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Driving practice for UK

I live in NYC so I'm not afraid of driving. Is there anyway to get practical experience for driving on the opposite side of the road before taking my first U.K. Vacation?

Posted by
3492 posts

Not sure if there is a way to get practical experience short of utilizing a test track of some sort. The best tree pieces of advice I can offer are: (1) Always keep the driver (yourself) in the center of the road. (2) THNK before making right angle turns, and (3) Don't be reluctant to go around the round a bouts a couple of time to get oriented to your exit point.

Posted by
3107 posts

The short answer is NO ! You could go somewhere ( perhaps a local high school at off hours so as not to injure someone ) and slowly drive to the left , but you would still be driving in the wrong seat orientation for the driver . When I first began driving in The UK , I found many roads , even dual carriageway ( two lane ) that were no wider than my driveway here in White Plains . The left hand driving is a relatively minor issue - you will have to handle roundabouts , which come in varying shapes and sizes , as well as your brain seeing things in a mirror image to what you are used to ,. Don't be put off , it can be done - its neither a walk in the park OR a horror show , but a skill that can be learned , albeit with a number of white knuckle experiences , and the more you do , the easier it gets . Since there is so much more to explain , and I am lazy about my hunt and peck typing , I'm sending you a PM .with my phone , we can talk , and I'm sure I can put your concerns to rest .

Posted by
646 posts

One thing that helped me is watching youtube videos of driving on the left. Many of them put you "in the driver's seat."

Posted by
1863 posts

No point doing this in the US. But easy to take a driving lesson in the UK to get yourself familiar with driving conditions. Just google driving schools wherever you expect to be and make contact.

Posted by
4768 posts

Practice in Australia where there's more room for error! ;-)

But seriously.... it was a challenge for me too. The comment about reorienting your brain is right on. I kept shying away from the center line because I wasn't used to seeing oncoming traffic on my right. So my wife would be terrified of hitting the curb or worse, which we did a couple of times. After awhile I got more used to it. It helped to take a taxi up one of the Yorkshire dales and sit behind the driver where I could see how close he was getting to the center line -- just as I do at home. I'd recommend an automatic shift if you can get one, so you have one less mechanical process to think about.

We watch a lot of British detective shows on Netflix, and one side benefit is seeing a lot of left-side driving, sometimes at high speeds. Not sure how much practical use that would be, though! ;-)

Posted by
5687 posts

Will you have a travel companion ? My 12-year-old was assigned the task of reminding me "Left! Drive left!!" whenever I seemed to be drifting, or turning into another street or parking lot...

Posted by
80 posts

Driving on the left side isn't the problem. You just follow the car that is front of you. What unnerved me is how small the roads are. And if you are in certain areas, there are tall hedges that don't allow you to see and really no area for you to turn off to stop and look at a map. The drivers in England are very polite and quite adept at backing up. You might want to get comfortable with that since you will have to backup quite a bit when you approach another car on a narrow road. They also park wherever there is space available and not quite in a straight line. Here in America we must have these big spaces with lines that show us where to park. Not so there. Best advice is rent the smallest car possible with automatic transmission, get a GPS as well as the insurance. Download the rules of the road for England and study what the different road signs mean.

Posted by
703 posts

a couple of ideas worth considering
1. rent an automatic, make life easy on your self.
2. use a good GPS
3. get your head around the idea of round a bouts ( not sure if you have them ?) but you can go around as many times as you like and the GPS often says "take the 3rd ( etc) exist' where sometimes one of the exists is a partly formed road etc.. so if your unsure go around again.
4. sometimes driving out of your motel in the morning can be the worse time, and sometimes after a few days of driving ( when you are getting a bit confident) ie: keep being AWARE.
5. on the freeways and divided carriage ways its really not that different ( apart from changing lanes)
we found the UK small roads/traffic rules to be very 'different' the small roads are narrow and some drivers park facing the wrong way and some trucks etc just stop/park in the middle of the road. expect the unexpected.

if you do want practice , then practice driving between two very narrow shrubs/bushes ( that you can't see over) without loosing your mirrors.

hope this helps.

Posted by
3107 posts

..... And if you are in certain areas, there are tall hedges that don't allow you to see ...... These are known as " Hedgerows " and are quite common throughout the UK . The worst aspect of them is that , while they can scrape up the side of a car rather badly , they more often than not , obscure very unforgiving stone walls , which will easily destroy a car .

Posted by
1863 posts

all these tales about narrow roads are really overplayed

no roads are narrower than your vehicle - if you're scraping the sides then it's the hopeless driver rather than the road - keep your eyes ahead why are you looking at the side anyway?

Posted by
2710 posts

You have received lots of good advice about your question.
You wrote "taking my first U.K. Vacation"
The train system in the U.K. is wonderful. Just about anywhere you would want to go as a first-time visitor is accessible by train.
London, Windsor, Bath, Salisbury/Stonehenge, Oxford, Cambridge, York, and many more places that a first-time visitor wants to see, accessible by train.

