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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, 10:32 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 5,430
Just be sure that someone other than the driver knows the route and has a good sense of direction. Then the driver can concentrate on the actual driving part while another focuses on getting there.
historytraveler is online now  
Aug 8th, 2011, 11:24 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 313
great suggestions so far. thanks and keep the tips coming. i am now leaning towards driving vs joining a tour. it's starting to really look exciting-to drive on the "wrong side" for the first time AND live to tell about it. sounds like a great adventure, besides the trip itself, of course.
flyme2themoon is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 11:43 AM
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 1,289
Roundabout etiquette .... 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.

I'll try to add/clarify this--hopefully it doesn't cause further confusion.

The "yield" sign will often only be a painted triangle in the lane as your approach.

It's important to position yourself in the correct lane for multi-lane roundabouts. Left/left, right/right, straight is usually okay from either lane if 2 lanes. If there are more than 2 lanes there are usually signs on the side or on the lanes themselves (left/left, right/right will still apply though).

If you are turning left, you certainly don't want to be in the inside lane as implied above.

For turning right (e.g. 270 degrees around the circle), you should be in the right lane, indicate right, stay in your lane until you pass the turnoff before yours, indicates left, check mirrors and cut across the lanes to exit (seems unnatural, but you have the right of way).

Similarly, as stated above, you must give way to any car in the roundabout even if they are in the inside lane and you just want to sneak off to the left. They might be turning off (signaling hopefully) and they have the right of way.

Sounds harder than it is, but some do have more trouble than others.

I also second the sat nav / GPS suggestion to remove one more distraction.

--An American in England
indy_dad is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 12:02 PM
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 1,289
I don't know if that helps or not.

(it does if you stare at it awhile)
indy_dad is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 12:10 PM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 842
Another thing that seems to puzzle American drivers is the "white circle with black diagonal line" sign.
Some info on speed limits:
Hooameye is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 12:40 PM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 22,341
I think it's unkind and even snarky to pooh-pooh some sort of "Watch out for me" sign. Visitors to any given place have lots on their minds. When one is in the left lane and someone else is saying "Go right, no go left", any warning to the natives should be welcomed. Put on your hazard lights, get in the slow lane and learn how to give the discrete "bird" if things get hairy.

Renting your car away from the big city is a good idea.
TDudette is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 01:55 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 64,587
TDuttete: "I think it's unkind and even snarky to pooh-pooh some sort of "Watch out for me" sign."

Trust us on this one -- a P or L sticker is a VERY bad idea.
janisj is online now  
Aug 8th, 2011, 02:09 PM
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 19,881
Hire a Kia and wear a trilby. People will then assume that you are going to do something stupid.
alanRow is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 02:17 PM
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My husband handled the driving very well; he is a good driver in the US, so it didn't take a lot of effort to make the mental switch, but it WAS an effort. But not impossible (not sure if I want to do it myself, though!)

A few things, most mentioned above, to consider/remember:

Having automatic, even if cost is a bit more, is definitely worth it!

We rented at LHR, drove around parking lot a bit, then headed to Oxford (where we stayed outside of town) and then on to Wales and Hadrian's Wall area and York and Dover, with stops in between, and back to LHR. Worked great. Did NOT drive IN London.

Parking is a consideration when driving, though; be sure to have some good ideas of where you can park, including what your nightly accomodations offer.

We could not have done it as well as we did without a GPS loaded with current UK/Europe maps. DH is already used to the GPS (ours, not one on rental car) and so it helped enormously. And was mostly very accurate (got a bit confused around Castlerigg!).

Remember to consider size of the car/storage space in it when you are planning your luggage; pack as light as you can!

I just got back from being in charge of a small group of students on a tour (with a company) of England and we had a blast, BUT for personal travel, a car and personal itinerary wins hands down.
texasbookworm is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 03:18 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 330
All good tips above - here's a few more from an American living in the UK.

1) Just like the US, the driver will always be in the "middle" of a two way road in a UK configured car. For the first week, I constantly mumbled either "driver in the middle" or "stay left, stay left" to myself.

2) Always look right when approaching a roundabout and yield to traffic on the right. Sometimes, if you are on the larger road and approach a mini roundabout, it might feel like you should have right of way but you DON'T! When in doubt, yield to the right!

