Great Britain

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Driving in the UK

Driving in the UK is about more than using the left side of the road — though this may indeed be unusual for many expats. You’ll also find an extensive road network, strict speeding laws, and a congestion charge in central London. With our guide on driving in the UK, you’ll know what to expect.
Driving in the UK is mostly easy and safe, but it helps to be informed nonetheless.
  • Toll roads are few and far between in the UK The M6 Toll is the best know example, and allows drivers to bypass Birmingham traffic.
  • Traffic regulations can differ slightly between Northern Ireland and the rest of the Great Britain, or even within the latter: For example, Scotland has stricter blood alcohol limits than England and Wales.
  • Congestion charges and a low emission zone in London aim to reduce the amount traffic and the smog level in the capital.
  • Going over the local speed limits — such as the maximum 70 miles/h (112 km/h) on motorways — can incur heavy fines and penalty points.

Coming from another country, driving in the UK can require some readjustment to guarantee your safety on the road. The United Kingdom is one of over 50 countries (not counting oversea territories) in the world where you drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Road Infrastructure in the UK

There are over 420,000 kilometers of paved roadways, not too shabby for a country of its size! Once you’ve mastered using the left-hand side of the road and having the steering wheel on the right, driving in the UK can be great fun.

In Great Britain (i.e. England, Scotland, and Wales), there are “A-roads”, “B-roads”, and motorways. A-roads are federal roads and are the main routes between cities and towns. B-roads are smaller local routes and often have less traffic. Motorways are the large freeways for fast driving in the UK. Roads in Northern Ireland follow a slightly different scheme. In addition to A-roads, B-roads, and motorways, some minor roads may be signed as “C-roads” over there.

You’ll be glad to hear that you won’t encounter many toll roads while driving in the UK. Some bridges charge a toll fee for crossing, and a 27-mile stretch of the M6 motorway is a toll-paying highway, known as the M6 Toll. In November 2016, car drivers were charged 3.80 GBP at night, 4.80 GBP on the weekend, and 5.50 GBP during the day on weekdays.

Tackling the Traffic in Greater London

Driving in the UK’s larger cities — especially in the Greater London area — may test your patience. It is neither recommended nor necessary to drive in London as the city has a comprehensive public transportation system.

The city of London has been trying to bring down its smog and pollution levels. To reduce the amount of traffic, a so-called congestion charge is levied in central London. When driving in the UK’s capital, you will be charged 11.50 GBP if you enter said zone on weekdays between 07:00 and 18:00.

In addition, a low emission zone (LEZ) was also implemented in the Greater London area in 2008. The LEZ requires everyone whose vehicle does not meet the strict emissions standards to pay when entering and driving around the marked area; trucks, buses, coaches, and heavy diesel vehicles don’t often meet the standard.

These measures have helped decrease smog levels in the city. However, in addition to frequent traffic jams, they are another good reason to avoid driving in London. 

The UK Highway Code

The minimum age for driving in the UK is 17, and you must adhere to this law regardless of the minimum driving age in your home country. Driving in the UK, whether with a local license or a foreign one, automatically makes you subject to British road rules. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Seat belts must be worn by all persons in the car at all times.
  • Children under the age of 12 or under 1.35 m tall (whichever is reached first) are required to use appropriate seats and child restraints.
  • The legal blood alcohol limit for drivers is 0.8‰ in Wales and England and 0.5‰ in Scotland.
  • The use of hand-held mobile phones is illegal and will result in hefty fines and penalty points to your license.
  • Be aware of illegal parking, especially in cities; your car might get towed at your own expense.
  • Speeding is illegal, and will incur penalty points and monetary fines. Speed limits for cars are 30 miles/h (48 km/h) in towns and cities, 60 miles/h (96 km/h) on single-lane carriageways, and 70 miles/h (112 km/h) on dual-lane carriageways as well as motorways. Speed cameras, average speed cameras, and automatic license plate recognition are the norm on British roads.

For every traffic violation, you receive penalty points. If you collect twelve or more penalty points in three years, your license will be automatically revoked for at least six months. Depending on the individual offense and/or your total number of penalty points, you may also face a fine, an appearance in court, a longer driving ban, or even jail time in very serious cases. New drivers should note that their license will be suspended if they get more than five penalty points within the first two years of driving.

Northern Ireland has some very similar, but still separate regulations, which you can find on the website of the Northern Ireland government services. If your driver’s license has been revoked in Great Britain, you are also banned from driving in Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.


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