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Driving in Scotland for someone from the US

I have a trip planned for the beginning of March and we have still not decided how to do our transportation. For those that have been and that drive how hard is the adjustment to the right hand drive? We are trying to decide between renting a car, taking a train or doing a 3 day tour with Rabbies or Highland Explorer.
Any thoughts. We are visiting Edinburgh, Glasgow, Isle of Skye and Inverness

Posted by
3444 posts

It doesn’t take long to adjust to driving on the left. Traffic circles and who has the right of way takes a little longer (1st exit is the outside lane, other exits the inside lane). To make life easier rent an automatic ahead of time, otherwise, you’ll get a standard and have to learn to shift on the left while adjusting to driving on the left. I found all the roads in Scotland to be well maintained and marked. I try to avoid driving in any large city if at all possible but have never driven in Glasgow. You don’t need a car in Edinburgh. Driving on the Isle of Skye goes slowly since the road, in places, is one lane but is for 2-way traffic. If you and another car are coming towards each other in one of those places, there are pullovers. It wasn’t a problem since drivers are courteous. Personally, when driving around any country we have a rental car so we can stop where we want, when we want, and can make unplanned stops if we see something of interest.

Posted by
1068 posts

Totally concur with jaimeelsabio. It's surprisingly easy to get used to driving on the "other" side of the road. And having a car gives you such freedom! That said, the driver generally can't sightsee while driving, so that gives an edge to taking the train, if looking at scenery makes you happy. But the learning curve for right hand drive is probably not nearly as steep as you are thinking it is.

Posted by
3 posts

I'm following the replies to you because I'm planning a trip in May and we have not finalized our transportation either. We're arriving in Edinburgh and we have 4 full days to tour around Scotland before heading to Ireland. I'm trying to decide if we should stay in Edinburgh the entire time and take Rabbie's tours on a couple of days, or rent a car and tour around and perhaps stay in a couple of other cities/towns. I'm also trying to decide if we should take the ferry to Ireland (from Cairnryan) or fly to Belfast from one of the larger cities (i.e., Edinburgh or Glasgow). Any information and/or tips you can offer would be greatly appreciated!!

Posted by
2806 posts

I concur with the advice to reserve an automatic-transmission car. Getting used to driving on the "wrong" side is really not bad, especially when you have a passenger to yell "too close!" whenever you start to hug the outside of the road. Many country roads are bordered by rough stone walls, BTW.

In Edinburgh and in Glasgow you won't need or want a car. Does your trip start in one of those cities and end in the other? If so, just rent the car for your highlands segment. On the Isle of Skye a car is extremely helpful because public transportation is spotty. I haven't actually stayed in Inverness (just drove through; stayed in Nairn, which is nice) but it seems a relatively car-friendly city.

Tip: When you get your rental car and head for the motorway, ask the agent (the person out in the parking lot with the hand-held computer who actually puts you into your car) exactly which sign(s) to follow at the roundabout(s) leaving the airport campus to get onto the motorway in your desired direction. The signage at the roundabouts is not self-explanatory to a foreigner.

Posted by
205 posts

Here is a simple test: hold your hands in front of you. Look at one and name it, left or right. If you hesitate, you have a problem.

My partner hesitates and then chooses the wrong one, which is why I do all the driving in countries which drive on the wrong side of the road (that is, the right).

Posted by
43 posts

My husband and I will be renting a car at the Edinburgh airport for a 5 day tour. He has driven in Ireland, But I have never driven on the left. To calm my fears I went to google maps and dragged the little gold man in the lower right hand corner to the Edinburgh airport and virtually "drove" to the M9 towards Oban. I did the same thing to "drive" around Skye and other places. It was fun and made me think that I could definitely handle driving in Scotland.

Posted by
2806 posts

Joanb, I love your virtual driving with the little gold man! However, that little man doesn't have to read the signage at the roundabouts. I'm not kidding, this can set you wrong despite thorough "studying" ahead of time.

As a slightly different example, my first time driving to Glasgow airport from up above Loch Lomond, I very carefully examined Google Maps and noted the exit number. Approaching along the motorway, I resolutely looked for that exit number in spite of large signs indicating "Glasgow Airport" at a different exit number. Turns out the numbering on Google Maps was incorrect and those large overhead motorway signs were what I should have followed. Luckily we had plenty of time before checking in for our flight.

Posted by
1780 posts

We drove in Scotland in September...well, the hubby drove. I navigated. It was the very first time we've rented a car, and we did it in the UK. Hubby adjusted at once, but we laughed our heads off when we walked to the car the first time and each went to the wrong side.

Just be prepared to use the passing places, pull over to allow other cars/trucks to use the road. The roads are so super narrow, more like bike paths than roads in some places.

We got a manual transmission, and my hubby is fantastic driving stick. he had no problem shifting with his left hand. After a few hours driving, he had it down. He even drove in Inverness from the rental car place to our B&B to pick up our luggage, figuring out how to get there, and dealing with city traffic.

As other posters have said, the round a bouts are the most challenging. If you encounter them, you may have to go around more than once...as sometimes you have to be in the farthest lane to turn, and might not be able to get to it first time...that was fun...

