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American Driving in Scotland

My wife and I are taking a trip in Mid-September in the UK. Our question is how difficult is it to drive on the left. We take many driving vacations often covering 1500 miles in a week. We are just looking for a realistic evaluation of how successful we can be driving.

Posted by
1817 posts

I tried it and wasn't very successful. My wife, on the other hand (no pun intended) does wonderfully.

Posted by
9361 posts

I love it, and found it really easy to adapt to. I have driven on the other side of the road on five separate trips, sometimes alone, and had no problem. You might find it easier if you request an automatic rather than a manual transmission.

Posted by
375 posts

There was a similar question asked in this section of the Helpline recently entitled "Scary Driving in England?". It received many responses that you might find helpful. You may want to scroll down and look for it.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks-the scary driving post is very helpful.

Posted by
2809 posts

I have to completely agree with Nancy . Rented an automatic and took to it with relative ease . I would only add one other thing : if you have never driven a manual transmission before , this is neither the place or time to learn . Driving in rural Scotland is an absolute thrill !!!

Posted by
3380 posts

We (hubby and I) refuse to even consider driving in Europe - especially the UK. The buses and trains are great and we use day-tour companies for things we want to see that we can't reach by public transport. Several reasons for this. 1- we don't want to learn how to drive on the 'other' side of the road (UK). Neither of us care to take the risk. 2- neither of us can drive a manual transmission. While automatics are available if you request in advance, they are scarce and we have heard of people 'reserving' them and then not getting them. Plus- hubby HATES to rent cars- period. He's also a bit paranoid about insurance, etc. 3- roads in the more scenic are narrow, winding, and in some places single track (more UK- than elsewhere - especially Scotland and Ireland). This is not just hearsay- we've ridden with friends who live in Scotland and on those day-tours. 4- we don't want to 'worry' with maps/gps, etc- just sit back and let someone else get us there. We like the fact that BOTH of us can relax and enjoy the scenery.
5- In the past, we have mostly used BritRail or Eurail passes- so we can do the 'stop when we want and get back on when we want' thing. We have total flexibility. This isn't to discourage you about driving. Do it if you like it. There are many here who seem to really enjoy it. We wouldn't.

Posted by
997 posts

My husband has really enjoyed driving in England and Scotland. I term it ten minutes of terror followed by weeks of joy. We always pay the extra to get automatic.

Posted by
591 posts

First of all, take the other's advice and reserve an automatic.... it costs more but is worth it. Scotland is easier to drive in than in England (less traffic) and Ireland (wider roads). You'll be a bit nervous driving on the 1st day, more confident the 2nd, and by the 3rd day you'll think it's fun.

Posted by
518 posts

I actually enjoy driving in the UK. I agree that Scotland is the easiest, followed by Ireland, and the England due to the traffic. I have always rented an automatic, but this time I'm going for a manual. I've driven a stick shift here and on the Continent, so I'm going for it. Wish me luck.. but for the first time or so, I'd definitely spend the money on an automatic. When sitting behind the wheel on the right side, driving on the left just seems natural. I would rent a small car though. Sometimes judging where the left edge of the car is located can be tricky. The larger the car, the harder that is to judge. Just go slow if in doubt especially in small towns where people park every which way. The other thing that I never quite get comfortable with is backing. Looking over my left shoulder just seems awkward. Again, just go slow and have your wife help you watch. Read online about using roundabouts. The rules are pretty simple. Cars already in the roundabout have the rightaway and will be approaching from your right. Pay attention before getting to the roundabout as to where you are going. There are big signs before each one outlining the exits. If you have a GPS (very, very highly recommended), it will tell you which exit to take something like, at the next roundabout take the 2nd exit to the M1 motorway. You cannot always just go round and round if you miss your exit. Many have multiple lanes, with each lane designated for a specific road and exit. If you are in the wrong lane, just go ahead and exit then turn around when you can and have another go at it.
Rural intersections can be dangerous because there may be no cars ahead of you to guide your path. Just remember that in the closest lane to you, cars will be approaching from your right and that you cross traffic to make a right turn. You probably won't see as many intersections as roundabouts though.

Posted by
518 posts

One more thing I was warned about, and it helped. Scenario... You are out the beautiful countryside. You see a little shop and restaurant, so you pull into their roadside parking spaces. You have a fun lunch. You are relaxed and having fun. You hop in the right side of your car where you are now comfortable. You back out, and if you are not careful, take off down the road in the RIGHT lane. Oops. Old habits can really take over when you get relaxed with your new situation. And if you need to dodge something, be sure you dodge to the left. That has given me trouble a couple of times. Once my wife grabbed the wheel and pushed it left. A big lorry surprised me on a tiny road, and I jerked to the right. Oops. My wife's move put us right (or should I say left) in plenty of time. And if you have to pull off the road, use the left side.
All that said, it is really not very hard. Most of the places you will be driving won't have a huge amount of traffic. Believe it or not, the freeways (motorways) are the easiest because all the entrances and exits are controlled and there is a lot of traffic to guide you. It is against the law to pass a car on the left on the motorway, so be sure to stay in the left lanes unless you are going to keep up with the traffic in the fastest right lane. If you are going too slow, they will pull up behind you and flash their lights. Just stay in the slower left lanes at first. You'll be fine. You don't see people getting in the fast lanes and going slow like we see here. Enjoy.

Posted by
5445 posts

Hey Thomas, you'll be surprised how quickly you'll adjust to shifting with your left hand. As a solo driver I find the navigation trickier and have to plan my routes and be willing to get a wee bit lost now and then. Anyone traveling to Scotland should visit the website Undiscovered Scotland. It's great. And one of it's pages is driving on Scotland's Single Track Roads. It's a great guide and these wee roads are gorgeous. Pam