Around the UK by Car
The UK has an extensive network of well-maintained roads, which will get you almost anywhere. You experience much more of the UK by driving compared to travelling by train or coach (long distance bus) and definitely not by flying. Driving is the best way to experience a cross section of the country passing through small towns, little villages, many places of interest and a diversity of picturesque landscapes. It also gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace and visit as many places as you like.
Driving for Foreign Visitors
Foreign visitors can drive in the UK for up to 12 months from the date of arrival with a valid non-UK driving licence. Unlike Continental Europe, driving in the UK is on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat on the right. If driving your own car, ensure you have adequate insurance cover and that the car is roadworthy. While distance is in kilometres and speed limits in kilometres per hour (kph) throughout the rest of Europe, it’s miles and miles per hour (mph) in the UK.
M8 Motorway through Glasgow by Finlay McWalter
The UK has an extensive and well-maintained network of roads comprising of motorways, primary routes, secondary routes, B-roads and minor routes. Motorways are long distance roads connecting the major cities while primary routes connect the larger towns with the motorways. Secondary routes and B-roads connect with the smaller towns and minor routes include country roads and residential streets. Level (road) crossings across railway lines often have automated barrier bars. There are no tolls on the roads except part of the M6 motorway in the Midlands and a few large bridges and tunnels with tolls collected at the point of entry.
Road signs conform broadly with European standards though some signs are unique. Blue directional signs are for motorways, green for primary routes, white for minor routes and brown for places of interest. Advisory or warning signs are usually triangle in shape with red border, white background and easily understood pictogram. Electronic signs on the motorways provide advanced warnings such as road closure, temporary speed limit, accident and fog ahead. Driving in the UK is straightforward but advisable to use a GPS navigator such as Google Maps Navigation app to plan your driving route.
UK Driving Rules
The speed limit for cars on the motorways and dual carriageways (divided roads travelling in opposite directions) is 70 mph (112 kph). The speed limit on single carriageway roads (undivided roads travelling in opposite directions) is 60 mph (96 kph) and built-up areas 30 mph (48 kph). The law in the UK requires the driver as well as passengers to fasten their seat belts while the vehicle is moving. The law also prohibits the driver from using a mobile phone while driving and there are strict laws against driving under the influence of alcohol – the alcohol limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.
Driving in the Cities
Expect slow moving vehicle traffic and congestions when driving in the cities especially in the city centre. Also, expect heavy traffic during the morning and afternoon rush hours when commuters go to and from work. To add to the misery, there is limited parking in the large cities and parking charges expensive often beyond £5 per hour in the city centre. Consider public transport and taxis in the large cities since most have an efficient transport system. Many cities operate a ‘park and ride’ scheme where you park your car on the edges of the city and take the public transport to the city centre.
Rush-hour traffic on London Road by John Sutton
Driving in the Rural Areas
Most of the small towns, villages and countryside in the UK are within reach and connected with the motorways and primary routes. The road conditions and signs are usually up to standard in the rural areas but declines once you enter the more remote areas. Keep your speed down in the countryside at night since there is generally a lack of street lighting. There are also the narrow bends, blind corners and trees that limit your view while driving. Beware of wild animals and livestock crossing or blocking the road. Reduce your speed, stop, honk your car if necessary and let the animals pass through.
Quiet rural road by Walter Baxter
Renting a Car
Renting a car in the UK is relatively straightforward and can find car rental companies located at the airports and major railway terminals. You can book online in advance, which often saves you money from promotions and discounts. Major car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz, Nationwide and Sixt. Vehicles usually available for rent include compact, standard and luxury cars as well as multi purpose vehicles (MPV) and sometimes vans. Most rented vehicles are manual transmission unless you specifically book for automatic transmission.
Reputable car rental companies will provide basic insurance cover as part of the car rental charges. Companies also offer additional insurance such as personal insurance, emergency roadside assistance and excess waiver (car hire excess insurance) charging extra. Therefore, check what is included in the insurance cover and decide if you need more before you hire. A credit card is usually required as deposit and you will need to show your driving licence as well as proof of identity such as passport before you can pick up your vehicle.
The AA, RAC and Green Flag are the major assistant providers in the UK if your car breaks down. Car rental companies generally include a basic cover (differs between companies) with one of the assistant providers if the vehicle breaks down. However, check what the basic cover includes since you may want to purchase a more comprehensive cover. If your rented vehicle breaks down, call the car rental company to request for assistance. If driving your own car and not a member of a breakdown assistance organisation, you can still call but will cost you more.
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