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Driving in England

We are renting a car to travel from Bath to York. Any advice about driving in England? I'm a bit nervous about adjusting to driving on the right side of the road! We'll be traveling by train the rest of the time we're in England. Thanks!

Posted by
8293 posts

Judith, of course you know you will be driving on the LEFT side of the road! Try to obtain an automatic, not a gear shift model. Not always possible, unfortunately. Learn to navigate the round-abouts as soon as you can because you will encounter many.

Posted by
920 posts

Ditto Norma! Judith, Just got back from 2 weeks of driving on the left in Ireland; the most stressful driving I have ever done in my life. The freeways are a "piece of cake", roundabouts are easy, city traffic is easy, it's just the damn narrow country roads that are such a pain. If you don't have to drive narrow roads, it should be fairly easy. I don't even mind the sheep on the road. So Judith, some tips from a recent survivor: 1. Buy a good supplemental insurance policy if your credit card does not cover all of the collision and theft deductibles. 2. Get the smallest darn car you can find; you will be really glad you did. Ours was one step above the bottom...and it was waaaaaaaay too wide....for Ireland. 3. Look right! Do this first...then left, at any intersection. 4. Get an automatic; it does not cost that much more. 5. Bury your right front wheel on the center line. Yes, it looks like you are going to hit the oncoming traffic, but you are not> if you don't do this you will constantly listen to your Better Half scream as you hit the brush on the edge/side of the road. 6. Take your time driving from one venue to another. Allow lots of time for sightseeing trips. 7. Bring your GPS, and a good Michelin map of the area and country.
8. Read the car rental primer put together by the broker Gemut: http://www.gemut.com/images/stories/report/carrentalspecialreport.pdf Once I got used to the driving I found it to be quite easy; the key was to take my time, and stay off the real narrow country roads.

Posted by
1254 posts

My husband loved driving in the UK once he got the hang of driving on the left. Actually because of narrow country lanes it's sometimes down the middle. He liked it because of the roundabouts you never have to stop...just keep merging. A smaller car is the best bet. I think a lot of the new cars have built-in GPS. The real secret is to have one person be the Navigator and preplan the route and be able to give the driver a heads up. You can keep going round if you miss your turn on a roundabout. They do have name signs but you should look for the highway number you want to make sure you don't miss that specific destination. We had a joke when were in the east Midlands that all roads lead to Kittering; because every roundabout had a turnoff that pointed to Kittering. We could have wandered forever if we hadn't realized that these pointed back to where we had just come from too.

Posted by
6465 posts

Merely have to train your brain to adjust to being on the opposite of the road. Feels a bit uncomfortable at first, like anything new but you will quickly get the hang of it. Don't let fear cloud what you already know how to do and that's drive a car. Play follow the leader. Observe the car in front of you. Follow the traffic flow. You'll do fine.

Posted by
521 posts

Judith, is there a specific reason you want to drive from Bath to York if you are using trains for the rest of your trip? It's easy enough, almost all dual-carriageway or motorway (that is, 4 or 6 lane highway with 60 or 70 mile per hour speed limits) once you get out of Bath, but the car will be of no use in York itself and the train is really easy. Ten minutes from Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads, a quick platform change and then a direct express train to York. Just over 4 hours in total and not too expensive if you are able to book well in advance.

Posted by
521 posts

Oh yes, if you are driving then it may give you some confidence to know a bit about the rules of the road, the kind of road signs to expect, how to navigate roundabouts, and so on. Everything you need to know is in the Highway Code, and if you learned to drive here then you would have had to pass a test on it. Available online here: https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/highway-code The part about roundabouts is here: https://www.gov.uk/using-the-road-159-to-203/roundabouts-184-to-190

Posted by
635 posts

My suggestion is to not focus on how far you are from the curb/outer edge of your lane. Instead,look at maintaining your distance from the center line. This is what you probably do now without thinking when driving on the right side. The hardest part for me was learning to look to the left when using the rear view mirror. I kept finding myself relying on the drivers side mirror which doesn't give you as good of a view behind you. I've driven on the left a number of times. It usually takes me about an hour to retrain myself. My wife usually remains a nervous wreck for at least the first day. We never get over going to the wrong door when getting ready to drive somewhere.

