need to stop for any reason, stop and use it because there likely won’t be another one for some time.

A cyclist in the middle of the A87—on a curve, with a bridge—on the Isle of Skye. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

A cyclist in the middle of the A87—on a curve, with a bridge—on the Isle of Skye. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

Cyclists. They’re everywhere over there (except the motorways, of course), so any time you go around a blind turn in the country, be prepared to encounter them.

Car Parks and Park & Ride Facilities. Use them. Don’t try to park on the streets. The signage can be complicated and contradictory, and many villages and towns have special parking passes that you have to buy and display in your car in order to park on the street. And don’t try to drive into the cities! Use Park & Ride facilities instead. They’re spacious, well-organized, and have buses that run from the car park to the downtown area of whatever city you want to visit. We did this with Winchester, Bath and Glasgow, and are we glad we did!

A narrow road in the Peak District, on the way to Stanage Edge—a mecca for Pride & Prejudice lovers. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

A narrow road in the Peak District, on the way to Stanage Edge—a mecca for Pride & Prejudice lovers. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

Narrow Roads. The narrowness of the roads and lanes will shock you. The other thing is, the width of the roads is very inconsistent. You’ll be driving along on a nice, wide stretch of road—say, through the Peak District, or on your way to the Isle of Skye—and it will suddenly narrow, and you’ll have a rock wall inches from your car on the passenger side (this happened to us in the Lake District), or you’ll come to a sign that warns of a narrow bridge ahead (all over Scotland). A good general rule of thumb is something that Heraclitus said: “Expect the unexpected.” When you are suddenly put into a tight squeeze situation, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “How would James Bond handle this?” That’s right—coolly, and with laser focus. Block out all distractions and focus on keeping your side of the car (the driver’s side) as close to the center line as possible.

Inconsistent Speed Zones. Not much to say here, except that you’ll be cruising along on a single-carriageway at the UK national speed limit of 60 mph, be told to slow to 40, and then—in less than a quarter-mile—be told to resume the national limit. In the course of a few miles, you might be forced to change speeds ten times. It’s worse in some areas than in others, but it’s still maddening.

Speed Cameras. They’re all over, and as locals in the Lake District told me in a pub, they’re for real. Mind the speed limits while you’re over there because if you get a ticket, the car hire company will send it to you months later. This didn’t happen to me, but I know other Americans to whom it happened.

Crosswalks. When you are studying UK road signs and road markings, make sure you understand the differences between the different types of crossings—e.g., Zebra, Pelican, Toucan, Puffin, Pegasus, etc.—and when you need to stop, and when you can roll through.

The “White Van Man.” People in the UK refer to their delivery-truck people (our UPS or FedEx) as “the white van man.” Of course the vans are in a multiplicity of colors (predominantly white), but the point is that these guys are the most aggressive, dangerous drivers (next to the motorcyclists) in the UK. On the motorways, they swerve in and out of lanes, and on country roads, they’ll pass you on blind turns—everything. Give them a wide berth.

A single-track road on the Black Isle in Scotland, not far from one of my ancestors' castles. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

A single-track road on the Black Isle in Scotland, not far from one of my ancestors’ castles. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

Single-Track and “B” Roads. First, regarding single-track roads, avoid them as much as you can. Some people who have driven in the UK will say that you have to drive them to get a real feel for the charm of the UK, but to hell with that. In your travels, you will find yourself having to use a few single-track roads, and that will be enough. You don’t need to go out of your way to find single-track routes between locations. We drove more than our share of them in Scotland because of where my ancestors’ castles were located, which in one case required us to go quite a ways off the beaten path. The bottom line is, if you find yourself on a single-track road, and another car is approaching from the opposite direction, the etiquette is this: Whichever of you has the nearest lay-by should pull over and let the person pass. And if you’re on a hill, the person coming uphill has the right of way. As for “B”-numbered roads, avoid them if you can, but when you have to drive them, do so with caution. The B-roads are notorious for being extremely narrow, twisty, etc., but the locals (because they know the road) still drive 60 mph on them.

