Driving in the UK from another country can be challenging at best. You may not be accustomed to driving on the left, with the steering wheel on the right.
This can be particularly challenging when making turns at traffic lights and using the many roundabouts and mini roundabouts in the UK. The roads in the UK vary significantly from narrow country lanes to high speed multi-lane motorways.
This article will explain the key elements to be aware of when driving in the UK and advice on ensuring your driving is as safe as possible for not only yourself, but other road users.
Driving on the left
Around 66% of the world’s people live in a country where they drive on the right with only 34% that drive on the left. In the UK we drive on the left and use cars that are right hand drive. This is likely the single most challenging aspect of driving in England from another country.
Not only do you need to drive on the left, but also get used to controlling and operating the car with opposite hands. The foot pedals however remain the same as with left hand drive cars.
The vast majority of cars driven in the UK are manual transmission. If you are planning to live in the UK and have an automatic licence, if you wish to drive a manual car, you will need to apply for a provisional driving licence and retake the driving test in a manual car to obtain a driving licence that entitles you to drive a car with manual transmission.
The benefits of driving a manual car in the UK generally far out-weigh those of an automatic in terms of car availability and costs. See article Automatic or manual, which is better in the Car advice section for details.
Exchanging driving licence for UK
Depending in which country you reside, if your current licence is manual, you may be able to simply exchange it for a UK licence or if you are outside of certain designated countries, you will be entitled to drive in the UK on your current licence for 12 months. Within this period, you will need to take the UK driving test to obtain a UK driving licence or once the 12 months has expired, cease to drive. For details of which countries apply to certain criteria and licence fees, visit the Directgov website.
The UK road system
There are 3 main types of road in the UK.
UK motorway sign
‘M’ road stands for motorways and are the main roads that link major towns and cities. The speed limit on all motorways is 70mph. Motorways range from 2 lanes upwards. Road signs on motorways are blue.
Motorway Junction Exit Countdown Markers
Motorway countdown 300 yard markers displayed at 100 yard intervals and display markers 3 down to 1 until the motorway exit junction.
UK dual carriageway sign
‘A’ roads are usually high speed roads that link towns. Single lane A roads have a speed limit of 60MPH. Dual carriageway A roads have 2 lanes and a speed limit of 70mph. Road signs on dual carriageways are green.
dual Carriageway JUNCTION EXIT COUNTDOWN MARKERS
As on motorways, dual carriageways use the 300 yard markers to countdown to your next exit slip road. ‘B’ roads can range significantly in terms of size and speed. These types of roads are often used to link villages and towns. B roads can range from 30mph speed limit; a example of this would be a road through a town or village; 60mph speed limit would be for example a country road with very little or zero housing developments. A complete description of all UK road signs with images can be found in PDF format on the Directgov website.
UK speed limits
Typical UK speed limit sign
Signs with a red circle tell you what not to do. This sign for instance is telling you not to exceed 30mph.
These signs are located in residential areas or areas of frequent accidents. 20mph limit signs are becoming frequently common in highly pedestrianised areas or areas of frequent accidents. The 30mph speed limit is the most frequently used. Occasionally 40 and 50 mph speed limits are enforced.
UK national speed limit sign
Outside of residential areas, the national speed limit applies. The national speed limit for motorways is 70mph, dual carriageways 70mph, single lane A roads 60mph and B roads 60mph unless otherwise stated by use of a speed limit sign with a red circle.
Not all countries make use of roundabouts. In the UK, there are plenty of them in all shapes and sizes. Listed below are the main types of roundabouts along with their signs found in the UK.
Mini roundabouts are common in the UK around residential areas. They can be difficult to see, especially from a distance as they often comprise of a low mound in the road representing the roundabout. Frequently they can be completely flat with white paint signifying their presence. Keeping a good look out for these signs is essential. Mini roundabouts are often used as a form of traffic calming to slow motorists down.
This sign signifies a roundabout is approaching. This sign can represent any form of roundabout except for a mini roundabout. It can be any size and any amount of lanes. The sign and type of roundabout can be found on all A roads (except dual carriageways) and all B roads.
Roundabouts on dual carriageways
Due to the nature of dual carriageways being multi-lane high speed routes, these roundabouts are often large and multi-lane. It’s important to slow down in plenty of time to not only keep your approach speed appropriate, but to give yourself time to read the sign for your exit road.
Roundabouts aren’t often used on motorways, only perhaps when the motorway has ended.
Driving around UK roundabouts
Roundabouts are often challenging to the inexperienced. Below is a basic guide to their use. For further information on the correct procedure to using roundabouts in the UK, see our roundabouts tutorial and mini roundabout tutorial.
Turning left 1st exit
On the approach to the roundabout, check your main and left mirror for any cyclists and indicate left. Give way to the right and stop for any approaching cars. If all clear, move off keeping to the outside left lane and take the first exit.
Keeping straight 2nd exit
No indication necessary on approach. Keep in the left outside lane around the entirety of the roundabout (unless instructed otherwise by signs or road markings). Give way to the right and when all clear move off. As you just pass the 1st exit, check your main and left mirror for any cyclists and signal left.
Turning right 3rd exit
Check your main and right mirror and indicate right on the approach to the roundabout. Keep in the right hand lane, give way to any cars approaching from the right and when all clear move off keeping in the right hand lane. Just as you pass the 2nd exit, check the main and left mirror, again for cyclists and signal left. Move over to the left lane and take the 3rd exit.
Tips for driving in the UK
Listed are tips and advice that should help you when driving in the UK.
Take driving lessons with an instructor
Taking lessons with a driving instructor will increase your driving skills, road awareness and will allow your confidence to grow whilst driving on the left. Often, foreign drivers gauging the correct distance on the left, for example parked cars and cyclists. Getting used to the clutch and gear stick are other common issues instructors deal with. A driving instructor’s car will be dual controlled so will be completely safe and you will likely need only 3 – 5 hours of tuition.
Car insurance and tax
If you are moving to the UK, you will of course need car insurance and tax. As you will be a new resident of the UK, you will have zero no claims on your car insurance. If possible, choose a small car with a small engine. This will keep your car insurance and road tax as low as possible. There are tips for reducing your car insurance that can be found in the Car advice section.
Keeping your car legal
Cars older than 3 years of age require an MOT test ( Ministry of Transportation test). This is to ensure the car is safe to be driven on public roads and is within the legal CO2 emissions test. If purchasing a car more than 3 years of age, it is often a good idea to ensure it comes with a lengthy MOT certificate. An MOT test is often relatively cheap although the cost of ensuring it passes can be expensive.
Car running costs
The cost of petrol in the UK is likely to be significantly more expensive than in your own country. The use of a small engine car will help to reduce costs. The price of diesel in the UK is higher than petrol, although diesel cars are more economical on a like-for-like basis. Although diesel cars are more economical than petrol cars, diesel cars are usually more expensive than a similar version in petrol. Unless you’re intending on covering high mileage, it may work out cheaper to run a petrol car. To work out which is likely to benefit you the most, see petrol or diesel, which is best for further information.
Speed cameras are commonplace in the UK and new ones seem to be appearing all the time. Often found in towns and cities, they are a light yellow colour so as to signify their presence. Cameras can also be mounted on certain junctions, often yellow box junctions. A driver found blocking a box junction may receive a standard fine. Bus lanes can have cameras located to prosecute drivers who use them during bus operational hours.
The Highway Code
The advice on this page is only intended to be a brief guide into what most foreign drivers struggle with when driving in the UK.The official Highway Code is free to view online and will provide information and many aspects of driving in the UK that you may be unsure about.