Posted by
280 posts

Judith, here is an easy tip to remember. Here you pass oncoming traffic driver to driver. Same thing in those misguided countries. Spent 10 days driving in southern New Zealand last year. Granted it was not nearly as congested as England can be and towns were few and far between. Just remember to buckle up and keep your eyes on the road.

Posted by
4535 posts

I was nervous about it at first too but because the driver's seat is on the right side, the rest comes naturally. It seems natural to always keep oncoming traffic at your driver's side. The tricky part I thought was backing out of parking spaces and such. Then I just had to concentrate a little harder than normal. The roads and streets can be really confusing so having a good navigator and GPS mapping is REALLY useful. Plan on getting a little lost at times and plan for extra travel times.

Posted by
970 posts

I have to agree with Kevin that driving Bath-York may not be the wisest choice unless, of course, you want to be someplace the trains do not go. In any case, here is my driving advice: 1. Begin in as small a location as possible. Bath is not tiny, but it sure isn't London. 2. Don't overdo things the first day. Stay alert because many things that are second nature to you will require conscious thought. By day two, things will fall into place. 3. An automatic is, indeed, better than a standard shift. 4. Roads signs, etc., are very different compared to the U.S. 5. Avoid the motorways. They're no different than interstates. Fast and boring.

Posted by
1305 posts

Several years ago I landed in Manchester and drove to York. My Mom was with me. The gentleman at Avis suggested we start with the freeways to get used to driving on the 'other' side. He was so correct. Then every morning Mom would just keep saying "Think Left, Think Left" It was her mantra that she felt helped keep me on the proper side of the road. It must have worked because we had no incidents and learned to love roundabouts-especially when we weren't sure which exit to take and we could just keep going around until we were more sure...hee hee. Hardest part for me was shifting with my left hand and turning right which is usually our easy turn, but in England is the bigger turn.

Posted by
18 posts

Thanks to all of you who replied. Good advice-we'll make sure to bring our GPS and a good map (though I noticed with the michelin maps, you have to buy two because they cover different areas of the country!). Anyway, for those of you who wondered why we're driving from Bath to York, it's only to give ourselves a little flexibility. We arrive in Bath by train on a Sunday, plan to pick up the car in Bath on a Tuesday, drive to York that day (perhaps stopping by a village or two) and then dropping it off on Wednesday in York after a visit out to Castle Howard (we hear that's a must see). If there's an easy way to get out to Castle Howard without a car, then we would return the car Wednesday morning as I know there's no need for a car there.

Posted by
1878 posts

The driving on the left part is not bad at all, but be sure and get an automatic. I would only get a GPS if you use one in the U.S., I can't imagine learning to use a GPS while also learning to drive on the left. I have driven on the left on three separate trips, England twice (most recently this past April-May)and Ireland. The drivers in England are fairly courteous away from big cities, though we found it pretty crazy in the Heathrow area closer to London. Don't be indecisive on roundabouts, because if they think you are headed for the inner lane they can try and scoot around you to the outside lane. If you end up deciding on that lane, it creates a high collision risk. I won't say I had a lot of close calls, this is just what I observed. Beware of speed cameras, they are all over the place, and this was the worst part for me. Stick to the M routes as much as possible. The idea of driving on country roads seems nice until you realize how much longer it can take. Road choices can make a huge difference in travel time. Expect it to take 50% longer than Google maps says, outside of the M routes. Last thing -- a reasonable sized car for Europe will have a very small boot. Our 25" Eagle Creek bags used to fit in a compact, but not any more as the trunks keep getting smaller so they can fit in more bells and whistles on the dash. Next time we are traveling with 22" bags. We did o.k. with our bags sort of poking out the back seat on this last trip, because car break ins are not as much of an issue in the U.K. as they are in France or Italy. But beware of the small trunk issue when you rent.

