Driving on the Left

Whether you are visiting the UK for business, pleasure or are relocating, a challenge facing a UK visitor may be driving on the left. UK driving instructors frequently provide driving lessons to experienced drivers not familiar with UK roads or driving on the left.

Frequent concerns from visitors wishing to take to UK roads are using manual transmission, adequate space and clearance on the left, road positioning plus the vast amount of roundabouts used in the UK. This section offers tips for drivers staying in the UK with no previous experience of driving on the left.

Arriving in the UK

If you have no or little experience of driving on the left, if arranging a hire car at the airport an automatic transmission may be easier to deal with. This way, you can concentrate more on driving and will not have to deal with changing gear using the left hand and all the other controls that are the opposite side of the car.

Automatic cars aren’t as common in the UK as other countries such as the USA, so it’s advisable to book in advance if you wish to secure a hire car with automatic transmission.

If picking your hire car up from the airport, plan your destination route as best you can to avoid complications. Better still is to take a train to your destination and hire a car later. Navigating airports often exits onto high speed motorways. Your first experience driving on the left isn’t ideally suited to motorways.

UK motorways

Though you may of had experience on freeways or motorways, the UK motorways may have slightly different rules. The guide to motorway driving should provide an overview of the basic rules required. If leaving the airport takes you immediately onto a motorway, try to remain in the left lane until you become accustomed to driving on the left and remain within the motorway speed limit of 70mph. If you miss an exit, continue to the next available exit, take the motorway again to find the correct exit.

Right hand drive car

Before setting off, get to grips with all the controls and functions of the car so as there will be fewer chances of any complications whilst driving. Don’t forget the windscreen wipers too, it is the UK after all. If it is a manual transmission, practice changing up and down gears as you may be unfamiliar using your left hand to do this.

Road positioning

If you fear that you may struggle with road positioning due to driving on the left, it may be of benefit to set up one or two reference points. A typical UK road can be seen in the image to the left. Initially establish a good driving position and where the curb on the left or road lines come into the car windscreen or dashboard, use that as a reference point for establishing a safe driving distance from the left side of the road. A reference point can also be used for the far right of the road although the left reference point should be sufficient.

The left reference point may vary slightly depending on the width of the road but using these reference points should only be temporary as you are an experienced driver, so you will soon gain an understanding of the correct road position.

Driving on the left road positioning reference points
Driving on the left road positioning reference points

speed limits

Motorways and dual carriageways have a national speed limit of 70 mph. Busy single carriageway roads are called A roads and have a national speed limit of 60 mph. Country roads often B roads also have a speed limit of 60 mph. City, town and village roads can range from 20, 30, 40 or 50 mph depending where they are located. Roads located close to schools may have a 20 mph speed limit although the majority of roads have a speed limit of 30 mph.

UK speed cameras

Speed cameras are frequently being erected in the UK. By law they must be clearly visible to a driver, often bright yellow and not obscured by signs or buildings. Speed cameras are very common in cities, towns and occasionally villages. Speed cameras are found on all road types.

UK roundabouts

Statistically roundabouts are a safer form of junction than a typical intersection such as a crossroads. Although a frequent sight in the UK, many other countries make much less use of them. Taking a roundabout in a clockwise direction if used to the opposite is a confusing experience to say the least. Remember to use your mirrors frequently while approaching and exiting and to indicate in good time. On a multi-lane roundabout, if you take the incorrect lane don’t panic. If necessary, take the incorrect exit as you can always work your way back to the roundabout if needed. A guide for the correct use of UK roundabouts and mini roundabouts will explain the correct procedure.

Making left turns

If used to driving on the right, making a left turn involves crossing a lane and giving way to oncoming traffic. In the UK making a left turn simply involves turning round a corner. As you may not be used to this however, it can take practice getting accustomed to correctly judging the width of the car when turning. Before making a left turn, position your car a little more to the right, but also ensuring you keep to the left of the road’s centre line. This should ensure you do not hit the curb or mount the pavement whilst making the turn.

In busy locations, cyclists are commonplace. Before making a left turn, check left mirrors and/or left blind spot before making the turn. Even if you are clearly signalling, cyclists on your left may not slow or stop to allow you to turn. See the cyclists and cycle lane guide for further information.

Tips for driving on the left

  • On your arrival to the UK, ideally take a bus or train to your destination
  • The use of an automatic transmission car may provide an easier drive compared to manual/stick-shift
  • Practice driving on the left on quiet residential streets. Large cities such as London can require an aggressive and fast paced form of driving
  • If planning on staying in the UK permanently or for long periods, seek a driving lesson or 2 from a driving instructor. This will increase your awareness, knowledge and confidence for driving on the left
  • If new to driving on the left, before setting out, ensure you are confident with your cars controls and functions and plan your route thoroughly
  • UK roundabouts operate in a clockwise direction and can be confusing if not previously attempted. Practice on quiet roundabouts and mini roundabouts before attempting large busy ones

Guides related to driving on the left

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