3) When approaching roundabouts, there will almost always be a sign that shows the configuration of the roundabout with all exits marked. This is where your navigator comes in. In our first week here, my DH and I tried to drive together so one of us could play navigator. It was the navigators job to watch for the roundabout sign and guide the driver through the roundabout by telling the driver which lanes to be in and which exit to take (e.g., "stay left and take the first exit" or "stay in the middle lane as you need the third exit", etc, etc.

4) The white circle with black diagonal means "national speed limit" applies which for your purposes will mean 60 MPH on two way roads ("single carriageways") and 70MPH on motorways and roads with 2 or more lanes going each direction. Near towns you will see postings for speed limits - anywhere from 50 down to 20mph. If there are street lights and you don't see a sign, assume 30 mph.

5) It is very common on smaller roads for people to park on one side in what we Americans would consider a traffic lane. So, you just have to pay attention and if your lane is blocked by parked cars, wait until the "way is clear" and pull into the other lane to pass them. Brits have unwritten etiquitte on this that you learn over time but to start with, just be cautious (but be prepared that if you are too cautious, it is very likely a car behind you might whip out to the right and pass you). If a car flashes their lights at you, it is the unofficial sign that they are letting you go and IME, Brits can be quite nice at voluntarily letting you pull out so pay attention.

6)The road conventions/signs are very logical. In order of size largest to smallest, there are M for Moterways (M4, M3, etc) which are like American freeways and will be marked in blue. Primary routes are usually marked with green with an A (A30, A46, etc). Non primary routes are marked in black/white and will be either an A or B (B roads can be very small) or maybe with no number (the smallest). You will have many small A, B or un-numbered roads in the Cotswolds.

With a good navigator and a sense of humour when you take the wrong exit on roundabouts (which you will several times), you will be just fine!
NorCal_Jo is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 04:02 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
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All of NorCal_jo's points are good -- but especially note this one.

"If a car flashes their lights at you, it is the unofficial sign that they are letting you go"

You will be driving through Cotswold villages and on country roads where cars may (will) be parked any which way and/or partly on the driving surface. (I didn't want to say 'pavement' since that means a wholly different thing in the UK.) This really isn't a problem since there will be space for at least one car to get around

If a driver coming in the opposite direction flashes his headlights, that means s/he is waiting to allow you to go through first. So DO IT . If you dawdle, s/he won't know you are a nervous Yank who isn't sure. S/he'll think you are daft/not paying attention.
janisj is online now  
Aug 8th, 2011, 04:31 PM
Join Date: Jul 2005
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It's very important to have not only a competent driver, but also, a competent navigator. Even if you have a GPS, the driver needs to be focused on the road, not the GPS. The navigator should have a map, know the route, and not be afraid to overrule the GPS when it appears that the GPS is taking you out of the way.

As far as driving on the other side of the road, it's hard to judge distances to your left, and, even though the natural reaction is to shy away from oncoming traffic, you need to stay as close to the center line as possible, as you will have much better distance judgement as to the center line and oncoming vehicles than you will to objects on your left.

Right turns are tricky, but what I always did was to imagine that your intersection had those dashed lines that you occassionally see in American intersections to guide you through turns, and then just concentrated on staying close to that line, just like you do the visible center line.

After having been to France this summer, I would say that roundabout discipline is better in the UK than in France (at least rural France). Roundabouts on two lane roads are a breeze. Roundabouts for multi-lane roads are tricky, and tax the navigator as much as the driver because the navigator needs to let the driver know which exit they will be taking--if it isn't the first exit, then you don't want to be in the left lane and that lane will usually be forced to exit the roundabout at the first exit. Since the driver will be busy focusing on other cars, the navigator needs to focus on getting the vehicle in the correct lane to get through the roundabout.
twk is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 04:59 PM
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When we went to Scotland a few years ago, only three of the four of us could drive a stick shift, so we took turns with the driving. My DW (the non-stick driver) just sat there smugly. No incidents, save for one side mirror that touched a post in trying to park.

One absolutely essential thing we quickly found our was that those not driving were to KEEP THEIR %##&%*# MOUTHS SHUT while one of the others was behind the wheel! Hard enough concentrating on clearances and approaching cars on narrow lanes without someone screeching advice into ones ear. Conversation was all right, of course, but sudden urgent shrieks would earn a tongue lashing.

