Transport & Driving
Driving in the UK
Coming from another country, driving in the UK can require some readjustment to guarantee your safety on the road. The United Kingdom is one of 76 countries in the world which require driving on the left-hand side of the road. Although Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England are all governed differently, they mostly comply with the same general driving rules.
Road Infrastructure in the UK
There are over 394,000 kilometers of paved roadways, not too shabby for an island of its size! Once using the left-hand side of the road and having the steering wheel on the right has been mastered, driving in the UK can be great fun.
In Great Britain (i.e. England, Scotland, and Wales), there are ‘A-roads’, ‘B-roads’, and motorways, often simply called ‘M-roads’. A-roads are federal roads and are the main routes between cities. B-roads are smaller local routes and often have less traffic. Motorways or M-roads are the large freeways for fast driving in the UK. Roads in Northern Ireland follow a slightly different scheme. In addition to A-roads, B-roads, and motorways, some minor roads may be signed as ‘C-roads’ over there.
You will be glad to hear that there are barely any toll roads for driving in the UK. Some bridges charge a toll fee for crossing. Moreover, a 27-miles stretch of the M6 motorway is a toll-paying highway, known as M6 Toll. They currently charge car drivers between 3.80 and 5.50 GBP, depending on the time of day.
Driving in the UK’s larger cities – especially in 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 reduce its smog and pollution levels drastically. 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 “Congestion Charge” in central London. So, when driving in the UK’s capital, you may be charged £10 if you enter said zone on weekdays between 7am and 6pm. The congestion charge has indeed helped decrease smog levels somewhat.
In addition, a “Low Emission Zone” was also implemented for driving in the UK’s Greater London area in 2008. The LEZ requires everyone whose vehicle does not meet the strict emissions standards to pay when entering and driving around the marked area. Those vehicles which most often do not meet the low emissions standard are trucks, buses, coaches, and heavy diesel vehicles. In addition to the frequent traffic jams, this is another good reason to rather avoid London even if you otherwise enjoy driving in the UK.
The UK Highway Code
The minimum age for driving in the UK is 17, and you must adhere to this law regardless of what the minimum driving age in your home country is. Driving in the UK, whether with a local license or a foreign one, automatically makes you subject to British road rules. These include the following:
- Seatbelts must be worn by all persons in the car at all times.
- Children under the age of 12 are not permitted to sit in the front seats. Babies and toddlers in appropriate seats are the exception.
- The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers is 0.8‰.
- Hand-held mobile phone usage is illegal and will also result in hefty fines and penalty points to your license. Hands-free or headset mobiles are tolerated, but if the police suspect they caused your involvement in an accident, you may face a penalty as well.
- Be aware of illegal parking, especially in cities! Otherwise, your car might get towed at your own expense.
- Speeding is illegal, and penalty points and monetary fines will be incurred. Be wary of speeding traps as speed cameras and automatic license plate recognition are the norm on British roads. Speed limits for cars are 48 km/h in towns and cities, 96 km/h on single-lane carriageways, and 112 km/h on dual-lane carriageways as well as motorways.
For every traffic violation, you receive penalty points. If you collect more than 12 penalty points within three years, your license will be automatically revoked for at least six months. Depending on the individual offense and/or your total number of penalty points, you may also face a fine, an appearance in court, a longer disqualification from driving in the UK or even jail time (in very serious cases). Please remember that you have to apply for a new license and take another driving test if you are disqualified from driving for more than 56 days. New drivers should note that their license will be suspended if they get more than six penalty points within the first two years of driving.
Northern Ireland has some separate regulations, which you can find on the website of the Driver and Vehicle Agency of Northern Ireland. Still, if your Great Britain driving license has been revoked, you are also banned from driving in Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
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