Your GPS/SATNAV Unit. Two things: 1) Whatever brand you buy or own, make sure you buy the card with the latest UK maps on it (or that it comes pre-loaded with the maps). 2) Shut off the voice on the thing. Let your navigator read it and tell you what to do next. The voice is distracting. Oh, and one other thing: Your US cigarette lighter plug for the GPS (or any other US electronic device) WILL fit into the UK car cigarette lighters, and their cars all have the outlets—if not multiple ones.

View of motorway outside of Newcastle, England, from a bridge over the carriageway.

View of motorway outside of Newcastle, England, from a bridge over the carriageway.

Motorways. If you’re truly doing a long road trip through the UK, you will have plenty of opportunities to drive the country roads, so use the motorways to drive between regions. They’re fast (70 mph for cars) and efficient. Exits are very well-marked, with signs that show what the roundabout at the end of the exit looks like, and they even have these “countdown” bars to tell you how many hundreds of yards you are from your exit. A few tips regarding motorways in general: 1) Stay to the LEFT, and once you overtake (pass) a car using one of the two right-hand lanes, get back over to the LEFT immediately. 2) Use their “services” (our rest areas); for the most part they’re well-designed and clean, and you can get your petrol and some coffee, and get back on the motorway afterwards without any hassles. Do NOT make a habit of getting off at an exit, thinking you’ll find what you need; the “services”  are the places to do this stuff. 3) VERY important: In the US, traffic already on the highway has to yield to incoming traffic; but in the UK, it’s the opposite: If you are trying to enter the motorway, YOU have to yield, so make sure you use as much of the slip-road (on-ramp) as you can, use your directionals, and time your merge into traffic.

Best Driving Times. If you can avoid it, do NOT drive at rush hour—basically the same hours as in the US. For most of our trip, I timed the driving so that we covered a lot of ground before dawn (driving between regions), then stopped for breakfast to wait out rush hour, then did our local driving during the day. Best times: early mornings and late evenings.

Petrol Stations and Etiquette. First, the colors of the fuel nozzle handles are different in the UK: Plain petrol (our unleaded gasoline) is dispensed from nozzles with a green handle; diesel fuel comes from nozzles with black handles. Next, unlike in the US, diesel fuel is widely available. In fact, every single station I went into had diesel. Finally, if there are other vehicles in the station “forecourt,” pick a pump lane and stick with it. Drivers in the UK hate anybody who tries to form “one line,” taking the first available pump. And once you’ve filled, move your car the hell away and park it. Something else UK drivers hate: people who leave their cars parked at the pump, then go inside the station for fifteen minutes. Obviously, if it’s 5:00 a.m. and the station is empty, then it shouldn’t be a problem. Just use common sense here.

Other Tips: 1) Make sure you have an ample supply of 1-pound coins in the car, or on your person, at all times; you will need them for everything. 2) Early in your trip, go to a supermarket and stock up on car snacks and bottled water; if you buy it ad hoc, you’ll end up spending a lot more money. 3) If you’re taking a long road trip and staying in a lot of hotels or motels along the way, have a packing/unpacking routine, and put your stuff in the same location every time so you don’t leave anything behind. 4) Travelodge and Premier Inn are the two most ubiquitous hotel/motel chains throughout the UK. Travelodge is cheaper, but Premier Inn is—in most cases—way nicer. If the price difference is only a few pounds (say up to 10–15 pounds), go with Premier Inn. We stayed in perhaps half a dozen of them during our 11 days of driving, and everything about them was superior. 5) Finally, the road atlas we used is the A–Z Great Britain Road Atlas (Super Scale), and it was excellent; however, it was a bit large, so you might consider getting its smaller brother.

 

Conclusion

The A887, heading towards the Isle of Skye. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

The A887, heading towards the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photo by Alexas Orcutt.

I have just written over 7,000 words on driving in the UK for Americans. I realize this might be overkill, but I want all of my fellow Americans to benefit from what I learned during our road trip through England and Scotland. It was an incredible experience, and I’m proud to have done it—and done it with panache.

