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UK driving for N. Americans

Hello!
I'll be driving for the first time this summer in England. Just wanted some feedback (positive or negative) about driving on the other side of the car. Easy to adapt to being on the other side, etc.? Any tips would be most helpful. I'll be using an automatic car.
Thanks.

Posted by
32155 posts

Some people from this part of the world find it really easy to adapt to driving on the "correct side of the road", while others have varying degrees of difficulties with it. I've never found it to be too difficult but find that I have to focus constantly when driving in order to avoid falling into "old habits". I'd suggest doing some research online, and here are a few sites to start with....

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

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g186216-c9626/United-Kingdom:Driving.Tips.For.Visitors.html

A few other tips......

  • I've alway found that it's a good idea to become thoroughly familiar with the controls before even driving off the rental lot. That way you can ask the staff if there's anything you're not sure of.
  • Although I can certainly drive a manual transmission, I prefer to rent automatics in the U.K. whenever possible.
  • Be sure to do some research on the protocols for getting through Roundabouts.
  • I'd suggest paying extra for good CDW coverage. Many of the roads are very narrow, so it's not hard to sustain some minor damage.
  • Be VERY careful with speed limits, as there are a lot of speed cameras.
  • Note that you'll also need to be careful as a pedestrian. When crossing streets, you'll need to get into the habit of looking in the opposite direction to what you're used to (I've almost been "smoked" by lorries a couple of times when stepping off curbs).
Posted by
4535 posts

It's really not difficult or something that takes getting used to. Once you are sitting behind the wheel on the right side, you'll naturally want to keep oncoming traffic to your right. Some people report having some difficulties with judging the left edge of the roadway, and on narrow lanes with hedgerows alongside it can result in side scratches. Backing up and turning at the same time can take some mental focus. And as someone else mentioned, the normal controls are in the same spot so that helps a lot.

Posted by
26 posts

I did left side driving last year in Auckland,NZ and found it very scary on the first day. Since traffic was light, I got more secure. Just be aware on the motorways or (freeways) that the fast lane is the right lane! Not the left lane. Also, be careful when signaling. I KEPT hitting the window wipers! Don't forget to take a photo of yourself in the driver's seat!

Posted by
2081 posts

codykins70,

i havent driven there in many years so take what i put down here as you see fit. I will give you my impressions/experience since it was a experience for me. The cars maybe different now than back then, but who knows. I was also able to get an auto back then too.

  • The turn signals stalk and windshield wipers were swapped. So in a panic i would revert to my old habits. Turning on the windshield wipers instead of the signals.

  • The car had a power button for passing and drinking gas like it was going out of style. Without this button pressed, there was no guts to this car.

  • in the mornings when i first started off, i reverted to the USA side of the road. after the noticing the first car in my lane (or is that the other way around) i "woke up" and had no issues that day.

  • when in collision avoidance maneuvers i reverted to my USA habits. That would usually put me into oncoming traffic.

  • they DO NOT make left turns on the red light - our equivalent right turn on a red.

  • UK drivers were really polite and understanding.

i think in the end you will have a blast and fun driving on the other side.

happy trails.

Posted by
10344 posts

This question has been asked here many times over the years.
One kind of answer you see here is: I didn't have any big problem with it (unstated subtext: Don't you wish you were a real man like me?).

The other kind of answer is the type you've gotten above--these travelers are actually trying to help you understand that are some challenges to reversing all of your old driving habits, while going 50 mph and with property damage or personal injury as a potential outcome of a wrong move.

Posted by
3575 posts

We lived in London for a year; and when I first started driving, I panicked every time I made a right turn. As I faced the traffic on the new street, I'd be thinking, "where am I supposed to be?" That lasted about a week, not helped by the tendency of British (at least London) drivers to park on either side, facing oncoming cars. Watch out for that. It might also make you think you've turned onto a one-way street. Use the motorways whenever possible. Since they are divided, you'll have no trouble. You may be amazed at how narrow country roads can be, with two-way traffic. What I found most helpful was to keep thinking about keeping myself near the center line, or center if there's no line. That helps you avoid the tendency to veer toward the left. After we returned home, I experienced a brief repeat of most of the problems while readjusting to American driving!

Posted by
3696 posts

I think with an automatic it is a bit easier. I drive a stick in the US and all over Europe, but I have tried to imagine myself shifting with my left hand, keeping the clutch, gas and brake straight while driving on the opposite side of the road.... don't think I want to try. I just want to be able to get around the country and not kill any pedestrians... so I always try to head out of any congestion as soon as possible and give myself a little time to acclimate. I was amazed at how quickly it felt 'normal'. I did have the turn signal and windshield wiper thing going on. Really never did get used to that.... I just had to remember to carefully look both ways before pulling out...and look back again. When you are not expecting cars coming from the opposite direction it takes a bit more concentration... but, once you get the hang of it you will wonder why you worried.

