Guide to driving in the UK

PI-driving-guide




If you’re bringing your car to the UK or hiring one once you get here, this guide will help you to get used to British roads. From driving etiquette to some handy tips from the AA, the UK’s biggest motoring association, we’ve got everything you need to have a safe and unforgettable trip.

legal-requirements  speed-limits  roads-and-signs

legal-risks  road-etiquette  aa

top-10-places-to-visit-by-car


Legal Requirements 

Bringing your car to the UK

If you decide to drive your own vehicle for your very own British road trip, then there are a few things to keep in mind.

Papers

What you need to bring:

  • Your passport or ID card
  • Your vehicle’s documents
  • A valid driver’s licence 
    • All valid driving licences in the European Economic Area (EEA) are fully and mutually recognised
    • See if you can drive in Britain with your non-GB licence with the UK Government’s online test
  • A European Accident Statement
    • This is standardised throughout the EU and will speed up any claim settlements in case of an accident
    • Ask your car insurance company for more information. 
  • Accident and breakdown cover
    • Check if you have comprehensive cover. This is valid in all European countries and covers any costs if your car gets stolen or is damaged in an accident. If not, you may need to upgrade.
  • Motor insurance certificate
  • Green Insurance Card
    • Not compulsory but strongly recommended, as it provides all the information you’ll need in case of an accident abroad. Your car insurer will give this to you. 

Insurance

  • You must have motor insurance to drive your vehicle on UK roads
    • Third party insurance is the legal minimum
    • You can be given a fixed penalty of £300 and 6 penalty points if you’re caught driving a vehicle you’re not insured to drive
  • You can get international travel insurance as an add-on for your car liability insurance. Rates and options vary with each insurance company
  • Bring the certificate of international travel insurance with you
  • If you have an accident that causes damage or injury, you must give your name and address and the vehicle registration number to anyone with reasonable grounds for requiring them, for example an insurance company
  • You must wear a seatbelt in cars, vans and other goods vehicles if one is fitted

Hiring a car

Hiring a car can be a convenient and flexible way to get around Britain. 

How do I get the best deal?

  • Shop around: Not all hire companies will have the same prices and some may even have special offers. If you’re using a holiday provider, see if they offer any inclusive deals
  • Look out for additional charges: Check your documentation to look for additional charges you may be surprised by when you return the car. If you’re not sure what they are, query them with your provider. Check your credit card bill in the weeks after your trip too in case new charges are added
  • Bring your own satnav: The extra costs of a satnav can really add up on your car hire, so why not bring your own and save the money!
  • Check your fuel policy: Each hire company will have different fuel policies, so try to work out which is the best for you. It may be more convenient for you to use the fuel already in the car then refill before you take it back, or if you’re in a rush you might want to pay for the fuel before and take the vehicle back empty

Equipment

Things that should be in the car: 

  • Warning triangle
  • Reflective jacket
  • First-aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Spare light bulbs 

Things that are forbidden:

  • Spare jerry cans are not allowed on ferries 

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Speed limits and fines 

speed-camera

Speed limits

The UK still uses the imperial system for road signs. All limits and restrictions are set in miles per hour (1 mile = 1.61 kilometres) and yards (1 yard = 0.91 meters).

Knowing the national generic limits for cars and motorbikes will make life a lot easier, so you don't have to convert in your head while driving. On UK roads, it is unusual to find speed limit signs unless the speed limit differs from the “standard” limit for that road type.

  Built-up areas Single carriageways  Dual carriageways and motorways  Areas near schools or with a lot of pedestrians  Road with sharp bends 
Vehicles weighing under 3.05t 30mph (48kmph) 60mph (96kmph) 70mph (112kmph) 20mph (32kmph) 50mph (80kmph)
Vehicles weighing over 3.05t 30mph (48kmph) 50mph (80kmph) 60mph (96kmph) 20mph (32kmph) 50mph (80kmph)

Speed Cameras and Fines

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) generally suggests a margin of 10% plus 2mph of the posted speed limit before giving you a speeding ticket. Individual police forces can use their discretion, though, so even driving in excess of 1mph could result in a fine.