You can do it, too, but make sure you do your homework ahead of time. Watch the videos, take the practice exams, read the rules and signage. Don’t go over there with the typical American attitude of “I got this” or “I’ll figure it out,” because if you do that, your chances of failing (and possibly having an accident or worse) will be much higher.

Print this blog entry to PDF and put it on your phone or tablet for the trip, and maybe reread it as a refresher during your plane journey over there.

Finally, if you find what I’ve written here to be valuable and helpful, let other travelers know about it. And since I wrote this and am offering it to you for FREE (and have saved you dozens of hours of work), please consider buying one of my books. They are very well written, as well as entertaining, and you now have the time to read them. :)

Thank you, and I wish you a safe and enjoyable road trip through the UK.

—Chris Orcutt

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By Chris Orcutt

Writer — The Dakota Stevens Mystery Series, Short fiction, Plays — Editor & Speechwriter for Hire — Avid Golfer, Chess Player & Awesome Wood-Splitter — Twitter: @chrisorcutt

Comments (45)

  1. Rachel Perkins March 28, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! Really helpful! :) Will definitely be using a lot of this information for our road trip in the UK this summer.

  2. Kelly Allen March 11, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    Hi!

    I’m and American EX-Pat living in Germany and have visited the UK several times and have a German DL and an Automatic car (Yaris Hybrid Toyota )that I and my Wife plan on using in August (2018) on our vacation. I’ll re-read your blog again but I WILL look at all the videos to prep myself too, I really liked the depth I found here!

    Thanks

    Kelly

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  4. D.B. October 9, 2017 at 1:13 am

    Chris,

    You will probably be pleased to know that your article came in handy once again as my wife and I took our family, which includes a 2 and 3 year old with us to England, Northern Ireland and Ireland. We rented a car outside of London and drove the Cotswolds. Took a plane to Ireland for another week and rented another car. We drove a lot, which gave us the flexibility of schedule. Your article helped me prepare to be a driver on the opposite side of the road and my wife remained thoroughly engaged in the passenger seat as the navigator. She was more engaged than she liked sometimes (i.e. just shy of a heart attack or two) with the hedges in the Ring of Kerry and in the English and Irish countrysides. We downloaded google maps for the two places onto the iPhone and had some standard OS Tour Maps for England and a Collins Map for Ireland, but your suggestions and self-study was instrumental in preparing for roundabouts and motorways and driving in the small towns, villages and larger cities. Thank you. Two rental cars, over 1,200 miles (yes miles not kilometers) in two weeks, two kids and no incidents. The best advice I can give any others reading this comment, besides saying some prayers and studying up was simply remember the median or center line between you and oncoming traffic must always be on the driver’s side (i.e. next to the driver) no matter which side of the the road the country requires you to drive on. Thank you again!

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  6. James April 20, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Chris, excellent article! I’m from the UK and used to drive for a living, so clocked up a lot of miles in the 20 or so years I was doing this. But what you said about the road alongside Loch Lomond is absolutely spot on! We went on holiday there last year, and when a lorry/truck came running round the blind bends on the wrong side of the road does make for exciting driving!

    • Chris Orcutt April 21, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      Thanks, James! I have nothing but profound respect for professional drivers in the UK. Some of those roads are insanely narrow. I thoroughly enjoyed our road trip back in 2013, but I’m not sure I’ll do it again. Roads like the one along Loch Lomond make driving NOT ENJOYABLE. :) Thank you for your comment.

      Sincerely,

      Chris

      • Shelby October 24, 2017 at 2:26 pm

        Hey Chris!

        So, fellow North American here. from Canada. I just wanted to note that although the A82 around loch lomond seems horrible and too twisty, it’s quite manageable, and it’s a beautiful drive honestly (as a passenger, obviously can’t be looking everywhere as the driver). I’d recommend it if you were ever to go back to Inverness or the surrounding area. Granted, I lived in Inverness/on the Black Isle for a while, and am a licenced UK driver, so I am used to the speeds and narrow roads.

