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to drive or not to drive : driving on the right in England

to drive or not to drive : driving on the right in England

Aug 8th, 2011, 07:33 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 313
to drive or not to drive : driving on the right in England

seeking your advice whether to drive or not to drive in right-side drive england. we are 3 adults, none of us had ever driven in the right side. however, we have driven to many continental europe countries in our previous vacations. we truly enjoy the independence and flexibility of independent, self touring, driving our own car type of vacation.

we will be going to england in early oct and will be touring the countryside - cotswolds and bath specifically. we were originally resigned to taking a bus tour out of london on the days we want to head out to the countryside. but we are now considering the possibility of driving. any helpful tips/advice how to do this to avoid unpleasant incidents? i read in one of my guidebooks that we can buy a P ( or an R, cant remember exactly what letter ) sign from a gas station to put in our car's window to warn other drivers that we are provisional or novice right side drivers. ( this is a great idea, IMO ). other than this, all the advice i have been given as a pedestrian in a right hand drive area is to look to the right first, then left, then right again when crossing the street.

thanks in advance for your input!
flyme2themoon is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 07:44 AM
Join Date: Jun 2008
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Depending upon the drivers' physical dexterity, it won't take a long time to make the adjustment. As you mention above, however, people used to driving on the other side, don't look in the correct directions automatically so proceed with caution. The novice driver sticker makes a great deal of sense.

Driver(s) also must get used to shifting with the left hand. The "H" layout is the same but that too takes getting used to. Do try to get a car with an automatic transmission.

Also, learn the etiquette of roundabouts (someone will have to chime in here with specifics) and get out of the way when speeders with lights blinking come up behind you on the straightaway!

When I was in my 20s, I, with 3 other screaming occupants, drove from Heathrow to down town London in a VW. It was amazingly hair-raising to all involved.
TDudette is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 07:49 AM
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I drove in Ireland, and while it never became "automatic", eventually did kind of get used to it. Maybe you designzate one person (or two) to be the drivers, so they acclimiatize faster. While it may be more expensive, an automatic car would take away one worry.

And then, you have the co-pilot be your quality checker

Agree that seeing countryside is much better (if it not a day trip) when you can drive....stop where you want, stay where you want.

You may want to rent outside of London (train to first destination) to avoid city 'issues'.

Lots of people have done this, you can also.
Michel_Paris is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:02 AM
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That guidebook is probably Rick Steves' - and a daft idea. No, a sticker won't help you. (And unless it has changed it would be an 'L' sticker)

If you were just heading out for one day from London it is probably best to either pick destinations that are easily reached by public transport, or take a day tour. The hassle factor of renting/driving/returning the car would eat up a fair amount of your day.

But in your case (from your other thread) you want to see several 'far-ish' flung places, some quite rural, from a base outside London.

For that a car is easiest and probably cheapest for the three of you. It is easy if any of you are competent drivers at home. Not so much if you are inexperienced or nervous drivers on your home turf.
janisj is online now  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:02 AM
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Posts: 7,142
..."any helpful tips/advice how to do this to avoid unpleasant incidents?"

As just mentioned, just don't rent a car in central London but instead take a train to a smaller town before that first drive.
bardo1 is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:05 AM
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I find that it's way scarier to be the passenger than the driver. The driver is in control, but the left-side passenger gets the thrill of stone walls whizzing by six inches away from your face.
azzure is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:10 AM
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"As just mentioned, just don't rent a car in central London but instead take a train to a smaller town before that first drive."

By FAR it is better to pick up a car at one of the major airports such as Heathrow or Gatwick (Heathrow in your case)

Not in some town -- Driving in towns large enough to have national rental agencies is not the way to learn your way around the controls/signs/feel of the process. Getting used to the car on a major motorway from the airport is much easier w/ a lot fewer distractions to worry about.

You don't want to start out from Bath or Oxford. One exception is the Hertz depot in Oxford -- but it isn't in central Oxford but in a suburb that is very easy to get out of on your way to Woodstock or the Cotswolds. But you'd have to take a cab from the train station.
janisj is online now  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:10 AM
Join Date: Mar 2005
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Definitely get an automatic even if you normally drive stick. We are experienced stick shift drivers and did find the "wrong position" of the stick confusing. Other than that it was fine. You just need to be more alert than you normally are.

We did enjoy our drive to England countryside and would recommend it over public transportation.

Depends on where you are from, agree that driving thru circles may be challenging if you're not familiar with that. Our rule of thumb is if we miss the exit, just keep going and come back later. afterall, it's a circle
wky123 is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:11 AM
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azzure -- THAT didn't help at all
janisj is online now  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:20 AM
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I've driven in Britain and it worked out fine as long as I avoided congested areas and night driving. One person should do all the driving to become acclimated. On highways remember the left lane is the slow lane.

<< Also, learn the etiquette of roundabouts >>

Roundabout etiquette is the same in Britain as it is in the US, France, Portugal, Czech Republic, etc. Give way to the cars in the circle. There is often a yield sign on the approach to the circle to remind you. You drive clockwise around circles in Britain. Stay on the inside lane until you are close to your turn off and then move to the outside lane while signalling your intention.
adrienne is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:21 AM
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Ummm...last time I was in England we drove on the left. The driver sits in the right hand front seat of the vehicle but you drive on the left side of the road.
onetwo is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:22 AM
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It is when you first collect your car or are exiting from a carpark that you are most likely to forget that you are driving on the "wrong" side of the road. We always designate the frontseat passenger to be the Reminder in these situations.
tarquin is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:23 AM
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wow, thanks all for your feedback. tdudette, that's exactly the mental image i have of driving in england : screaming passengers, hair standing on its ends ala albert einstein. ha-ha-ha. azzure, stone walls whizzing by 6 inches from our faces, that wasnt helpful :/ ( funny though. i'm imagining a scene from some slapstick comedy, a car with screaming, frantic passengers )
flyme2themoon is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 09:06 AM
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i read in one of my guidebooks that we can buy a P ( or an R, cant remember exactly what letter ) sign from a gas station to put in our car's window to warn other drivers that we are provisional or novice right side drivers. ( this is a great idea, IMO ).