If police catch you speeding, you can risk the following:

  • A verbal warning
  • Attending a speed awareness course, which you'll have to pay for
  • A Fixed Penalty Notice (a speeding ticket) plus a £100 fine
  • Prosecution. You will have to go to court and you could face a fine of up to £1,000 (£2,500 if you were speeding on the motorway) and a possible driving disqualification
 ACPO guidelines
 Speed limit Speeding ticket Prosecution
20mph 
(32kph)
24mph
(38kph) 
35mph
(56kph) 
30mph
(48kph)
35mph
(56kph)
50mph
(80kph)
40mph
(64kph)
46mph
(74 kph) 
 66mph
(106kph)
 50mph
(80kph)
57mph
(91kph) 
76mph
(122kph) 
60mph
(96kph)
68mph
(109kph) 
86mph
(138kph) 
70mph
(112kph) 
79mph
(127kph) 
96mph
(154kph) 


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Roads and signs 

motorway

Roads

There are 3 main types of road in the UK and signs and speed limits will differ depending on where you’re driving. These 3 road types are:

  • Motorways: High-speed roads (70 mph) where slow vehicles and pedestrians are forbidden. Motorway signs are blue with white text. Motorways are named with an M prefix or suffix (for example M6 or A6 (M)). Junctions and exits are announced one mile in advance, with several signs until the exit. Motorways are free to drive on except for a small part of the M6, north of Birmingham
  • Primary roads (A and B): Smaller and slower roads which can either be single or dual carriageways. Signs are green with white text. You can find both primary A-roads and primary B-roads, B-roads are generally regional and link up less populated areas.
  • Non-primary roads (A and B): These routes are often present when there is a primary route close by. They offer an alternative which may be more direct and avoid dual carriageways. They can be either A or B roads, and signs are white with black writing. 

You can also find C roads across the UK, but these are very small and not often noted on national maps.

Road signs  

Some road signs will be familiar, but there are a few that you can only find in the United Kingdom. Here are the main ones:

Main British road signs by Jean-Yves Scauri

Driving in London 

England’s capital is a must-visit destination for tourists. You may decide to ditch your car and get on the tube, but if you want to see the city from the comfort of your own car then read on to get our tips. 

a. London Congestion Charge 

To avoid traffic in London, there is a toll that drivers in the city centre must pay from Monday to Friday between 7am and 6pm. 

To pay it, you have to register your license plate online before travelling. It costs £11.50 per car per day. 

Congestion charge sign and the areas where it applies:

congestion-charge-small congestion-charge-map

Parking: If you want to park on London’s streets, make sure that you know where you are allowed to. Here’s a breakdown of the road markings: 

    Stopping  Parking 
Continuous yellow line  Single -   allowed  allowed at certain days and times
Double = allowed not allowed
Continuous red line Single -  allowed at certain times and days allowed at certain days and times
Double = not allowed  not allowed
Broken white line bordering the area Single -  allowed allowed at certain times and days with "pay and display"; free parking at all other times

You can also leave your car in one of these 7 car parks located just outside the congestion charge zone and close to tube stations: 

  • Park Lane / Marble Arch 
  • Queensway 
  • Knightsbridge 
  • Pimlico 
  • St. John's Wood 
  • Tower Bridge 
  • Church Street 

You can then use the Oyster card or the London Travelcard to travel around London with ease. 

b. Dartford Crossing toll 

dartford-crossing

There is another toll to pay if you drive on the east side of London. The Dartford Crossing toll can also be paid online in advance or within 24 hours after crossing. It costs £2.50 per car.