        However, people tend to know you are a tourist from the licence plates or from the car rental stickers and will give you a bit more leeway. There are lots of pull-offs along the road if you need to drive slower and are creating traffic, but as you mentioned, it is best to go in the early morning, and maybe try and catch the sunrise over the loch. :)

  7. H February 1, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    I’m from Cirencester, could I ask what it was in the Cotswolds that you didn’t like?

  8. Laura January 10, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Hello Chris, Thank you for the information. Extremely valuable! I have a question that I’m hoping you can assist me with. I am having a challenging time determining what type of car to rent. Based on your column I’m fearful of leasing a van but I will be traveling with 7 adults and luggage. We will be flying into Heathrow and then driving north through Scotland, then over to Ireland, and back to London (via Wales). Full circle. I’m wondering if we should just drive two cars. Is driving the larger vehicle worth the savings?

    • Chris Orcutt January 10, 2017 at 11:54 pm

      Laura, my suggestion is this: rent two estate cars. This way, you’ll have lots of room for passengers and luggage. UK vans are not like large American passenger vans, and again, the roads are NARROW. Hope this helps. Thanks, Chris

  9. Joe Grey December 4, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Hi Chris – interesting read. I’m a UK driver who’s driven in about 30 countries (including following ‘Route 66’ in the US). I’m impressed by the amount of research and prep you did – far more than I usually do (in Armenia we only decided to hire a car when we got to the airport and found we had to wait three hours for the first bus). A few observations I have (which seem to tally with yours), we tend to drive faster that you do in the US – certainly on two-lane roads – and as you probably observed passing an oncoming 40-ton artic with a closing speed of 100mph with a foot or so clearance is normal. One thing to point out – the UK driving test is much more stringent than the US one, and the geometry of motorway junctions is much more regulated (I nearly ran into the back of a truck on a freeway in LA that seemed to have a slip-road on the OUTSIDE (fast) lane and the slip road had a sharp 90 degree bend in it – one of the scariest moments of driving I’ve ever had). This all makes the UK roads a lot safer than the US – in fact they rank alongside Sweden for the safest on the planet. So US drivers shouldn’t fret too much about driving here, just learn the basics and be sensible. Oh, another tip for driving on the ‘wrong side’ (which ever that is for you) – try not to park on the ‘wrong side’ of the road. I have successfully driven for a couple of km in France on the wrong side of the road after pulling away from a parking space and not getting back on the right. When I did eventually meet an oncoming car the other driver was so surprised he had to drop his phone to do the appropriate hand ‘signals’.

    • Chris Orcutt December 4, 2016 at 12:57 am

      Joe, thanks so much for your astute observations. It’s a pleasure to hear from a driver as experienced as you, a true student and observer of the “craft.” :) Best wishes with your upcoming adventures. —Chris

  10. Greg September 13, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Very informative. Thanks

    Leaving for England and Scotland in October. Plan on hiring a car in Scotland and touring on my own and was a little concerned with driving on the left.

  11. Kiran September 4, 2016 at 3:27 am

    Hi Chris, I am planning to take a round trip (17sep16 to 04oct16) from London to London covering Liverpool, Lake District, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Isle of Skye, Belfast, Londonderry, Galway, Cork, Dublin, Cardiff. I am lucky to have stumbled on your blog without which i would have gone mad. i started going through the videos and reading the studying material. With your advice i took all the SAT NAV co-ordinates in addition to the address. i really find your blog to be informative and i appreciate for taking your time to put everything. Great work. Hope i will have a safe and sound trip. Any pointers from you are greatly appreciated.

    • Chris Orcutt September 4, 2016 at 11:22 pm

      Kiran,

      I’m glad that you found the blog entry useful and I wish you the best on your trip. As far as pointers go, when I look back on my own preparation, there are three things I did that I think were crucial:

      1. Taking the UK driving practice exams,

      2. Watching the roundabout videos,

      and

      3. Looking at sections of your route in Google Street View.

      Best of luck,

      Chris

  12. Vince Piscitelli July 19, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for the Fantastic detailed advice Chris. And Alexas too!