I realize you have not asked about trains; you have asked about driving. I am sure some of the posters here will be along shortly to remind me of that.

However, you are missing out on a great way to travel if you rule out trains.
Many of the great sightseeing cities and towns are linked by rail. You can get just about anywhere by train from London.
Some castles that are out in the country require a train ride plus very short taxi ride from the station. This should not deter you from taking the train.
I would look closely at the train lines for transportation before absolutely deciding to drive. Or you might use trains for some portion of your trip, then switch to a car for a portion of the trip.
We love riding the trains in England. We also love not having to worry about damaging a rental car.
You wrote: "I live in NYC so I'm not afraid of driving."
I also used to live in NYC and was not afraid of driving there. But driving in the U.K. does not come naturally to SOME American drivers. (I had a couple of close calls as a passenger.) I prefer to sit back, relax, and enjoy the train. Trains are a LOT better in the U.K. than U.S. trains. Comfy nice seats, good food service, and much faster than driving.

Posted by
10013 posts

Bahamas.

It's cold in NY. Take a quick trip down to the Bahamas, or Bermuda, and rent a car. They drive on the left.

Posted by
1878 posts

If you drive in NYC you should be able to adapt quickly to driving in the U.K. (I have driven there and in Ireland twice each so I speak from experience. I don't even like to drive in downtown S.F. if I can avoid it). The driving on the left thing is really not that hard. The biggest city that I have driven in in England was Bath. Just don't drive into London or other bigger cities, that would be crazy. I drove into Bath without any problem in 2000, I recommend visiting there on the train but it was not horrendous. The general rules for success are take it slow (speed cameras everywhere which provides extra incentive) and pay attention to what you are doing.

Posted by
31303 posts

Michael,

I don't think there's any way to get "practical experience" except by actually driving in the U.K. There's no point in practicing here on a test track or whatever, as the vehicles you'll be using will still have the steering wheel on the the opposite side than the U.K.

There are numerous websites about driving in the U.K. such as these.....

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

http://orcutt.net/weblog/2013/03/15/driving-in-the-uk-a-survival-guide-for-americans/

A few suggestions.....

  • rent an automatic if possible as that will be one less thing to bother about, especially in traffic.
  • sit in the vehicle for a few minutes before leaving the rental lot, to familiarize yourself with the controls. That way you'll be able to ask the agent if there's anything you don't understand.
  • you might consider getting the full coverage CDW package. I've been doing that latey as I don't want any problems should there be some minor damage.
  • in addition to looking both ways when driving, be sure to do the same thing as a pedestrian when crossing streets.
Posted by
1838 posts

All stop junctions do not exist in the UK - one way or the other will have priority. Roads are labelled M = Motorway (a long distance divided highway with 3 lanes each way usually and speed limit is usually 70mph. You will see people driving faster than this but they know where the speed cameras are located). You are not allowed to overtake on the inside and must not hog the faster lanes. So, slow stuff is on the left and fast stuff on the right.

‘A' roads are the next category down. These can be divided highways with 70mph being often the limit. However, most are just one lane each way with the limit being usually 60mph.

‘B’ Roads are the next category down and these can have speeds up to 60mph - unless lower limit is shown. These usually have 1 lane each way.

Next, we have unclassified roads = country lanes (or city streets). 60 mph is the usual limit but these roads are so narrow that you will often find yourself lucky to hit 40mph.
Here is a map of the Bath area. Why don’t you zoom down & take a look at the different types of road! You can use the yellow map to see the street view. Look at M4 motorway at the top as well as the A roads, country lanes & city streets.
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4271043,-2.322731,23708m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1

You may like to watch these short videos about the mother of all roundabouts!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D22BOOGbpFM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bOTTTETzX4

As has been said, the rail system is excellent. You should pre-book longer journeys about 10 weeks ahead for specific trains to get the lowest prices. On most of the main lines, trains tend to travel at up to 125mph, Different companies operate on different routes/areas but you can purchase a ticket from one station to any other - even if you have to change train company en-route. However, it is often cheaper to pre-purchase split tickets when changing company. Here is a map of Britain’s rail system - I think the third one down might be the best one for you to understand:>http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations_destinations/maps.aspx

Posted by
239 posts

When I drive on the continent (ie the 'wrong' side for me) I find it helps to sit and practise changing gear with my right hand for a couple of minutes to get used to the feel. On the road, it's good to start on a motorway as that gives you a chance to get used to the different driving position and feel of the place, without having to worry about junctions or aggressive pedestrians. As several people have said, it's quite easy.

Posted by
806 posts

It is true that they drive on the left in the Bahamas, but most of the time it's with an American car that has the steering wheel on the left (at least that's what we have found in Marsh Harbour and Elbow Cay). So it's not really a comparable experience.

Posted by
2710 posts

Just trying to help. Not trying to scare anyone.
Many U.S. visitors going to the U.K. for the first time do not realize how good the train system is over there.
And where you get off a train in most towns or cities, there is a very good bus system to take you the rest of the way to your destination.

