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Scary driving in England??

We will be renting a car for the first time in another country. We will rent in Oxford and head west to the Cotswolds for 3 days and then back to Oxford to drop it off. My husband will drive and I will navigate. Just how hard is to drive on the right side of the car in the left lane?? The roundabouts scare me - I hope we can do it without wrecking!

Posted by
3419 posts

We don't drive in Europe- especially the UK, but I read a tip here or on TripAdvisor that makes sense. Keep the drive next to the center of the road- helps with making turns, etc. Our city/county has added some roundabouts here. Just slow down, and realize that you can keep going around until you figure out where to turn and carefully work your way into the correct lane. I also understand that some GPS devices will give directions like 'take the 2nd turn off the roundabout'. You might want to investigate that.

Posted by
9363 posts

You get used to it amazingly quickly. The only time I really had to think carefully was when pulling into a wide driveway (like at a gas station), and remembering to look right instead of left when pulling back out.

Posted by
3696 posts

It takes a bit of getting used to but you would be amazed at how quickly you adapt. Are you renting an automatic? That is one thing that I still shy away from even though I drive a manual all the time. I have tried to pretend I have one and get confused immediately, I don't know that I can do everything backwards! But, others say you adapt to that as well. My garmin was used in UK and it always told me which exit off the roundabout, but if you miss it, its so easy, just go around again. Freeway merging from the other side was also a learning curve, but it probably all makes you a more cautious driver. (after arriving home from one trip and getting in my own car I went to the wrong side of the road... )

Posted by
251 posts

We'll be renting an automatic. We thought it would be less confusing. I'm probably worring needlessly! It's not like we'll be driving in a big city. Our car rental agency is on the west side of Oxford, so we'll just head west instead of driving through the city center. Thank you.

Posted by
1399 posts

I can understand why you would be feeling nervous since it's the first time driving there - you do get used to it fairly quickly. A GPS (as mentioned) helps so much - the roads from Oxford into the Cotswolds are very easy to drive on.

Posted by
127 posts

Dear Cindy, Since both you and your husband will be in the car, you should be able to manage reasonably well. Yes, the ring roads can be a nightmare, especially the one you encounter on the outskirts of Oxford when you're driving from London to Oxfordmany departure points and a single pole with several arrows indicating different destinations to particular areas...and cars whizzing about as if they were racing in the grand prix. My comeuppance, though, was in exiting Coventry en route to Chipping Campden. I accelerated, shifted gears, and the gearshift detached from its one inch metal base! I then had to use my left hand fingers to shift and every cough and sneeze of a village had a ring road...this meant shifting to slow down and shifting to speed up each time. May you be blessed with a good car and good roads.

Posted by
113 posts

Cindy, I think you will be fine. My husband and I have done this a couple of times. If you have a GPS, take it! We downloaded the UK maps to our Garmin and it was a lifesaver. It was particularly useful in little towns when trying to find our hotel or restaurant. The Garmin lets you know which exit off the roundabout to use - and I would tell my husband ahead of time (the 3rd - or whatever exit). Then, when we got in the roundabout, I would then count them off - and point him out on the appropriate one. After a couple of roundabouts, you will have your communication figured out. When making turns, I would always remind him...turn left/right into the LEFT lane. Honestly, the biggest confusion was when we would get into the car. He would invariably go to the left and I to the right! We'd laugh and move to the "correct" side of the car. We even had that happen on our very last day in England! Enjoy and don't fret!

Posted by
5574 posts

You'll do fine. As someone already pointed out, with two of you in the car, you've solved the biggest problem which is navigation. UK signs often don't include route numbers, but rather indicate what the next biggest town is in a specific direction. So, your navigator should have a map so you can look ahead and know what that next town or city is. Secondly, if you get stuck and find you hacpve a standard shift car, don't panic. The pedals are the same, it's just the shift that is diffent. In my experience the tricky parts are leaving parking lots and other places where ther are no clear lanes. Just always remember your mantra--left,left,left, left. Pam