    My wife, probably like Alexas, is a great navigator while I do most of the driving. And thank God because I am “navigationally challenged.” Extremely.

    We’re planning a 23 day trip (minus 2 days of travel) from SF to Scotland-England-Ireland in June 2017 and have already begun planning. We also have an AMEX card and always use if for Travel insurance. Great advice. I previously read what a good idea Car parks are for driving into/near big cities, so your confirmation of this this is perfect.

    I may have missed it as skimmed through your details (and yes, I will read it again and again), but can you tell us where you went? We (my wife) already have at least 10-15 places to visit but would love to know which ones you did in Scotland, England or Ireland.

    Vince P

  13. Michael July 14, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    I live in Canada and we have to yield to traffic already on the motorway, not the opposite. Is that not the same for the US?

    • Carol Melancon January 6, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      The law in almost every state in the US is that the merging vehicle must yield to the traffic already on the motorway. Unfortunately, most drivers in my country seem to think that because they are running out of on-ramp, that they have the right-of-way. This is NOT TRUE and it drives me crazy. Most courteous motorway drivers in the US will try to adjust their speed, or move into a non-merging lane if possible (I do), but it is not required. It astounds me that my fellow countrymen think they can merge into 70 mph traffic going 40 mph. Apparently, my driver’s education teacher in high school was top-notch compared to most. He always said, “Driving like Casper Milquetoast (timidly) causes more accidents than speeding.”

      • Chris Orcutt January 6, 2017 at 10:21 pm

        I agree with your driver’s education teacher, Carol. Driving like a milquetoast (especially being indecisive) DOES cause more accidents than speeding.” Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

        Sincerely,

        Chris

      • Shelby October 24, 2017 at 2:37 pm

        I just about died laughing. So true. “Oh crap. No more on ramp soon? Better just cut in front of this vehicle going way faster than me and hope I don’t kill anyone.”

        Best way to merge in the UK onto dual carriageways or motorways: Slow down first to leave a gap between any cars ahead of you trying to merge, then downshift (like second gear) if you’re driving a manual transmission car, and floor it once you’ve got a good gap. Mirrors, right turn signal on, mirrors again, SHOULDER CHECK (important considering bikes can filter/split lanes), and move over.

        Also, undertaking is very illegal and frowned upon. If a lorry/truck lets you in for example, by moving over to the right lane, let them back in, then pass them if you’d like. Do not attempt to pass them in the left lane. Big ticket and fine.

  14. Ron Rohrssen June 15, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Chris, thank you so much for compiling this information (especially the driving) into a concise and well organized guide.

    We’re going for our first leisure trip to England and I am planning the entire trip. This includes all of our stays, bus, train, tube (London), and yes, driving. I’ve been using Google and other resources extensively to plan the trip and make reservations.

    I’m just starting to review the driving signage. The videos and tests you gathered are perfect.

    Thanks again.

  15. Sam June 8, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Hi, I’m British and I’m glad you made this post as I’m sure our roads can be rather confusing for those from abroad!
    I don’t personally experience much of an issue with aggressive drivers or tailgating though. This only really happens when you do something wrong (okay, with the exception of the white vans!!). Drivers in France and Italy seem to have the continuously aggressive attitude that you hinted at, although staying in the overtaking lane on a motorway or dual carriageway here is the sure fire way to have the driver behind flashing their lights/beeping/swearing at you.
    Also it is perfectly normal to leave your car next to the pump while you pay at a petrol station. Moving your car and then paying is not necessary, but is courteous, so don’t stop doing that! :) It won’t annoy us if you leave your car to pay for your fuel, but leaving it to pay for your fuel while buying stuff from the shop, having a chat with someone in there, doing your makeup (that one really pisses us off), reading a map etc really ought to be left for later if you want to avoid being tutted at.

  16. Nicolas June 4, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Now that’s an excellent guide, Chris. Thanks so much.
    PS. Any advice about driving in the Cotswolds?