They also do not realize that there are multiple tour bus companies who run day trips out of London to many hard-to-reach sights, castles, country houses, and interesting villages.(Golden Tours or Evan Evans)
They also do not know that there is a great walking tour company, based out of London, who do day tours by train with a guide to many towns, cities and tourist sights. This is the London Walks Company. www.walks.com
Small mini-bus tours also operate out of Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon and give you a good day tour of the Cotswolds and other places.

I consider traveling by train while I'm in England to be a minor luxury that I cannot enjoy here at home in the U.S.
Instead of keeping my eyes on the road, I can look out the window and see scenery, castles, rivers, and more.
I wish we had really good trains in the U.S. like the ones I rode in England. (And I don't consider Amtrak a good experience.)
We are so used to driving everywhere here in the U.S., the first thing we think of when we go overseas is that we must have a car.

My post was only to say there are many options in the U.K., especially in England.

I also was going on the assumption that since this is this poster's first visit to the U.K., they might have enough to see in London and the usual first trip places (Windsor, York, Bath, etc.) that can easily be reached by train. The train trip all the way to Edinburgh is wonderful also.
There certainly are many places where one would need a car. In the countryside of Scotland, Wales, or England's Lake District a car is a must. A car comes in handy in the Cotswolds, but it can be managed without one.

Posted by
703 posts

while not trying to scare you, clearly the comments above about the hedgerows, stone walls being far enough apart are VERY questionable comments. it not that they are too marrow for a single car, that assumes nothing is coming the other way !!!
we stayed at a B&B near a largish town where to get to the accom we drove along for nearly a mile on s single track with very few passing areas, with on coming cars/tracors this meant reversing up for long distances, then trying again.
this experience was by no means an isolated case. it is all doable but better to be for warned.

Posted by
14404 posts

I was on a coach tour of Southern England with a very experienced driver. At some point in Devon (or was it Cornwall), where all the roads seemed incredibly narrow - though obviously wide enough for a tour bus - our careful driver managed to smash one of his rear-view mirrors. Luckily for him and us, we were close to our evening stop and he was able to get the mirror replaced before we departed the next day.

Posted by
1589 posts

Michael,
Do you know a rural post office delivery person? Most drive a privately owned Right Hand drive vehicle - modified Jeeps, etc,

Posted by
43 posts

Hi - I've just been reading all the comments and also watched the two hilarious youtube's of Swindon's Magic Roundabout. I'd say avoid that one. As an American who has driven many times in the UK my comment is that you quickly adapt to left side driving. However, it does help to have a passenger who says "keep left" at each turn or entrance to a new road - that's where it might feel confusing. Also I've found that the hardest thing to get used to is "WHERE is my left wheel and side?" I ask my passenger to tell me if I'm too close to the edge, or the first day on some country road I practice by slowly moving to the left til my tire hits the edge of the road, while obviously going very slowly. This helps my brain. On roundabouts, which I generally love and wish we had more in USA, my passenger, reading the map, says exit at 2 o'clock or 10 o'clock and that is much better than pointing or looking for the road sign. In general I've found UK drivers very skilled and generally very polite. Just let them know what you're going to do and they'll compensate. That's better than making sudden unexpected moves. I find it's really FUN to drive in the UK. Enjoy! Julia

Posted by
5689 posts

Have you ever thought how people from the UK feel when they arrive here?

I find it amusing that I've never heard one ask for advice about driving on the other side of the road.

Honestly, really isn't that difficult.

As noted follow the person in front of you. Yes roads can be tiny and hedges tall but stay in the center and keep your wits. Driving the motorways are a breeze. Roundabouts can be a bit of a oddity BUT once you get the hang of it they are easy peasy.

Just back from a lovely sojourn to the Cotswolds where I drove solo in a Renault with a clutch. Pays to have been born when Truman was in office and your first auto had 3 on the tree. Also pays to live in LA where autos rule. You learn to drive offensively.

It can be done. Don't let fear deny you the freedom you get by having a car (of course DO NOT rent one if you are ONLY going to London)

Tally Ho.

Posted by
1063 posts

"Have you ever thought how people from the UK feel when they arrive here? "

Having driven in the U.S. many times, I would definitely say that driving is more relaxed there, narrow roads and fast locals require more concentration in the U.K. The only problem I had in the U.S. was understanding directions, being used to heading to villages, towns and cities I found the N.S.E.W. thing confusing and don't get me started on "blocks".:-)

Posted by
4934 posts

Having driven in England before and plan to again this year. I can say that British drivers are not as aggressive as Germans or especially Italians. I lived in Germany for four years.

British people tend to be polite in many ways, including driving.

Posted by
1063 posts

"British people tend to be polite in many ways, including driving."

Agreed, most of us are BUT there's always the "odd" person that let's the side down.

Posted by
278 posts

Its been a while since we drove to the Peak District(my only uk trip but going again in Sept) but I recall the roundabout signs were interesting. So I would say get familiar with the signs before getting in the car. And definitely go around an extra time or two if you need to. And drivers there were well mannered and courteous. Love the stops on the highways there with the indoor restaurant options all under one roof and many choices.