Posted by
837 posts

Judith, I strongly agree with everything said above. Driving in England is not a major problem, assuming you get an automatic. I also question the decision to drive from Bath to York. The only villages I can think of convenient to the freeways would be in the cotswolds and you did not mention that area. If you wanted to see the cotswolds/Stratford, etc, you would want to spend a couple of days and you WOULD want a car. I do agree that driving the freeways is the easiest and perhaps a good introduction, assuming you need to drive to Castle Howard. Nonetheless, I think I would train Bath to York and rent a car in York to see Castle Howard if you do not find public transportation or a convenient tour.

Posted by
5262 posts

Steve had some very good suggestions I thought, especially #5 about keeping close to the center line. Your instinct is to leave lots of room for oncoming traffic on your right (where it "doesn't belong") but that generates screaming from your passenger-navigator-better half. Also dents and, in my case, a blown-out left front tire. Many of those English secondary roads have stone walls for shoulders. Take it slow and, as others have said, think left all the time and look right first. I found (after about a week) that it helped to lean a little to the right so my eyes lined up better with the center of the road and oncoming traffic. Made me less gunshy about meeting them. And it took me awhile to get used to looking up to the left at the rearview mirror instead of using the right-side mirror. The motorways are easier, imho, than the backroads because all you really have to think about is that the slow lanes are left and the fast ones right. Bath to York shouldn't be much of a problem. Have fun!

Posted by
1851 posts

Years ago we rented a car in Ireland. This was our first experience driving on the "wrong" side of the road. My only caveat to you is to be careful the first few days when is no other traffic on the road to remind you which side to drive on. When you are jetlagged, you are apt to quickly forget that you need to drive on the left. This happened to us and we almost had a head on collision with an oncoming car. Luckily we were a good distance away from that car and were able to correct in time. And we pulled off to the side of the road shaking.

Posted by
518 posts

Hi Judith, From Bath to York is an easy drive. For the motorway you need to know a basic rule that we don't have here. Most motorways have 3 lanes each direction. You can overtake only on the right. So if you are driving along in the center lane, cars cannot pass you in the left lane. If you get in the right lane and drive slower than the flow of traffic, no one can pass you. They call passing overtaking, by the way. If you do that, expect those behind you to flash their lights or maybe honk. If you pass, return to the left lane as soon as possible. When you know this rule, you will notice what I have described. If there is a lot of traffic and the left lanes are moving faster than the right due to congestion, the rule breaks down, and you just keep up with your lane. On roundabouts with 2 or more lanes, pay attention to which lane is marked for the road number you want as your exit. If you enter the roundabout in the right lane, exit in the right lane. Other cars will be leaving in the left lane. If you cut across, you can cause a wreck. If you are comfortable with California traffic, you will probably find UK traffic easy to handle. I wouldn't worry about driving on the left. If you don't try it, you 'll never know. You can't practice, so starting out in a low traffic area is nice. Bath is pretty calm, so you should be OK. If you are not comfortable driving a manual shift at home, the UK is not the place to learn. Get an automatic. If you drive a manual, it probably wouldn't be a problem there. I drove an automatic several times, but I drive a manual at home, so I tried it. I really never noticed much difference changing hands. The shifting pattern is the same,and you still clutch with your left foot. Get a small car. They will try to put a big one off on you. Don't let them.
Driving is pretty much driving. If you're good at it t home, you will do fine there too.

Posted by
70 posts

Ditch the car and take the rail... This makes no sense

Posted by
2526 posts

If you are comfortable driving a car with a manual transmission in the U.S., it's not that big a deal to drive one in England, in my opinion and experiences.

Posted by
2664 posts

Renting a car in the UK makes a lot sense. We wouldn't go to the UK and not rent a car. It's the best way to see the UK.

Posted by
18 posts

Since we will be in both Bath and York for only five days (and not even that), we decided to leave the car for another time and take the train. Thanks for all your advice and good information!