Driving In Britain
How to stay safe, and legal, on British roads
Roads in the UK are among the safest in the world, and the network is huge. Driving in the UK is very different to driving in many other countries. There are a multitude of laws, rules and regulations to be observed, and in this article, we will look at the most important of these in order to provide a good starting point for any motorist from abroad. In most of Europe, as well as many other countries, regular driving is done using the right-hand lane, with the driver seated on the left-hand side of the vehicle. In the UK things are done the opposite way. Drivers are seated on the right-hand side of the car and regular driving is done in the left-hand lane. There are no exceptions and this is perhaps the most important point to remember for drivers who are unfamiliar with driving here.
Driving on Motorways
The UK motorway environment is the safest place to drive, overall. Due to the speed of travel, however, when accidents do occur then they tend to be extremely serious. The main cause of accidents on UK motorways is excessive speed. By following a few simple rules, it is possible to stay safe and minimise any risk.
- When joining a motorway always build up speed on the slip road to ensure the vehicle is travelling at an appropriate speed before joining the network
- Be aware of the road and traffic by utilising proper observation before joining the motorway, including blind spots.
- Always drive in the left most lane but do NOT enter the hard shoulder except in case of emergency or breakdown
- In the event of such breakdown, there are markers pointing drivers in the direction of the nearest emergency telephone from where help can be summoned
- The centre and right-hand lanes of a motorway are for overtaking. It is an offence to drive in these lanes when the left most lane is clear
- The upper-speed limit on a Motorway is 70MPH (112KPH). That limit can be reduced and if reduced limits are in place these will be communicated on signs at the side of the carriageway and overhead gantries
- These reduced limits will normally be in response to roadworks, accidents, congestion or adverse weather
- If tiredness is an issue, then drivers are advised to pull over into the nearest service area. On most motorways these areas are frequent and are always well sign posted
- When joining or leaving the motorway, or when changing lane, always signal in plenty of time and check all mirrors and blind spots before starting any manouvre
Countryside driving (B-Roads)
While motorway driving is the safest way of travelling in the UK, driving on countryside roads, normally referred to as B-roads, is the most dangerous route of travel. 60% of all fatalities in the UK take place on these roads, with an average of 3 people losing their lives on these roads every day. It is important to be aware when driving on these roads that while the upper-speed limit for cars is 60MPH (96KPH) most drivers average around 48MPH (77KPH). Noting the following rules and common sense approaches will help drivers avoid accidents and arrive safely at their destinations.
- Drivers should keep a keen eye on the road ahead to anticipate upcoming hazards
- Look out for upcoming bends in the road, blind summits and concealed entrances (eg farm tracks, agricultural roads or hidden entrances)
- Overgrown shrubbery and foliage on the side of the road can often obscure views. Speed and driving style should be adjusted to suit
- Beware of slow moving vehicles including tractors, agricultural machinery and commercial vehicles on these roads. When overtaking these vehicles ensure the road ahead is clear and leave plenty of room
- Watch out for cyclists. They are frequent in the UK, and can be very easy to miss on these roads. Cyclists should be suitable dressed in high visibility clothing but don't always comply. It is the drivers responsibility to notice them. The same applies to horse riders and cyclists
- Use caution, common sense, proper signalling and observation when driving on these roads, especially at night.
Driving on A-Roads
These types of roads can be single or dual lane roads. A-roads make up the largest part of the UK road network. Speed limits on A-roads will vary from 20MPH (32KPH) around schools and where certain traffic control measures are in place. Speed limits are always well signed and should be observed at all times. The vast majority of journeys taken in the UK will involve driving on A-roads. Keeping the following advice in mind will make your driving experience on these roads an easier and more pleasant one.
- Broken white lines mark the centre of the road. When these lines are longer and the breaks shorter this indicates a hazard ahead. Proceed with caution and only overtake if you can see that the road ahead is clear
- When overtaking, be careful not to break the speed limit to do so
- Double white lines where the nearest line is broken means that you may overtake if it is safe to do so
- Double white lines where the line nearest is solid means no overtaking or straddling unless to enter a side road or overtake parked vehicles, but then only if it is safe to do so
- Traffic lights are self-explanatory. Red means stop. Amber means get ready. Green means go. Many light systems will have "Filter lanes" for drivers turning left. Do not enter these lanes unless that is the direction intended
- On roundabouts, known as traffic circles in the US and many other countries, keep to the correct lane and always give way to vehicles from the right
- Do not drive over pavements or footpaths except in an emergency or where kerbs have been legally lowered to allow access to a property
- Remember to adjust driving speed and style in line with road and weather conditions. The speed limit should not be seen as a target
- Be aware when driving near schools and adjust speed downward. Watch for children, particularly emerging from between or behind parked vehicles
- Do not use mobile phones, hand-held devices or in vehicle technology when driving. Doing so is illegal.