This is one of the stupidest things I've ever read. Just stick a "beep at me" sign on the rear window instead.

Once you get in the car, it's relatively easy to adjust. Get an automatic - the price differences should be minimal if you shop around and the gas efficiency difference is nil.

Don't drive in London.
BigRuss is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 09:16 AM
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The "P sticker" myth

Drivers in Britain MAY attach a green "P" plate for the first year after passing their test. Its use is voluntary, and its significance ("I've got limited driving experience") scarcely understood. Those who do understand it certainly won't think the driver carrying the plate is a foreigner.

The idea IS batty, though in this case. Other drivers will still assume basic common sense (like instinctively driving on the proper side), and its use may delude a foreign driver carrying the plate others will make allowances that they just won't.

The words "mountain" and "molehill" apply here. We all happily drive in foreign countries where they don't only drive on the wrong side: they speak funny foreign languages and use weird foreign measurements. NONE of us kick up the song and dance 99.9% of Americans, if this board is typical, seem to think they're entitled to about following local driving laws. And when did anyone last see a post here from a Frenchman or German about this?

Just collect the car, switch your brains on and drive.

Janisj's absolutely right about not collecting cars in "small towns". Airports or really suburban depots give you the chance to practice the car in a big open space before encountering traffic in earnest. No city-centre collection depot (including city-centre depots operated by hire companies collecting you from a station or airport) ever has enough space to allow this.

London drivers, BTW, are more disciplined and organised than elsewhere in Britain: ignore the nonsense about "crazy London traffic" (it's actually slower than elsewhere as well). The problem with London, though, is route-finding. But, once someone's got their LEFT-HAND DRIVE eye in (it will help this poster to remember what size we drive), then driving in London can be fine with GPS. It's very rarely a good idea for American novices without.

Even if million of us started our driving in London. We're clearly just born with more moral fibre.
flanneruk is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 09:28 AM
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L plates are only for Learners - and should only be used by full license holders when accompanying/instructing a learner driver.

P plates are for novice drivers who have just passed their test. However, this does not mean that other drivers will be more patient, considerate and tolerant. What it does mean is that white-van-men, cocky youths and numerous other small-minded idiots will see the P plate as an invitation to cut you up, tailgate you, and generally wind you up with much hooting - both of the car horn and their own laughter. Don't do it.

I live in England, and learnt to drive here. However when I travel to the US, or mainland Europe (which I often do) I have to drive on the other side - the wrong side for me. Sometimes I rent a car, sometimes I drive my own car over on the ferry.

While I always feel slightly nervous beforehand, I have found that once I am behind the wheel and have familiarised myself with the controls, it only takes me a couple of miles or a few minutes to feel relatively comfortable, and a little longer to be totally at home on the 'wrong side'!

Yes, I may find myself looking for the mirror on the other side, reach for the handbrake/gearstick with the other hand, occasionally try to get in the other side! But that's normal, and you soon get used to it.

Don't worry about it too much, just decide that this is what you are going to do, and do it without fuss. I'm sure you'll be absolutely fine, and you'll feel so proud of yourself for doing it.

The vehicle already on a roundabout has priority, so you give way and don't pull out until it has passed. There are some good videos on youtube about coping with roundabouts.

Good luck!
julia_t is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 09:39 AM
Join Date: Jul 2011
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I drove around in Ireland and England. Its just like driving at home except on the other side! Be careful on the round abouts!
Taylort771 is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 10:01 AM
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As Flanner has stated, it is even worse for us when we drive in Europe (I bruised the knuckles of my left hand by banging them against the drivers door as I forgot about the gear lever ), but after a surprisingly short time, you get used to it.

I find reasonable traffic to be easier than quiet roads when driving on the "wrong side". Following the traffic is easy. Having to think what to do from scratch makes it harder.

The other thing - SatNavs - although they can be infuriating, can really help as they often show you which lane to be in, the route around a roundabout etc. The cheapest can be picked up for £50 with UK maps.
willit is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 10:20 AM
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Stick a post-it note on the steering wheel reminding you which side of the road to drive on.

"On highways remember the left lane is the slow lane."

There is no such thing as a "slow lane". If you are on a multiple carriageway road you keep to the left most lane unless overtaking. You cannot sit in the outside lane thinking that as you are doing 70mph that that is OK because it's the "fast lane".
alanRow is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 10:29 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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The first time we drove in the UK we picked up the car at Gatwick Airport and they directed us to the freeway, even though we were just going to Rye. It was easier to start out on a freeway, no cross traffic, no traffic circles, nice wide lane. I think you get used to the other side pretty quickly -- except for the occasional lapse into automatic driving. If you turn out of a driveway when there's other traffic, that'll remind you to drive on the correct side. If there's no traffic, you may forget but there's nobody to hit you. This is when a navigator comes in handy.

The real difficulty in driving in Britain is the narrow country roads, roads with no nice wide shoulders/verges like we have in the US. Driving requires more concentration when there is a curb or a hedge or a rock wall right at the edge of your narrow lane. We've always gotten an automatic in the UK even though we drive a standard transmission in other countries.

But it really isn't all that difficult. You adapt quickly.
Mimar is offline  

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