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Legal risks 

parking

Drink driving

  • The BAC (blood alcohol content) limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 80 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath
  • The limit in Scotland is significantly lower at 50 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath
  • Alcohol has a different effect on everyone and is dependent on factors such as weight, age and metabolism, but it is advisable to not drink any alcohol at all when driving.
  • The fine for being caught over the limit can be as high as £5175 and you may also lose your driving license 

Texting while driving

  • Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal in the UK. The penalty is a fine, starting at £90
  • It is allowed to use a phone in emergency situations when dialling 999 or 112
  • Phones can also be used when the car is safely parked
  • Hands-free phones can be used but drivers can still be stopped by the police if there are any suspicions that the driver is distracted

Seatbelts

  • You and your passengers must wear a seatbelt if one is fitted in the seat you’re using
  • You can get fined up to £440 if you don’t wear it
  • An exception to wearing a seatbelt is when the driver is reversing the car

Parking fines 

  • Familiarise yourself with UK parking signs and markings
  • Parking fines start at £60 

texting

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Road Etiquette and Tips 

Every country has its own driving etiquette and the UK is no different. Here are our top tips for using the road like a local! 

  • Horns should only be used when someone's driving behavior is really dangerous - and only a quick pip. Any prolonged sounding of the horn is considered hostile. The use of a car horn is not permitted in built-up areas between 11.30pm and 7 am
  • In traffic, always let at least one car in at junctions and exits where possible. It’s only polite!
  • Don't ever try to queue jump (go up the wrong lane and then try to get in late). Drivers will not let you in and you may find yourself blocked deliberately.
  • Flash your lights or blink your hazard lights a few times to express ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘go ahead’, depending on the situation.
  • Allow fire, police and ambulance vehicles to pass safely and legally. Continue to drive until you find a place to safely pull out of the way but don’t stop dead in the middle of the road or break the law unless instructed by a police officer.
  • British roads are fairly narrow. The vehicle coming uphill is always given priority.
  • On British motorways, there is no so-called "fast lane". Unless you are overtaking another vehicle, you should remain in the left-hand lane ("Lane 1") at all times. If you change lanes, you must signal with your indicator.
  • The police can arrest you if you drive below the speed required. If an officer thinks your driving is a risk to other road users, even if you are driving slowly, you can be fined.
  • Don’t drive too close to the vehicle in front of you. Understand that some drivers make an effort to maintain a safe, legal, braking distance behind the car in front. 

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Five main concerns addressed by the AA 

The AA is the UK’s biggest motoring association. It is the most popular breakdown cover provider in the country, and also offers car insurance, driving lessons, route planning and driving advice. We’ve been in touch with Chris Patience, responsible for all of the AA’s online motoring advice and information, to get some tips about driving in the UK.

Driving on the left

The AA: With nearly 35 million vehicles, including almost 29 million cars, British roads are generally much busier than roads across mainland Europe. Do not cross or join a road until there is a gap large enough for you to do so safely, and watch out for pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and other vulnerable road users when turning at any junction.

On dual carriageways and motorways use the left-hand lane unless overtaking.

Pay particular attention when turning at a junction or rejoining the road after a short stop (refueling etc.) as this is when you are most likely to forget and revert to driving on the right.

There is no general priority rule. You must stop at junctions with a solid white line across the road and must give way to traffic on the main road when emerging from a junction with broken white lines across the road.

Roundabouts

The AA: Roundabouts are very common in Britain and are generally safer than other types of the junction as long as you follow a few simple rules.

Traffic always flows in a clockwise direction around roundabouts.

The general rule is to give way to traffic approaching from your right unless you are directed to do otherwise by signs, road markings or traffic lights.

As you approach a roundabout pay particular attention to any signs and lane markings directing you to the correct lane for your exit.

When you are on the roundabout use your indicators to signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want and watch out for all other road users on the roundabout, giving them plenty of room.

Driving in London

The AA: If you are visiting central London it's best to use public transport if you can - most Londoners avoid driving and the traffic in central London is dominated by taxis, buses, commercial vehicles and cyclists.