General hazards to be aware of
As mentioned earlier, UK roads are very safe in general, however as with any major road network, there are hazards to be aware of. Some of these are listed below, but in general, a common sense approach will keep motorists safe and out of trouble. Anything on the road can be a potential hazard. There is a hazard perception test for UK drivers, who must pass this in order to drive in the UK. This forms a part of the driving test, and mock versions are widely available online for interested motorists to test their skills of perception prior to driving here.
- Pot holes exist on every road in every country. In more recent years these have become a prominent feature on UK roads. Watch out for these, they can be dangerous and cause damage to vehicles
- Cyclists are a common sight and are present in ever increasing numbers. Cyclists are not permitted on motorways or dual carriageways. Always watch for cyclists, give them plenty of room and avoid aggressive driving if they cause a slow down of traffic
- Roadworks are commonplace. Allow extra time for journeys, observe special speed restrictions, beware of lane closures and use common sense
- Slow moving vehicles are particularly common on B-roads where the conditions are such as to slow larger commercial vehicles down. Tractors and other agricultural machinery are also common. Drivers should allow these vehicles the time and room they require, and overtaking should only be attempted when it is safe to do so.
Driving in the UK on a foreign licence
Visitors to the UK or those moving to the UK to live may drive using a full licence issued by any country in the world. There are time restrictions in force, and drivers choosing to do this may only do so for a maximum period of 12 months. Holders of full driving licences from other EC/EEA countries who are living in the UK are permitted to use their existing licences for up to 3 years, and they may exchange their licences for full UK licences. This also applies to licence holders from certain other countries, listed below. Where the country of origin who issued the driving licence wishes to drive in the UK beyond the initial 12 month period permitted, then they must apply to DVLA for a provisional licence and pass various tests to ensure competence.
The UK have exchange agreements in place for licence holders from:
- British Virgin Islands
- Falkland Islands
- Faroe Islands
- Hong Kong
- New Zealand
- Republic of Korea
- South Africa
The rules in regard to driving licences and entitlement to drive are vigorously enforced and penalties are severe for those not complying. Motorists continuing to drive beyond the 12 months permitted (3 years for EC/EEA licences) will be treated as driving without a licence, and punishments are severe, including seizure of the motor vehicle if it is considered that the insurance for the vehicle does not cover the driver because they effectively have no licence.
Law enforcement and emergency vehicles
The road laws in the UK are enforced by dedicated traffic and motorway police. Any police vehicle whether traffic police or not can signal any motorist to pull over for any reason whatsoever and the motorist must comply by stopping in the nearest available safe place. The normal signal for a motorist will be a blue light on the police vehicle requesting them to stop. In certain unmarked vehicles used by the Police, they will pull in front of you, activate blue lights and a screen in the back of their vehicle will tell you to follow them. All motorists must comply. There are no exceptions to these rules.
Drivers must give way to any and all emergency vehicles by pulling over to the left of the carriageway and reducing their speed to allow them to pass. Failure to comply with this puts life in danger and it is a criminal offence to impede an emergency vehicle. Always pull over safely.
Driving & Alcohol
The legal limit of alcohol in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 35mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath. There are no guidelines as to how much alcohol this would permit a person to drink before driving because everyone reacts differently to alcohol. The general rule of thumb to be observed is not to drink any alcohol if driving is to be undertaken and not to decide to drive after drinking alcohol.
In Scotland, the limit is much lower at 22mg of alcohol per 100mg of breath. Particular caution should be taken by any motorists who decide to have a drink and then drive from England, Wales or Northern Ireland into Scotland. It is quite possible that a driver could be legal to drive in any other part of the UK, but not legal when they enter Scotland.
Without exception, drivers in any part of the UK who are found to be driving while exceeding the limits outlined will be prosecuted. Penalties include mandatory periods of disqualification starting at one year, financial penalties and imprisonment for more serious cases. Because it is impossible to determine how much alcohol is safe to consume, it is a foolhardy individual who will drink and drive in the UK. It is not tolerated and drivers do so at their own risk.