A trip to Britain is an unforgettable experience, the vast cities and beautiful countryside, culture, art and music make it one of the top ten holiday destinations in the world, ranking 6th overall. Not bad for a small island. Chances are, if you’re heading to Britain on holiday or for business, you’ll either be driving or will certainly find yourself being driven.
The British have a reputation as a law-abiding group of nations and this extends to our roads. The roads in Britain are highly regulated and amongst the safest in the world: Britain has an admirably low fatality rate on the roads, with only 28.1 deaths per million in 2016, when compared to 39 per million in Germany or 120 per million for the USA. The number of injuries from traffic accidents are accordingly low in comparison.
This should be reassuring to anyone who wants to spend any time on the island of Great Britain. However, as with any nation, there are laws that might be unfamiliar to foreign visitors and customs that might seem strange. This is a short guide to helping you on your way to safe, interesting and frustration free exploration of Britain’s roads.
What you need to drive in Britain
Bringing your Own Vehicle
If you choose to drive your own form of motor transport in Britain, you’ll need a few things required by law:
- Vehicle documentation
- A form of identification – a passport or internationally recognised ID card
- Driver’s license – valid, in date and one that is permissible in Britain, these include EEA issued licences. Check with the government’s list for your license’s validity
- Motor insurance certificates
- European Accident Statement – the fastest way of getting claims processed
- Breakdown and accident cover – check you have the right cover before you go
Also recommended are Green Insurance Cards, provided by insurers to help in case of an accident.
Make sure you have the documents or copies of them in your car at all times, making insurance claims can be very difficult without them.
Like all EU countries, Britain and the UK require third party insurance as a minimum. This is the law and is inescapable. The road networks in Britain are heavily monitored and if you use a motorway without insurance, you can expect that your license plate will be read and to receive a fine in the post of up to £300 and 6 points on your license.
In Britain, you insure the car you are going to drive, not yourself.
Americans especially can find it frustrating that they cannot legally drive any car, only the one they are registered with. Registering a car for dual licensing is easy and not particularly expensive, so a check with your insurer as to how it works is worth doing before heading to Britain.
International travel insurance can be added to your car liability insurance.
In the case of an accident, you must give your name, address and vehicle registration number to the police and/or insurance agent if they ask for them.
You must have the international travel insurance certificate with you when travelling on the road.
Seatbelts are compulsory by law, if there is one fitted, you have to wear it.
Britain has a large number of car hire companies that offer a huge range of vehicles for your travels. Hiring a car in Britain can be relatively expensive but the standard of vehicle you can obtain is very high. The minimum standards for safety are internationally recognised and provide the customer with a lot of legal backing should things go wrong.
When you hire a car in Britain, you can choose to be able to take the car anywhere within the EU, though be sure to ask the hire company before you take the car out of the country. A car hired in Britain will be able to go to Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland without any change to your insurance.
Requirements for Hire Cars
Every hire car should have the following:
- An in-date fire extinguisher
- A first aid kit
- A thermal blanket
- Spare bulbs for front and back lights
- Reflective clothing
- A warning triangle
When you’re looking at the hire car, check all the lights are working, the tyres are pumped up and in a good condition, look for rust or damage, and that everything works as it should.
- Take Photos
A few snaps of the car’s exterior and interior, emailed to the hire company before you sign the deal, will help your case if they decide to charge you for some damage you dispute.
- Look for Deals
As the market for car hire is large, there is a lot of choice on offer. Shop around for the best deal, there are always deals available. If you are in Britain for business, your company might have a deal with a certain provider, so that is worth checking, as is whether the holiday company you have booked with has one.
Depending on who you hired the car from it might be cheaper to refuel the car before bringing it back or to use all the fuel in the tank. Check the policy closely.
- Use your Phone or Satnav
Hiring a satnav can be expensive, so it can be worth bringing your own or using your phone’s app. The roads in Britain are well covered and Google Street View is available for just about everywhere
- Hidden Charges
There can be a lot of hidden charges when it comes to hiring a car, so make sure you go through the policy closely with the hiring company to ensure you know what you can and can’t do, what you’re liable for and what condition to bring the car back in.
Driving in Britain
Speed is measured in miles per hour in Britain and most cars built since the 1990’s will have both kilometres and miles on the speedometer.
Speed limits aren’t often displayed as there are generic rules for how fast you can travel in certain areas, depending on the weight of your car. The following are for vehicles under 3.05 tonnes. Check here for heavier vehicle rules
- Single Carriageways – 60mph
- Built-up Areas – 30mph
- Motorways and Dual Carriageways – 70mph
- Pedestrian or School Areas – 20mph
- Sharp Bends – 50mph
In Britain, assume there is a speed camera watching you. If you are doing over 10% of the speed limit, you are liable for up to £2500 in fines and disqualification from driving. You can be arrested for driving under the speed limit.
Blue with white lettering. Motorways are labelled with a capital M (M1, M6 etc.)
A and B Roads
Green with white lettering. Slower and generally smaller roads.
Non-Primary A or B Roads
White with black lettering. Usually alternatives to primary routes.
Unfamiliar Road Signs
Some signs are uncommon to Europe or the rest of the world, familiarise yourself with them before driving in Britain.
London levies a toll on drivers in the city centre on weekdays between 7am and 6pm. Currently the charge is £11.50 a day and requires registering online.
Toll Roads and Bridges
There are few in Britain but keep £5.00 in change in the car in case you encounter one.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales the blood alcohol limit is 80mg/100ml, while in Scotland it is 50mg/100ml. The advice is not to have even one drink before driving. Drink drivers can be disqualified from driving and fined up to £5157.
It is a legal requirement to wear a seatbelt in a moving vehicle unless it is reversing. Fines of up to £440 can be imposed if you or your passengers are caught without
Parking space can be limited in Britain and fines start at £60, so get to know the signs and marks. Brief stopping on a single yellow line and no parking on double yellow.
We Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road!
In Britain we drive on the left-hand side of the road, not the right. Use the left-hand side of the motorway unless you are overtaking and watch out when using a junction or after refuelling, this is when most people forget.
Vehicles coming uphill are given priority
The British are notoriously horn averse and consider prolonged blasts extremely hostile. Only use when absolutely needed. Do not use in towns or cities at night.
Brits are forgiving if you wave, they hate you if you don’t. Let people out when you can and wave or blink your lights as a thank you. Don’t jump queues unless you want to be blocked at the next junction.
Even though a car accident is the last thing you want to think about you should be prepared if one occurs. You should stop if you are involved in an accident and report it to the emergency services. If you or anybody in the vehicle with you are injured you need to visit a local A&E or hospital. Where serious injuries might occur an ambulance should certainly be called.
You will also need to contact the car hire service or your insurance company to explain the situation. If the accident was caused by another driver the insurer may advise claiming compensation. In most scenarios you will have two options. One is to certainly get independent advice on car accidents and your right to compensation as they may be different if you’re not a UK citizen, and the other is to claim compensation through the insurance company.