Posted by
375 posts

Driving an automatic, having two people to drive and navigate, driving in the countryside rather than the big city, and having a GPS will all help to make this easier. But I'd like to clarify the idea that if you miss your exit on a roundabout you can simply drive around and around until you get it. This is true on single lane roundabouts. However, many two or more lane roundabouts route you with markings on the street to a specific exit, depending on which lane you get into. You can't just ignore these markings and keep going because you will interfere with other traffic. I don't know if you will encounter this type or not, but if you do and find yourself having to exit when you didn't want to, just go ahead and exit as directed, then turn around somewhere and try the roundabout again. You should also be aware that even single lane roads often split into two or more lanes as you approach the roundabout. The exit you want determines which lane you get into. I'd also advise anyone to familiarize themselves with driving regulations, such as how to use turn signals in roundabouts. I've encountered an awful lot of people in touristed areas doing that wrong and it throws other drivers off. It is not difficult once you get the hang of it, but I always believe that safety comes first. So my advice is to familiarize yourself with it as much as possible and try not to drive when over tired or jet lagged.

Posted by
2638 posts

It's fun and easy!!!! Just remember, when you get to a roundabout the cars in the roundabout have the right away. You can go around the aroundabout as many times as needed until you are sure of which exit you want.

Posted by
1068 posts

It is amazing how quickly you pick it up! My husband drove us out of London, all the way to Oxford, on his very first try, with absolutely no trouble. The first roundabout was hilarious - I think we went around it thirty-eleven times - but once he had figured it out it was smooth sailing all the way there and back. The only incident was when we were pulling into the car rental place back in London - he rolled over the curb (nothing to do with right-sided driving - it was a teensy driveway) and dinged a hubcap, but we were able to put it right without anyone seeing. :-) So - I am in the camp that says "No worries and have fun!!!!!!" Can't beat a car for driving your own destiny on holiday.

Posted by
9363 posts

In my area of the country we don't have roundabouts (traffic circles) so the first time I encountered one was in Ireland. I think they are great! Even if you take a wrong exit, all you have to do is turn around and try again. So much easier than driving miles out of your way, like you sometimes have to do here if you take a wrong exit from the interstate.

Posted by
263 posts

Cindy, I agree with most others - it takes a little getting used to, but with a little time it gets to be more comfortable. We drove to the Cotswolds from Bath on a Saturday in June and initially I hit a few curbs and shoulders on the left. However, I realized I had to train my eye to watch the center line (on my right) rather than the shoulder on my left. This is backwards from what we do in the States, but as soon as I realized that I had no troubles. Enjoy the trip!! I can't imagine how you would not - it is an endlessly fascinating place.

Posted by
5757 posts

In ALL honesty Cindy navigating LA's freeways, NYC, or Mexico City are far more disconcerting than driving in the UK. Drove all over Eire with a stick shift and other than braking often for sheep and a few extra spins on a roundabout no trouble at all. Personally as great as GPS can be having a good road map on hand is ALWAYS a plus. Map the route you intend to take the night before. Make note of towns so you'll have an itinerary and destination in mind when you hit the road.

Posted by
1891 posts

What worked well for us is for around the roundabouts, the one reading maps tells the driver to get off at the 3, or 6 or night o'clock position. Worst case is you just go around a couple of more times.

Posted by
21 posts

You are getting great advice here. My wife and I rented a car for the first time last year during our trip around Scotland and put we over 800 miles on the rental! As others have posted, you get used to driving on the left pretty quickly (within a day or two). We brought along a Garmin GPS with downloaded Europe maps (along with a good road map of Scotland) and they were a big help. We also ended up with an automatic and were glad that we did one less thing to worry about. I feel in love with roundabouts! They are almost all well marked and so much better for traffic flow than all the stop signs we have here in the U.S. They're something we should import more of! The biggest "problem" with driving in the UK is the narrow roads. I can only really talk from experience about Scotland, but I hear that it's very much the same in the rest of the UK and in Ireland. The M roads are fine and even the A roads near the major cities are OK. But get out in the countryside and highlands and you'll find out what I'm talking about! It was frankly very scary at times, but if you slow down and pay attention you'll be fine. We found the other drivers in Scotland to be very courteous and not pushy like we often see here in the States. Have fun!