    • Chris Orcutt June 19, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      Thanks, Nicolas, for your compliment and comment. As to advice on driving in the Cotswolds, DON’T. If you can avoid it, that is. My wife and I only drove through the Cotswolds for a few hours before we decided to get the heck out of there. Why? Because the roads were crazy narrow and full of blind turns, and most of the drivers drove at the legal speed of 60 mph on roads that, in the US, would be rated at 40 mph. Take care, and best of luck for your trip. —Chris

  17. Mark H. April 29, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    Chris, Traveled to the UK a couple of weeks ago with my family & hired a car to tour the Cotswolds. The information & links you provid are fantastic, we’re great enablers, & without a doubt were the key to my successful driving experience. Thank you!

    • Chris Orcutt May 13, 2016 at 10:47 pm

      Mark, I’m glad to hear that the article was helpful for your trip. You are exactly the kind of person I wrote the piece for. Thank you for your compliments. —Chris

  18. Andy April 13, 2015 at 10:58 am

    I so enjoyed reading about your trip to the UK. My dad was Scots, so I like to spend time visiting up there as often as I can. I think the worst of the narrow roads have to be in Wales though.

    I’m not sure I’d totally agree about UK drivers being worse than US drivers for tailgating and aggression. Have you ever had the pleasure of driving along the I4 through Orlando?

    • Chris Orcutt April 13, 2015 at 9:50 pm

      Andy,

      Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the piece. We didn’t get to Wales this time around, but from what I’ve read, you’re right: Wales and Scotland have the most narrow of the roads.

      I haven’t driven through Orlando, but I have driven in just about every major city in the U.S., and I found that, on the whole, tailgating is epidemic in the UK compared to the U.S. :)

      Thanks for visiting my site. I hope you’ll come back again.

      Sincerely,

      Chris

  19. Robin Lee March 15, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Traffic joining a motorway has the same priority as traffic on the motorway. Ideally you should “merge in turn” – traffic on the motorway should leave a gap for you to slot into.

    Regarding etiquette on narrow roads, common sense should prevail – that’s it.

    • Timothy Ingall October 21, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      The above is not the case, traffic joining the motorway has to give way to the traffic on the motorway.

      • Chris Orcutt October 23, 2016 at 12:55 am

        Tim, for the record, below is how I describe the rule in this piece. Thank you for your comment. —Chris

        “VERY important: In the US, traffic already on the highway has to yield to incoming traffic; but in the UK, it’s the opposite: If you are trying to enter the motorway, YOU have to yield, so make sure you use as much of the slip-road (on-ramp) as you can, use your directionals, and time your merge into traffic.”

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  21. Lester Piglet January 16, 2015 at 1:14 am

    What’s this accelerating into roundabouts business? Normal practice is to slow down for roundabouts and stop if necessary.

    • Chris Orcutt January 16, 2015 at 4:13 am

      Lester: You raise a good point. I didn’t mean to suggest that one should barrel into a roundabout without stopping. I meant that a driver (from a stop) needs to be able to accelerate quickly into the roundabout, and for American drivers this is more easily done when the car has an automatic transmission. Thank you for your comment. —Chris

  22. Dave D March 16, 2014 at 8:36 am

    “you’ll be cruising along at the UK national speed limit (60 mph),” Not sure if you meant just the road that you were on at the time but the speed limit on dual carriageways/motorways is 70 mph.

    • Chris Orcutt March 16, 2014 at 11:13 am

      Dave: Thank you for noticing this ambiguity. I did mean a standard single-carriageway, not a dual carriageway or motorway. I will clarify it in the text. I appreciate your comment and your visiting my site. —Chris

  23. Infidellic March 16, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Wow that’s a lot of preparation! Whilst I hope all people are as well prepared as you I’d probably say this was somewhat overkill but I’m a UK driver (I actually live in Winchester glad you came to view our “city”) so I can’t comment on efficacy. Nonetheless a comprehensive guide, kudos.

    • Chris Orcutt March 16, 2014 at 1:24 am

      We loved Winchester, and had the opportunity to go into the Cathedral before it officially opened and hear the organist practicing. Incredible. You’ll note that I replaced the previous image of road signs with a new one, which is *not* Arabic. :) Thank you for visiting and for your comments.