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Driving in the UK ?

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Jan-Peter van Tijk

Living in Great Britain, from Netherlands

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The UK at a Glance

Driving in the UK

Driving in the UK is about more than being on the left side of the road — though this will indeed be unusual for many expats. Traveling by car lets you explore the countryside at your leisure, but it also means facing strict speeding laws and bureaucracy. Our guide on driving in the UK can help!

Coming from another country and driving in the UK will call for some readjustment: the United Kingdom is one of 76 countries in the world which require you to drive on the left-hand side of the road. Although Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and England are all governed differently, traffic rules are mostly the same throughout the UK.

Even though it is not imperative to do so, most people living in the UK do own a car. Driving in the UK is a more convenient form of transportation, especially in rural areas, where public transportation may be limited to one bus that comes rather infrequently.

The Roadway Alphabet — A, B, C, and M Roads

There are 395,000 kilometers (245,700 miles) of paved roadways fit for driving in the UK, not too shabby for an island kingdom of its size! Once using the left-hand side of the road in combination with having the steering wheel on the right has been mastered, driving in the UK can be great fun.

There are three categories of roads in the United Kingdom: in Great Britain (i.e. England, Scotland, and Wales), there are ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads, as well as motorways, often simply called ‘M’ roads. A roads are the main routes between cities. A1 to A6, for instance, rotate clockwise around London, while A7 through A9 connect Edinburgh with other Scottish cities. B roads are smaller local routes and also link A roads. These roads are often less crowded. Motorways — M roads — are the large freeways for fast driving in the UK. Categorization in Northern Ireland follows a similar scheme, with some minor lanes additionally labeled as C roads.

You will be glad to hear that there are barely any toll roads. Some bridges charge a toll fee for crossing. Moreover, a 43-km (27-mile) stretch of the M6 motorway in the Birmingham area is a toll-paying highway, known as the M6 Toll. They currently charge car drivers between 3.61 GBP and 5.50 GBP for using the road, depending on the time of day and the day of the week.

Greater London — Just Take the Tube

Driving in the UK’s countryside can be very relaxing, giving you that pleasant holiday feeling. However, taking your car into larger cities — especially the Greater London area — may test your patience. It is neither recommended nor necessary to drive in London as the city has a comprehensive public transportation system.

The city of London has been trying to drastically reduce its smog and pollution levels. The first step in doing so is to reduce the amount of traffic in downtown London, which the city succeeded in doing by levying a so-called congestion charge for this area. The congestion charge has indeed helped decrease smog levels somewhat.

This charge applies to a zone marked by a white C on a red background both on the street itself and on road signs, which is fenced in by cameras that photograph the drivers’ license plates. You will be charged 11.50 GBP when entering said zone on weekdays between 07:00 and 18:00. The exact amount may vary slightly, depending on your chosen form of payment and on how quickly you settle the bill. You will need to pay by midnight on the day you have entered the zone to avoid a penalty, and you can do so online, by text message, or simply at a shop with the Congestion Charge sign.

In addition, a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) was also implemented for driving in the Greater London area in 2008. The LEZ requires everyone whose vehicle does not meet strict emission standards to pay for driving in the designated area. While cars and motorcycles are typically not affected, smaller vans, pickups, trucks, and buses will probably need to pay. In addition to the frequent traffic jams and the limited number of parking spaces, this is another good reason for drivers to avoid London even if they have had good experiences driving elsewhere in the UK. 


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InterNations Expat Magazine