Getting off the beaten track and pit stops at your leisure makes driving a jolly good way to explore the UK’s 400,000km of roads, old chap. From rugged Scotland and Northern Ireland, to picturesque Wales and England, road tripping though the UK allows you to cover a lot of ground without missing any of its charm.
But, before you tallyho, here are a few things to know about driving in the UK:
On your marks:
There are three main types of roads in the UK with the following speed limits:
Type of road Speed limit
Dual Carriageways 112km/h/70mph
Single Carriageways 96km/h/60mph
Built-up Areas 48km/h/30mph
UK speed limits are in miles per hour and indicate the maximum speed; however, most cars travel at slower safer speeds, except on the motorway, where you’ll find the average British driver exceeds the limit ‘a little’. Furthermore, local councils can set their own speed limits so watch out for the signs.
Using mobile phones whilst driving is illegal but you can use hands-free phones, satnav systems and two-way radios. However, the police can stop and fine you if they think you are distracted and not in control of the car.
By law, you must:
- Be at least 17 and have a full driver’s licence (provisional licences not accepted).
- Have at least third party insurance.
- Not have a BAC exceeding 0.8g/l in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and not exceeding 0.5g/l in Scotland.
- Ensure front and rear passengers wear seat belts at all times, where fitted.
- Seat all children in EU-approved car seats until they are 12 years old or 135cm tall.
- From 1st October 2015, it will be illegal in England and Wales to smoke in a car carrying under 18 year olds.
Driving in the UK is relatively easy and stress free. The UK Highway Code is similar to the Irish one and they drive on the left. Hurrah! The only hassles you may encounter will be working out the myriad of parking restrictions and if you’re heading off the beaten track, getting stuck behind the odd caravan or tractor. Despite a comprehensive motorway network, only 1% of UK roads are actually motorway, so be sure to pack your patience.
Traffic lights run ‘red, red and amber, green, amber’. Red and amber means you must stop but can prepare to go; however, you must not go until the green light shows – not everyone obeys this.
Most motorists, rather refreshingly, adhere to lane discipline and nearly always only use the right-hand lane for overtaking before moving swiftly back into the left-hand lane when the manoeuvre is complete. In fact, adherence to the rules is, for the most part, better in the UK than it is in Ireland. There’s less acceptance for bending of the rules, and don’t think that you’ll get away with it just because you’re in a foreign car either. The British Transport Police are very professional and well used to dealing with foreign licences and drivers.
Going along with denser traffic in most regions is an obviously higher presence of traffic police everywhere you drive. In spite of that, most of them are not looking out for speeders, as the UK is littered with speed cameras, both fixed and mobile. It’s also important to watch out for signs warning of ‘speed averaging’ cameras, as these completely eliminate speeding over a longer stretch of road as they have the ability to track all cars and record their average speed. This prevents people from just slowing down where there are known speed cameras.
Motorway driving in the UK is a breeze, if fast and busy in certain areas, such as the M25 around London and the M6 passing Birmingham. Signage is better than it is in Ireland generally and there aren’t very many toll roads given the extensive motorway network there is. Speaking of which, there are many more service stations than on Irish motorways, though their quality varies significantly. Some are superb, however some still offer a pretty dismal selection of food and refreshments at extortionate prices, also, expect to pay more for fuel here.
During busy periods, certain motorway sections are ‘smart motorways’ meaning the hard shoulder becomes a driving lane and there is a variable speed limit. Observe the overhead gantries, which will inform you when these are in operation.
Driving in London:
As far as major capital cities go, London isn’t that terrifying to navigate and driving through the city early morning or late at night is actually quite pleasant. However, the main pain with London is looking for parking and the many charges imposed on drivers.
Parking is limited and restrictions and charges vary from one street to another. London is the most expensive city in the world for parking – an average of €60 a day – so best option is to park in commuter towns and use Park and Ride facilities.
There is also the congestion charge to consider. Paid in advance or before midnight on the day it’s £11.50/€15.70 or £14/€19 if paid the following day. The congestion charge operates Monday to Friday 7am to 6pm with no charge on weekends, public holidays and between Christmas and New Year’s Day. You are also responsible for paying the congestion charge even if you are in a rental car.
In a hurry? Rush hours in central London don’t exist. Between the hours of 7am and 7pm, the average speed of traffic is just 14km/h.
Places to Visit:
Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions, so popular in-fact that you need to book in advance to be guaranteed entry. Stonehenge is located just 10 miles north of Salisbury on Salisbury Plain which covers 8 sq miles. The “hanging stones” were placed here from 3000-1500 BC. The Bronze Age stone circles visible today were in use until the Roman era, when they were destroyed to prevent cults like the Druids from influencing the population. There is an excellent Visitor Centre which is home to informative exhibitions, and includes a shop and café.
The Lake District:
Covering 900 sq miles, the Lake District National Park is a breathtaking, must-see destination for travelers to England. With 12 of the country’s largest lakes and over 2,000 miles of footpath waiting to be explored, the Lakes are a walkers paradise. The region is home to Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, numerous lovely little towns and villages such as Grasmere and of course 12 of the countries largest lakes.
The Cotswolds are old England personified. The area covers almost 800 sq miles and includes some of the country’s prettiest counties such as Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty due to its rare limestone grassland habitats and old growth beech woodlands, the beauty of the Cotswolds has much to do with its quaint villages and towns, such as Castle Combe, Chipping Norton and Tetbury.
Take the 299km A470 from south coast Cardiff to north coast Llandudno, through Snowdonia National Park and the Brecon Beacons and see why the British named it their favourite road. To be honest most of the driving in North Wales is pretty spectacular. If you’re taking the ferry to Holyhead then the A5 towards Betws-y-Coed and eventually the Midlands is also mightily impressive.
Head to the Peak District and take the Cat and Fiddle Road that crosses the wild Pennines. This road offers some wonderful vistas, however; it rates as Britain’s most dangerous road, as people like to take it at speed, but take your time and you will be in for a driving treat.
If you’re driving in the UK, especially with the whole family on-board, space may well be at a premium. A good set of Roof Bars and a Roof Box may be the ideal solution if extra carrying capacity is needed – especially handy if you have young children in the car and bulky items such as Buggies and travel cots have to be brought along. Why not check out our Roof Rack buying guide or take a look at our Top 10 Do’s & Don’ts When Using a Roof Rack
If you’re planning on making the most of the good weather, you might want to bring bikes or watersport gear with you. If that’s the case, you’ll need a suitable solution for transporting them. We have a huge range of products in our Travel Equipment section which might be worth checking out.