Posted by
21 posts

I forgot to mention one other thing I noticed when driving on the left. I found myself using the side mirrors, but not the rear view mirror. It didn't cause any problems for us, but I never got used to looking left for the rear view mirror. It may be something for your navigator to remind you of from time to time.

Posted by
991 posts

It can be a little scary sometimes but at the end of the day, driving in England is fun. The roads can be narrow and there are lots of curbs. Curbs on roads not just on streets with sidewalks. During our trips, whoever was the navigator also had the responsibility to yell "curb" if the driver was getting too close to one. Try to hire an automatic and have a GPS. It takes a lot of pressure off the driver, and by extension, the navigator. In round-abouts the GPS will tell you which exit to take and all you have to do is count. If you miss the exit just go around again. You are going to have a wonderful time!

Posted by
4885 posts

I drove for three weeks in north England and south Scotland, found it much harder than I'd expected but still perfectly doable and it's your only option for the Cotswolds, as you've no doubt heard. Steve's observation about focusing on the center line is a good one. It took me a week or more to realize that I was positioning my body slightly to the left, as I do at home, and switching to a slight rightward lean gave me a much better fix on the center and the oncoming traffic. Before that I had been bumping into curbs and even blew a tire on one, as well as terrifying my wife in the shotgun seat. The narrow country roads take getting used to, especially because the shoulder can be a stone wall, just take it slow and move over when you can for the locals behind you. An automatic shift and GPS are definitely helpful. Getting into the left lane after turns, and looking right at roundabouts and intersections, take time to get used to. Roundabouts themselves are fine, we have more and more of them here at home and I think they'll be all over the US eventually. Have a good time.

Posted by
6898 posts

You say you have rented an automatic. Maybe you will get one and maybe you won't. Unless you get a more expensive rental car with an automatic, most rental cars seem to be stick shift in Europe. You say automatic and when you get there, they don't have any left. Happens a lot. We rented an stick shift for our drive all through England. As mentioned above, it was a bit more problematic than I expected. The highways are fine but the smaller "A" roads are some that I think the Romans built - quite narrow. And, guess what? The lorries (18-wheelers) use those roads also. And, at high speed. You feel like you will be blown off the road. You squeeze over to the side of the road and guess what? Hedges close to the road with walls of rock behind them. Not everywhere, but in a lot of places. A GPS is a must. As you approach roundabouts, you see a sign a few miles out that shows where you want to go but at the roundabout, they show more local cities and towns that you've never heard of. The GPS will guide you. Also, the British don't seem to want to clear all of the tree limbs in front of the highway signs coming up to the roundabouts. By the time you can see the sign, you have passed it. We had a wonderful time with our drive around England. But it was hectic in some places. We really got to see much more of England than if we were on a train or bus. We saw Bath, the Cotswolds, Oxford, Cambridge, The Lakes, Canterbury and most of the large castles and wonderful gardens.

Posted by
3142 posts

I cant't resist and two pence here. The replies posted here are all spot on. the only question I have is are you familiar with operating a manual ? As a young man , that's what I always drove ( mid sixties ) Now I'm mid sixties and had to go back to griving one last year in France . Like riding a bike and sveral other things , you don't forget . But if you have never driven a stick , it might be more of an issue in England fir yuor first time around . I did get an automatic in the uk two years ago and it defintely helped , but as Larry says there are no guarantees that you will get one. Acar is really essential for the uk , so if you can rent a manual here for a time to get used to it if neccessary , that would be a good idea . Have a great time.

Posted by
251 posts

Thanks everyone for your opinions and tips! They are really helpful. My husband is very familiar with a manual, as that is all he had when younger. I know we may not get an automatic in England, but it would be nice. I guess we will take whatever we get and drive around in the rental parking lot until we are comfortable with it. We will take our time, we are in no hurry. We will pick up our car before/around noon and our B&B check in is not until 15:30 that afternoon. I think we are only about a half hour from Stow; so we will take our time. Thanks!

Posted by
2638 posts

.......We may not get an automactic.... When you call to book your car, if you haven't already, request an automatic. We always request an automatic and that's what they have for us.

