Great Britain Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
Driving In Great Britain
Great Britain drives on the left and the steering wheel is on the right of the car. The gear stick will be on your left. (If you prefer an automatic car, you’ll need to specify that when renting as the majority of cars in Great Britain have manual transmission/ stick shift). You can drive on the photo licence of your own country for up to 12 months after which time you must take a UK driving test. The following countries’ drivers are exempt from the test and can exchange their home country licence for a UK one automatically- Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe.
Great Britain has an excellent system of multi lane roads (motorways) linking all main towns and Cities. The speed limit is 70 MPH (110KMH), though there are currently discussions on increasing this to 80MPH (130KMH) and you’ll find that most drivers travel at around this speed on motorways. Slower traffic should keep to the left on motorways as vehicles can only pass on the right. The main motorways in Great Britain are–
M1 – the main route from North to South up the centre of the country
M3- Main route from London to the South Coast
M4- London to South West and Wales
M5 –London via the South West to the Midlands
M6 – The North to South route via North West England and onto the Lake District and Scotland
M8 –Main route in Scotland linking Glasgow and Edinburgh
M11 –London to Cambridge and passing Stansted Airport
M25 –Circular route around London
M40 – Links London to the Midlands
M42 –runs South and East of Birmingham
M62 – Runs across England from Hull to Liverpool linking the urban areas of West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside
Many British motorways are converting to ‘smart’ motorways with overhead signs imposing temporary speed limits or warning of hazards in the road. Any speed limits displayed are compulsory and supercede any fixed speed limit signs displayed. As mentioned above, a section of the M6 is the only toll road in England.
Roads in UK are generally in good condition and in most cases the driving standards are high and rules of the road are upheld. Drivers used to Southern or Eastern Europe , Asia or Africa, will probably find that the speeds are slower than they’re used to and that driving style is quite polite. i.e tailgating and even use of the horn are frowned upon. Drivers may also flash their lights at you at junctions- this generally means they’re giving you the right of way, though proceed with caution if this happens.
The main concern is likely to be driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road if you’re from USA or Mainland Europe. The English drive on the left and the steering wheel is on the right of the car. The gear stick will be on your left. As with Brits driving abroad, you’ll find that you adapt pretty quickly. The main difference you’ll notice is that at roundabouts, you’ll give way to the right. Also at a red light, in some countries you can turn right at a red light if the way is clear. No similar rule exists in England when turning left. Also on a multi lane road, you can only overtake to the right of the vehicle you’re passing. i.e you can’t do what the Brits call ‘undertaking’.
Speed cameras are prevalent throughout Great Britain but are generally indicated by a white sign with a black camera symbol, and the cameras themselves are generally painted yellow and are situated by the side of the road. The area on the road surface beside the camera generally has white grid lines painted on it too. Average speed limits are a new development on UK roads, particularly through road works. The average speed is clearly quoted and you’ll find that drivers generally abide by the speed limit in these areas, unlike on other roads with cameras where you should expect drivers to break the limit then slam on their brakes just in front of the camera! Police officers may use hand held speed cameras on motorways but its the fixed cameras which catch out most British motorists.
As with most countries any major problems are likely to involve negotiating City Centres. If you can pick the car up at an airport which is generally away from the centre and you should find it easy to get onto a motorway or into the open country. For instance, if flying to London, Heathrow airport is situated just off the M4 and Gatwick just off the M23. Public transport links to both are very good so theres really no need to rent a car whilst staying in the City. Use public transport to get around and once you’re ready to explore the rest of Great Britain, pick up your rental car at the airport. If you do decide to have a car delivered to your hotel in a City Centre, ask if the car rental company will drive the car out of the centre for you- in most Cities the centre is relatively small and you should be able to reach a main road within a few minutes.
London has a congestion charging system in operation. The London Charge applies for vehicles entering or moving within the Zone from Monday – Friday between 07.00 – 18.00 – except on public holidays. Charges are £11.50 per day payable either in advance or before midnight on the day of entering the Zone. This charge increases to £14.00 if paid after midnight on the day of entering the Zone and the driver has until midnight on the next charging day to make this £14.00 payment. You will receive a fine via the rental company a couple of weeks after entering the zone without registering. Most companies will expect you to arrange to pay the congestion charge yourself so you should check this out when you collect the vehicle. More details on the London congestion charge and how to pay can be found on the site below-
The town of Durham in the North East of England also operates a congestion charge covering the Durham peninsula which includes Durham Cathedral and Castle, Durham Market Place, Durham Chorister School, Durham University colleges and a variety of shops and businesses. The charge is £2 between 10am and 4pm Monday to Friday. More information and how to pay can be found here-
Some driving distances and times between Cities and major tourist centres in England and into Scotland and Wales –
London –Birmingham – 190KM, 2 hours
London –Brighton -90KM ,1.5hrs
London –Manchester -340KM, 3.5hrs
London –York -335 KM, 3.5hrs
London –Edinburgh -650 KM, 7 hours
London –Bath – 185KM, 2 Hours
London-Newcastle -450KM, 4.5 hrs
London –Cardiff – 240KM, 2.5 Hours
London –Hull (For North Sea Ferry) – 345km,3.5hrs
London –Dover- 120km, 1.5hrs
London –Leeds, 320KM, 3.5 hrs
London-Liverpool, 340KM, 3.5hrs
Leeds –Edinburgh, 360KM, 4hrs
Hull-Newcastle – 230KM, 2hrs
Newcastle- Edinburgh -208KM, 2hours
Manchester- Lake District – 200KM , 2 hours
Lake District –Edinburgh – 160KM , 2hours
York –Edinburgh – 340KM, 4 hours
Edinburgh –Inverness -253KM, 3 hours
There are no restrictions on taking rental cars between the countries of Great Britain .Most of the large multinational car rental companies will allow cars to be driven to mainland Europe though you may have to pay additional insurance for this and they probably won’t allow one way rental. Given the cost of taking a car across the channel though, its better to travel as a pedestrian, then rent a car in mainland Europe. The channel tunnel is a popular option for taking a car from the UK to mainland Europe .The 50km tunnel runs from Cheriton ,near Folkestone, in Kent, 70 miles South of London to Coquelles near Calais, in France . Vehicles don’t drive through the tunnel, but are transported on board closed railway carriages. Passengers stay with their vehicle for the 35 minute journey. You can get out to visit the toilet but are encouraged to stay in the vehicle. Ticket purchase and more information for the channel tunnel can be found here.
For more detail on driving in England ,Scotland and Ireland/Northern Ireland , see the separate sections for those countries.
Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.
Great Britain Car Rental –
Sixt , Hertz, Europcar, Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise have outlets here. Also usually features on Car rental broker sites s and Web discount sites.
We currently have no local car rental partners in Great Britain. If you are a local car rental company who would like to feature on DriverAbroad.com please check details on our Partnering page or contact us on ADriverAbroad@Outlook.com
Great Britain Self Driving Rules-
Most of the big companies will allow you to take the vehicle outside the British Isles to mainland European countries and Ireland but its highly unlikely you’ll manage to arrange a one way rental. If you intend to take the car from UK you should advise the rental company when you make the reservation. There is no restriction on taking cars to Scotland or Wales – you won’t even need to show your passport!