Keep on the Left !

Driving in Great Britain

 Some Thoughts after 5,363 Miles of Driving on the Left


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While on Holiday ['Vacation']
...Being a page of tourist Driving Tips that you will probably not find in the guide books.

Emergency Services

'Pay and Display' Car Parks

Direction Indicators

Direction Indicators and Roundabouts

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The Etiquette of Wing Mirrors  

  • Every car we have hired in Britain has wing mirrors ['outside rear view mirrors'] that fold in against the car body.  This can take as much as 12-inches off the effective width of the vehicle.

  • Many roads in Britain are  excruciatingly  narrow and bounded by dense, ancient hedgerows.

  • When faced with a tight passing situation, we quickly roll-down the farside ['driver's or right side'] and nearside ['passenger's or left side'] windows and pull-back the wing mirrors.  That along with squeezing over all the way to the left (Remember... we are driving on the left over here!) may allow safe passage and a 'Cheers and Thanks Wave' from the other driver.
The Etiquette of Car Horns
  • In the States, car horns are mostly used as an expression of impatience and/or a somewhat negative opinion of someone else's driving abilities.

  • In Britain, one rarely hears a car horn.  That is simply not done.

  • The only time one hears a car horn is as a warning of imminent danger!  In the absence of 'imminent danger', drivers tend to call your attention to a situation by quickly flashing their headlights.
Don't Be a Danger Driver
  • Obey the speed limits and the traffic lights. (Yes. One can still find the odd ['occasional'] traffic light.)

  • Note that many town councils can and do supercede otherwise nationwide speed limits with local, lower limits.

  • Do not even think about 'beating a train' to a level railway crossing!  The trains can and do exceed 100 miles per hour.

  • Speeding, disregarding traffic signals and not stopping at railway crossings are taken very seriously in Britain is drink driving ['drunk driving'].

Danger Drivers and Motorways

  • This will sound familiar to North American Drivers:  Common causes of 'road rage' (Yes. It exists in Britain.) on motorways ['expressways'] include...

  • Tailgaters - Either the car in back is driving too fast for conditions and is 'trapped' behind a sensible driver or the car in front is driving too slow for conditions.  Either way, the car in back becomes a Tailgater.

  • Middle Lane Hogs - Overtaking ['passing'] on the mostly three-lane motorways is only on the right.  If the inside lane is empty, a slow moving vehicle is in front of you in the middle lane and the outside lane is congested... good driving practice says that you flash your headlights.  If the driver does not pull into the inside lane and relinquish the middle lane, he is a Middle Lane Hog and you have become a Tailgater.

  • Swoopers - Driving along in the outside lane, at the last minute a driver 'swoops' across the two inside lanes to a slip road ['off ramp'].

  • Mobile Phone Users - The car wandering back and forth over the lane lines is probably driven by either a drink driver ['driving under the influence'] or using a mobile telephone.  Use of mobile phones while driving is subject to prosecution.  See our Driving - Recent News page.

You're on a Candid Camera

  • Speed trap cameras called 'GATSO' (another link) are also used at traffic light and level crossings and document the infraction.  If you spot one before the flash of light, it may be possible to hit the brakes and drop below the enforcement speed limit.  You 'may' have been caught when you see the visible flash of light illuminating the car and driver.  We say 'may have been caught' because GATSOs are notorious for malfunctioning and as many as 7 out of 8 are reportedly lacking film in the camera.  But, all that is changing... 

  • Newer, high-tech, digital speed cameras called 'Specs' send the information electronically and instantaneously to the authorities.  They operate 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.  The 'Specs' cameras are deployed in pairs and varying in distance from one another.  All cars are identified by their registration ['license'] plates.  The precise time of each snap ['photo'] along with the distance between the cameras allows a computer to calculate the average speed of the vehicle.  Since they use infra-red bulbs, you will not see a flash.  Having missed seeing the first camera, hitting the brakes when you spot the second will not help!  You have already been caught.  Some fines are 250 Pounds Sterling.  The potential is there for a constable to be waiting for you when you drop off your hired car.

  • The UK Speed Trap Guide and the Speedtrap Bible offer more on this subject.

  • One of the automobile clubs in Britain had the opinion that these cameras may be at odds with EU (European Union) laws and their use could be ruled 'illegal' by the autumn of 2000.  Our thought is... Don't count on it until it happens.

  • The Association of British Drivers web site has details of speed trap locations.

Motorway Pitstops

  • Britain's motorway ['expressway'] services offer convenient - and higher priced - meals, petrol ['gasoline'], newsagents ['newspapers, books, magazines, local maps, et. al.'] and, occasionally, a TIC ['Tourist Information Centre'].  The majority of these services are operated by Granada,  Welcome Break (website off-line?)and  Road Chef

  • Locals have expressed an increasing level of frustration with the prices charged for petrol and food at these servicesMr Peter Keep's website offers alternatives within five minutes and three miles of m-way junctions.  His website presently lists over 1500 petrol stations, garages, lodging, restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops along fourteen major motorways.


  • What with all the taxes on it, the price of petrol ['gasoline'] in Britain will leave you gobsmacked ['suprised into silence'].  Taxes account for approximately 75% of the price of petrol.  In the summer of '99, the price was three times the price in the U.S.  That difference was mitigated by the better fuel economy of the car we had hired plus the fact that we were seeing the places we wanted to see and on our own schedule.

  • 'Print and take with' a US$ per gallon - £ per litre Petrol Price Conversion Table.

  • The high cost of petrol is another reason to carefully plan your routings with AutoRoute Express™ so as to maximise your 'miles per litre ['liter']'.  For example, try to avoid driving through major town centres when a bypass or alternative route is available.

  • Also, minimise your driving on 'Bank Holiday Mondays' when it can seem that all of Britain is one giant tailback ['traffic jam'].

  • By the way, every petrol forecourt ['gasoline station'] that we have stopped at has taken the major credit cards.  Just be sure to check out - before your holiday - which of your credit cards will offer the best exchange rate!

British Drivers

  • Our personal experience has been that the average British driver has it over us in their courtesy, patience and overall driving skill...  they drive assertively, very rarely aggressively.

  • One wag has suggested that driving in Britain is like a ballet and, by comparison, upon returning home the driving in the Colonies seems more like a hockey match.

  • All that having been said, take a look at what Bill Lavender's Driving On Line has to offer.

Most of Us Are Non-Swindonians
Or... Counter-flow, Two-Way, Magic Roundabouts

  • The Plough / Moor End Magic Roundabout which joins the A41, A414 and A4146 in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.  Area Map, Local Map

  • The meeting of the A404, A4010 and M40 J4 ['Junction 4'] at the Handy Cross Magic Roundabout, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.  Area Map, Local Map

  • (With thanks to Mr M Chittenden and The Sunday Times newspaper for alerting us to...) a brand new one in London - at the junction of Westminster Bridge Road, York Road and Lambeth Palace Road.  The London 'two-way, Magic Roundabout' is on the same side of the River Thames as County Hall and the London Eye which is the side opposite to Westminster Palace and Big Ben.  Area Map, Aerial Photo

  • (With thanks to Mr R Lockhart for alerting us to...) the Junction of the A13, A130 and the B1464 Magic Roundabout at Sadlers Hall Farm nr ['near'] Basildon, Essex.  Area Map, Local Map

  • What with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions seemingly enamored of counterflow roundabouts, it would be wise to be familiar with the technique for negotiating this traffic scheme as new ones might surprisingly appear along your journey.
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Last modified: Thursday, 27 October 2005.

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