Posted by
103 posts

My only UK driving experience was back in 1990, so YMMV. The first thing I had to do when leaving the Hertz car park (pardon my whim of indulging in some British usage in this posting) in Exeter was a right turn into heavy traffic. It was terrifying, but I kind of got used to right turns after a day or two. It helped that most of my driving was in low traffic countryside and smaller towns. I was fortunate that the window in my room at the B&B that night faced onto a roundabout, so I sat in the window and watched traffic for an hour to learn the rhythm which I picked up fairly easily.

My worst experience was driving on tertiary lanes through the countryside which were sometimes barely wide enough for two cars going in opposite directions to pass each other and my North American tendency was to drive down the middle and then panic remembering at the last second to veer to the left instead of the right when faced with an oncoming car. My partner did some damage to our left side mirror veering too close to the railing on a bridge on a narrow road outside of Moreton Hampstead. I did some damage to a parked car in the village, and destroyed 2 tyres veering too close to the hedgerow along the side of the road outside of Dartmouth when meeting an oncoming car on a curve. Thank God I had opted for all of the insurance coverage! Hertz were actually pretty nice about the whole thing. When I reported my mishaps to the local constabulary, after they heard that the car belonged to Hertz and I'd bought their insurance they laughed about Yanks driving on the wrong side of the road and wished me a good holiday.

I found the motorways to be much easier to navigate though my rented car was so tiny that it was sometimes scary to drive next to the huge articulated lorries. I didn't dare to drive in London. All of my driving was in Devon, Wales, Wiltshire, and the main roads between them. I turned the car in at Salisbury.

I WILL NEVER DRIVE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD AGAIN!!!

Posted by
8021 posts

If you're a really good driver, you can make the transition.

Let me just say I'd never let my wife drive a rental car in the U.K. She's not a really good driver.

Somehow, my mind works in reverse. And I actually can make it from town to town in London suburbs. Thank you, GoogleMaps.com.

But what really strikes fear is getting in that big round-a-bout on the Champs de Elysee in Paris and looking in the rear view mirror to see 8 lanes of traffic and 50 cars driving like maniacs. The U.K. is a breeze after Paris traffic.

Posted by
2081 posts

codykins70,

i loved the Roundabouts. We had one in PDX that was a true round about and then became bastardized. But thats normal since many locals couldn't figure it out and no info about how to navigate it the driver manual. There are several more now and one is near PDX and several near work.

what i loved about them was that i could drive around them while getting my bearings - this was before GPS.

happy trails.

Posted by
231 posts

Another couple of points to consider:

The parking places are probably smaller than you're used to. There was even an news segment on the BBC this morning about how cars are getting bigger and yet the spaces were laid out years ago for smaller cars. Parking itself can be an additional expense.

Gas is about $8 a gallon. Get the smallest, most fuel efficient car you can.

When you're in an emergency situation and/or you're reacting instinctively, your first inclination will be to jerk to the left as in the US this would put you on the shoulder and out of harms way. In the UK, you'll be driving head first into oncoming traffic. I did exactly this in a store car park...thankfully it was rather empty; I was unwittingly playing chicken with a guy coming at me who had no idea why I suddenly swerved across in front of him and stopped dead perpendicular to the space lines so he passed by on my left. It was rather scary for both of us I'm sure.

I still haven't figured out large roundabouts (smaller ones, fair enough, but more than 2/3 lanes and my head explodes.) I accidently cut off a policeman when i went around one more time and was helpfully informed by our boy in blue that I had been in an exit lane (what? where?) and by going around one more time I had caused him to swerve. I profusely apologised, took the rental car back, and everything i've done since has been on public transport.

There are speed cameras all over. Do not speed. Seriously.

As a driver, I found UK drivers to be much more considerate than in the US. For the most part, they'll let you merge, let you turn, and exit, and will be generally much more friendly.

And on the other side, as a pedestrian, I find drivers in the UK to be incredibly hostile. The thought seems to be that you're in the wrong place if you're in the road at all (with the exception of zebra crossings - they HAVE to stop.) Unlike in the US where drivers will almost always give way to pedestrians (especially coming out of grocery stores, etc.) the ones here will drive at you. It can be rather intimidating - just be aware and look both ways.