Posted by
278 posts

If you book in advance, just make sure you request an automatic, and they will have one waiting. It might not be the size you requesred, though; last month, I went to the Avis in York to pick up what I thought would be a small sedan, and I ended up with a car the size of a minivan! Definitely not what I wanted, but it was all they had in automatic.

Posted by
5574 posts

I really feel like this has gotten a bit too much and that Cindy is now going to be worrying more about driving in the UK vs being really excited and eager for her trip. As long as you stay out of major cities, and this means London primarily, plan each journey with destinations including intermediate ones, and remember your mantra do left, left, left as you pull out of parking lots and other starting points, you will be fine. If your husband has routinely driven stick in the US at some point in his life, it will not be a disaster if you don't get an automatic. I would waaay rather drive a stick shift small car in the UK than an SUV or van. The roads are small! Just take the full collision so that the inevitable dings and scratches from the hedges and the tire damage from bumping the curb are covered. You have a navigator so you have massively less stress. Pam

Posted by
970 posts

Some people adapt to it very quickly. Some people fight it. Give yourself an easy first day. Sitting on the right of the car for me, is so different that it makes me very aware of the fact that I am driving on the left. The real problems, frankly, come from not being familiar with the sign systems, and city traffic patterns. Things are very different than in the States, as you might expect. Know where you are headed. Road signs typically point to the next town. They do not necessarily identify the highway, as they do in the U.S. BTW, Oxford is a city of about 100,000, so don't think you will be driving out of a quaint little college town. If it is rush hour, it will be very busy. On the other hand, the Cotswolds are just next door.

Posted by
11798 posts

It's surprising how quickly you adapt to driving on the left. The things to keep in mind are looking both ways for traffic, because it's coming opposite your expectation, and keeping your drivers window toward the inside of the roundabout. Just remember, they're more scared of you than you are of them.

Posted by
977 posts

The trick with roundabouts is to try to make sure, if possible, that you are in the correct lane a few hundred metres before entering the roundabout. Generally, if it is a 3 lane roundabout, the right hand lane would turn right, the middle lane will go straight ahead and the left hand lane will turn left.
Hope this makes sense.

Posted by
251 posts

Thanks to everyone for your advice and helpful tips. I am starting to feel a little bit better about it all. I have driven in LA during rush hour - didn't like it - but made it ok. Yes, we have requested an automatic. Posters have mentioned that we still might not get one, though. If not, husband has driven manuals for most of his life, so he will be driver anyway. We have downloaded our UK maps on GPS we are taking with us. There are 2 ways to get to Stow from Oxford. We may go one way and come back another just for variety. We would like to take a day trip to Wales (Cardiff) while we have the car. It all depends how much we want to drive. We would be leaving from Stow if we do. From my calculations, it is about 80 miles. We'll see once we're there.

Posted by
143 posts

Hi - You have received tons of good advice. I have only a couple of additions. We do not like GPS so we buy an AA Atlas (Automobile Association) from Amazon, and it is amazingly accurate and fun to use. My husband navigates and I drive - have for years, with a stick shift. For me the most challenging thing is knowing where the left (passenger side) wheel is - for some reason that takes me the longest to adjust to. My husband in the passenger seat will say "keep coming over, keep coming over" on a narrow road when meeting traffic if I hug the center line too much. The first day we try to get on some country road with little traffic and , going slowly, I practice moving to the left til I feel the shoulder. This helps me adjust. I find driving over there fun! Also, the British are usually very skilled drivers who follow the rules very well and even tho they drive fast, they're in small cars that can brake quickly. I feel that if I do nothing too suddenly and always let the car behind me know my intentions, even if I'm doing something a bit wrong, they will compensate for me. The other thing you could do is buy an L sign, which tells everyone you are a learner. Enjoy your trip! Julia

Posted by
26374 posts

Please don't put an "L" plate on your car unless the driver has a provisional license and the accompanying driver has held a full British license for at least two years. You're looking at a ticket otherwise. You could perhaps put a green "P" plate on which would indicate that you are a newly passed driver. That's not illegal.

Posted by
1829 posts

Also, cars driving on motorways with L plates will get pulled over by the police!