If you do drive in the central zone you will have to pay the congestion charge. The charge is payable Monday to Friday between 7 am and 6 pm and the zone is identified by signs and road markings displaying a white 'C' on a red background.

Accidents 

The AA: If you are involved in a road-traffic accident as a driver you must stop if anyone is injured, if there's damage to another vehicle or property or if an animal is injured. You should remain at the scene for a reasonable period and give your vehicle registration number, insurance details and your name and address, and that of the vehicle owner (if different) to anyone with reasonable grounds to ask for those details. Read more information here.

Breakdowns

The AA: Breakdowns are stressful enough at home but can be even more so if you're in a foreign country and don't know the language or who to contact. Talk to your national breakdown service provider to ensure that your policy is extended to include cover abroad.

If your car breaks down, get your vehicle off the road if possible. Make sure you warn other traffic by using your hazard warning lights, particularly if your vehicle is causing an obstruction

If your car breaks down on a motorway, do the following: 

  • Pull onto the hard shoulder and stop as far to the left as possible
  • Leave your sidelights on and turn on the hazard warning lights
  • Get out of the vehicle by the left-hand door and make sure that all your passengers do the same
  • Wait behind a barrier well away from the carriageway and hard shoulder
  • On motorways without a hard shoulder, use an emergency refuge area, motorway service area, or leave at the next exit
  • If you have to stop in a live lane, put your hazard lights on, and dial 999 or 112. Do not attempt to leave your vehicle unless you are in the left-hand lane and it is safe to do so.

Read more information and advice about car break down on the AA website

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Top 10 places to visit by car 

 

If you’re driving over to the UK using the ferry, then you’ll most likely arrive at the port of Dover. From Brighton’s famous Pier to the prehistoric Stonehenge monument, you can easily get to all of these fantastic places by car from the town. Here are our ten must-see locations.

dover

Dover

When you arrive in Dover, take some time to explore the city, including 16th century Deal Castle, and enjoy the beautiful panoramas of the famous White Cliffs.

bexhill-on-sea

Bexhill-on-Sea

From Dover, take a scenic drive along the south coast on the A20 and A259. In about 90 minutes you'll arrive in Bexhill, where you can admire the seaside and get a splendid view of the English Channel.


brighton

Brighton

From the A259, continue on the A27 for 31 miles to arrive in Brighton. The city's famous pier is fabulously British and features a funfair, restaurants and traditional seaside fun.

london

London

Make sure you stop by the capital to visit famous monuments like the London Eye, Big Ben and the Tower of London. To reach London from Dover, take the A2 and then follow the M2 for 76 miles.


windsor

Windsor

From London, take the A4 for 25 miles to Windsor to visit the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Windsor Castle is the official residence of The Queen and the beautiful grounds cover 13 acres.

stonehenge

Stonehenge

Take the M3 from London, take the A303 for 88 miles and stop in Wiltshire. This picturesque county is home to the prehistoric monument Stonehenge. Walk in the footsteps of our Neolithic ancestors and discover how they lived 4500 years ago.


oxford

Oxford

From London, take the M40 then the A40 for 46 miles to stop in Oxford, a city that revolves around its prestigious university, established in the 12th century. Drive on the A44 to Woodstock to visit Blenheim Palace, one of the finest country houses in Britain, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

warwick

Warwick

Continue on the M40 for 95 miles to arrive in Warwick and visit the famous Warwick Castle. This medieval castle was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and is home to one of the world’s largest working siege engines.


cambridge

Cambridge

From London, take the M11 for 63 miles and stop by Cambridge to visit one of the world’s most famous university towns and see some of the finest scenery in southern England.

cardiff

Cardiff

From London, drive on the M4 for 150 miles and you’ll be in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. This port city is home to Cardiff Castle, a marvel of Roman, medieval and Gothic architecture.


Driving in the UK can be a challenge at first and you should always prepare before you start driving in the country. This guide should help you with all of your preparations. Remember to read up on all rules and regulations, but most importantly- enjoy your holiday!

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Sources and additional information

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