We took all the insurance, so the car was pretty pricey. You can take the bus between cities, but to explore Skye, it's best to have your own car...or take a tour. We had the car for a week...and sure did enjoy the freedom it afforded us to explore from Inverness to Skye, to Oban, then Stirling before we returned the car at the airport in Edinburgh.

I highly advise getting a GPS and take it with you. I put in the destination and looked ahead to help the hubby be ready for the next directional turn... sure made getting around easy. I bought one on line, factory refurbish for $100...and I'll use it at home too when I don't feel like trusting Siri...

Posted by
971 posts

I drove in Scotland and England this summer, my first time driving on the left. I agree with the advice already given, avoid big cities and have a good co driver. My advice is also to keep calm, take your time and don't be afraid to get a bit lost some times. If you are unsure if you are going in the right direction or if you are missing a turn, just stay in your lane and find a place to stop and look at the map. We had one near death experience because I was confused and thought we had missed an exit and I made a split second decision and changed lane. Wrong decision since we ended going the wrong way into a big roundabout! The problem with split second decision is that you tend to act on instinct or experience and that is based on driving on the right side of the road. Much better to just stay in your lane and miss you exit.

Posted by
123 posts

We rented Rabbies out of Edinburgh in November 2017 for a number of tours for a variety of reasons:
* we had never driven in UK...we wanted to enjoy the scenery and learn about the sites rather than focus upon driving and missing sites as we drove past,
* our insurance company told us the coverage for Americans is high because we tend to destroy tires/wheels due to inexperience driving left sided, and, high accident incidence,
* the weather is unpredictable, better to leave the driving to someone who is used to the challenges of ever changing weather conditions. For example, the day we left Edinburgh for the highlands it was sunny in Edinburgh, foggy in Invarrary, rainy then snow at Lake Lomond and blinding snow and fog higher into the Highlands,
* Roads can be unmarked, not on maps, or change names frequently. Also alot of twisting, narrow roads.

Love Rabbies so much we will definitely use them next trip.
Hope this helps,

Posted by
33 posts

Here's a question for those experienced in driving on the left side; I just came across a part of text in the RS guidebook saying that whomever's closest to a passing place has to use it (even if reversing to it). I could swear that I saw on one of the online 'how to drive in Scotland' videos that depending on what side of the road the passing place is on, that indicates which car has to make use of it (i.e., if the passing place is on the right-hand side, the on-coming vehicle must use it, if it's on the left-hand side, you must use it).

Which one is correct? Thanks!

Posted by
223 posts

For the single-track roads in Scotland you only pull over to the side (direction) you are driving on, never cross to the other side. This is according to the locals (and my wife) because I made that mistake a few times.
I found driving on the left intuitive once you are behind the wheel. For me, driving on the narrow single carriage way roads were stressful due to the narrowness that makes you sub-consciously veer to the left. Scottish curbs can be very unforgiving. Some roads seem too narrow for two cars to pass but you get the hang of it, although we did see two vehicles exchange side mirrors.
Most stressful were having huge lorries and busses coming toward you. I tended to slow down considerably because I didn't want to have to due an evasive manoeuvre at a high speed (though speeds in Scotland are lower than we are used to at home).
We got the hang of roundabouts early but as someone mentioned don't overcorrect if you find your self in the wrong lane, simply go around again. With a GPS it will tell you which exit to take - 1st, 2nd etc. Sometimes what you might think is an exit isn't for you have to turn around and reenter the roundabout.
Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
1217 posts

If you're a visual learner, the Spousal Unit has found that the nice videos that a number of UK Driving Schools put up on You Tube can be really helpful in explaining a number of traffic laws and signs, talking you through how to do different types of roundabouts, etc.

As for insurance, we do the American Express $15-$25 (varies by home state) per rental premium supplemental insurance. Have thankfully never had to file a claim with them, but they've got a very good reputation.

Posted by
5462 posts

My time tested tips for driving on the left:

Have a navigator to help with directions, spot the correct lane for multilane roundabouts, and correct you as needed.

An automatic helps, but if you can drive a stick, adapting is not that bad, it may actually help in that you will concentrate more on driving with a manual.

Quite often, things like turning signals, the wipers, and lights may be switched around from your norm. Not a deal breaker, but frustrating. (Every time I signaled, the wipers came on)

Instinctual moves will be the hardest thing. If stopped at a "T" intersection, your tendency will be to turn into the wrong lane or if winding down a narrow unmarked road and a vehicle approaches, you will likely veer to the right.

Posted by
1913 posts

Regarding passing places on single track roads,

from The Highway Code

Single-track roads. These are only wide enough for one vehicle. They may have special passing places. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, or the driver behind wants to overtake, pull into a passing place on your left, or wait opposite a passing place on your right. Give way to vehicles coming uphill whenever you can. If necessary, reverse until you reach a passing place to let the other vehicle pass. Slow down when passing pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders

Due to their size don't expect buses or lorries to reverse.

Posted by
1300 posts

Don't drive, if you can, in the cities. Outwith the central belt a car is all but essential.

If you are unsure, getting green P plates which are unofficial but mean new driver, can be helpful in warning other road users you are not confident.

Not the red L with has specific legal meanings.