Needless to say, on days with distillery tours our designated driver did not sample.
nukesafe is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 05:43 PM
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Any decent GPS device should not only show you the proper lane to be in but which exit off a roundabout to take. Having traversed hundreds of them in France my TomTom never once steered me to a wrong exit.
ParisAmsterdam is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 07:45 PM
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"Having traversed hundreds of them in France my TomTom never once steered me to a wrong exit."

A GPS (usually called a sat nav in the UK) is great to have, but one should also have a road atlas. Most of the time they are spot on, but in parts of the UK, a sat nav can definitely steer you wrong.
janisj is online now  
Aug 8th, 2011, 08:29 PM
Join Date: Dec 2006
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We, like you, planned on driving to Bath and the Cotswolds. We continued to York where we turned the car in. We took a train from London to Salisbury to pick up the car since that is a great jumping off point for this trip and made for an easy start for my first experience driving in the UK. The first day day driving on the left took the most getting used to and after that it became more and more natural. The following is an excerpt from my TR documenting that experience.

The morn dawned and the kippers were served. I devoured breakfast as if it was my last meal. Considering I had never driven on the left side of the road (I refuse to call it the wrong side) and it being several years since driving a standard shift when I rowed a Smart for4 along the Amalfi coast, it occurred to me that the thought of the kippers being my final meal might be an apt one.

We had arranged a great prepaid inclusive weekly rate of $212 through Kemwell for a car in the Ford Focus class and our vendor was Europcar. It was a bit of a long walk to find it since "near" the train station actually meant nearly a mile away. With the heip of the GPS we found the place and the transaction was seamless. Climbing into the right hand side of the nearly new silver Vauxhall Astra, I was pleased that at least since I would be shifting with my left hand, it was an advantage to be a natural southpaw. I plotted a route back our B&B carefully calculated to avoid the double roundabout and we were off. Immediately it became clear that my greatest challenge would be in judging just where the left side of the car actually was. My tendency was to drive too close to the left. The shifting actually was no problem other than occasionally putting the car in 4th gear when I really wanted second. Later on, this tendency seemed to pop up a few times when entering roundabouts to the great amusement of other drivers. DW suggested that I keep more to the center and let oncoming cars go around us, but I pointed out that the oncoming car may also be driven by a tourist whose DW was giving the same advice.

Picking up our luggage at the B&B, we were off to Stonehenge…. I quickly learned that my plan of avoiding roundabouts would be futile, and I have lost count of the number encountered on the way to Stonehenge. Other than terrifying DW by the tendency to keep too close to the left, the other thing that I needed to concentrate on was making sure to give way to traffic coming from the right. This is not something one would want to forget - even once.

From Avebury, we drove to Bath where we to spend three nights. Bath is another of those places that I had mentally filed away as one that DW would like.

Here, the Garmin failed us. We entered the address of our next B&B, Cornerways and the GPS did not recognize it. Stopping at a petrol station on the A4, I bought a street map of Bath and we spent the next hour plus lost in that small city in heavy traffic trying to find the place. That was the most stressful driving of our entire trip and fortunately I was already adapting pretty well to driving in the UK….We had a good pub dinner and I went to sleep that night with earlier cries of "you're too close to the left" still reverberating in my brain.
basingstoke2 is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 11:03 PM
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That is EXACTLY the reason the passengers have to keep their $#^*%^* mouths SHUT! You are NOT too close to the left, otherwise there would be one hell of a bang. If you twitch to the right when your sweet spouse shrieks in your ear, WHAM you hit the car approaching on the right.

Stifle, Edith!
nukesafe is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 11:15 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 313
thanks so much for all the helpful tips and the confidence boost. there were so many great pointers on here. so here's what it'll be for us:

1. pick up rental from LHR, then on to Bath. OR train to Bath, tour Bath and pick up rental from Bath the next day.

2. drive in the cotswolds , basing in MIM.

3. return rental in oxford ( havent checked on drop off charges. will look into returning car in either bath or oxford ) then train back to london.

i will definitely report back here on our driving-on-the-right adventures in england. i'm sure it'll be a riot. i hope we don't end up fighting and clawing at each other during the "cotswolds days."

i also finally booked the OW flight from EDI to LHR on bmi. ( great fare, btw at 39 GBP incld. 1 check in luggage ) knowing that we will be driving, im able to calculate how many days we're going to need in Scotland and England.
flyme2themoon is offline  
Aug 8th, 2011, 11:21 PM
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Posts: 313
oh, and definitely renting an automatic car and buying the european program for our US maps-only Garmin.
flyme2themoon is offline  

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