The UK at a Glance
Driving in the UK
- The road network in the United Kingdom is well developed, with a maximum speed limit of 70 mph on motorways and dual carriageways.
- Nevertheless, public transportation is often preferable when it comes to big cities, especially London. Here, congestion charges and a low emission zone as well as heavy traffic make for a less than pleasing driving experience.
- Foreign driver’s licenses can be used for up to twelve months or up until the age of 70 if issued in a EU member state. Some permits issued elsewhere can be exchanged for a British license, or you will have to apply and test for a British license.
- Regulations regarding driver’s licenses and traffic rules in Northern Ireland are similar, but not necessarily the same as in Great Britain.
- Importing a car into the UK and registering it there requires additional paperwork, including an official approval that the car conforms with local environment and safety regulations.
Coming from another country and driving in the UK will call for some readjustment: the United Kingdom is one of over 50 countries in the world — not counting territories — 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, and C Roads
There are over 260,000 miles (over 420,000 km) 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, occasionally referred to as “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 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 3.80 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. The city has somewhat succeeded in doing so by levying a so-called congestion charge for this area.
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 in 2008 for driving in the Greater London area. 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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