A Guide to Driving Around the UK

The UK is relatively small in size and this means no corner is impossible to reach. We have trains, planes, buses and plenty of motorways, below is a guide on the best transport links in the UK and how you can use them.

Hiring a Car

Driving in the UK is very safe, in 2018 it was announced that the UK boasts the safest roads in the European Union.

As you probably already know, in the UK we drive on the left. Most of the world drives on the right so you might question why we do it opposite. The reason dates back to the Middle Ages, most people were right-handed and when people were travelling around on horseback, they would keep there right-handed on their sword, if they came across a stranger, it meant they could use their right hand to defend themselves, thus travelling on the left.

We also predominantly drive manual cars, so when you are hiring a car, please don’t assume it will be automatic, you will need to specifically request this.

Lastly, we use miles, not kilometres. So when you are depending on signposts to tell you how far away you are, remember that is in miles. Same goes for the speed limits, it is all miles per hour (mph).


The majority of British cities are well connected with motorways, most famous is the M25 which circles around London, meaning we don’t have to drive through the capital when travelling.

It is important to note that our national speed limit on a motorway or dual carriageway is 70mph which is 112.6 kmph. We also have ‘smart motorways’ on various sections of major routes, this is where traffic management methods are used to increase capacity and reduce congestion in busy areas. You know you are on a smart motorway as there are overhead gantries, these are switched off during quiet periods, when there is a traffic build-up they will be switched on and flash up with a new speed limit. These speed limits are put into place for a reason and if you don’t adhere to them you are at risk of receiving a speeding fine as there are speed cameras fitted to many of these gantries.

When driving on a motorway, you are required to drive in the ‘slow’ lane unless you are overtaking, you should always drive in the left-hand lane when the road ahead is clear..It is now illegal to ‘lane hog’ in the UK, this is where you sit in the middle or fast lane without overtaking anyone, the police can pull you over for this.

It is also illegal to undertake, this is when you over(under)take someone in the fast or middle lane. This can be tempting to do when someone is sitting in the fast lane and not overtaking anyone, but it is extremely dangerous as you could end up in their blind spot when undertaking.

Driving in Towns and Cities

In urban areas you will usually see speed limits between 20mph and 40mph. If you get confused and dont see what the speed limit is, there is a general rule that if there is housing and street lights it will be 30mph, often in areas with a school or a lot of pedestrian activity it will be 20mph.

Single Carriageway Roads

There are many single carriage roads in Britain, these are mainly between towns and villages rather than between major cities. Generally, the speed limit on these roads will be 60mph and if the road lines in the middle are dashed then you can overtake, if they are solid then it is too dangerous to overtake in these spots.

Useful information:

M roads are motorways, these are often the busiest and biggest roads. A motorway usually has 3 lines but can often have 4 or sometimes 2. You know when you are on a motorway as the signs are blue.

A roads are major roads that don’t have motorway status. There are a few A roads that have sections of motorway (such as the A1) so watch out for a change in colour of signs. An A road has green signs, these will change to blue as you enter a section of motorway. An A road is usually dual carriageway but can be single or triple carriageway too.

B roads are the more minor roads, usually countryside or back roads. The speed limit on a B road will usually be 60mph as they are single carriageway, but in riskier spots or through villages they can be less.

Speeding Fines

In the UK the majority of speeding motorists are caught from designated speed cameras. These speed cameras are often fixed, they are brightly coloured and you will be warned of its existence a few hundred yards before reaching it. Usually, warning signs for fixed cameras are yellow, sometimes blue, don’t ignore these.

Police will also often use Adhoc speeding vans, these are police vans with a speed camera inside the back window. There are no major warnings in place and if there is one ahead, most drivers will flash you to warn you. However, they can pop up completely unexpected so you always need your wits about you.

If you receive a speeding fine you should receive a letter from the police within 2 weeks, the minimum speeding fine is £100 and if you have a UK driving license you will receive at least 3 points (if you get more than 12 points on your license you will lose it!), points are removed after 3 years.

Drink Driving

Drink driving is absolutely not tolerated in the UK and driving when over the limit is illegal. If you are suspected of being drunk when in charge of a car, police have the power to stop you and do a breathalyser test. If you refuse a breathalyser test you will be taken to the police station and have to do one there. There is no test of walking along a straight line or standing on one leg, your alcohol limit is tested on the spot by giving a breath specimen.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath, or 107 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine. The limit in Scotland is less, 50 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath, and 67 milligrammes per 100 millilitres of urine.

If you are caught drink driving you can expect to be banned from driving in the UK for at least 12 months and face an unlimited fine, you can also be sent to prison for 6 months. Punishment depends on the seriousness of the offence. It is important to note that if you are disqualified from driving in the UK you will also be banned from driving in Ireland and vice versa.

Fueling Up

Most cars in the UK are petrol run (unleaded), but some are diesel. If you are hiring a car, please make sure you ask what type of fuel it needs when you pick it up, you do not want to put the wrong fuel in, it’s a costly mistake. A lot of British cars will tell you what type of fuel it needs in the petrol cap. In the UK we refer to fuel mostly as ‘petrol’ so if you are wanting to know where the nearest fuel station is, ask for petrol station instead.

When at the petrol station (large petrol stations with shops and restaurants etc are referred to as service stations and you will find these on most major motorways), you will need to fill up your own tank, you pay for fuel after you have filled up. If you want to pay by card then you will need to put your card in the machine before filling up.

Fuel is expensive here and you are charged per litre, at the moment (March 2020) fuel prices are around £1.25 for unleaded, it is usually slightly higher for diesel cars. The cheapest place to fill up will be at a supermarket, the most expensive place to fill up is at a service station on a motorway. Motorway service station prices are often extortionate so please try and fill up in a town before taking long journeys!


We have many parking restrictions in the UK but these will always be signposted. There are certain towns and cities that are a nightmare for parking, most famously is Cambridge. These large tourist cities will often offer a park and ride system where you park in a huge car park out of town and get a bus into the city centre. I always use the park and ride in Cambridge, there are four that surround the city, you don’t have to pay for parking, you just pay for your bus ticket. The bus takes 10-15 minutes to get into the city.

If you want to park your car with complete peace of mind, the best place to do this is in a designated car park, these car parks are often signposted. I recommend researching their locations before travelling, this way you can put the postcode of the car park into your sat nav and drive directly to it without aimlessly circling a city centre to no avail.

However, it is not always possible to get a spot in a car park or they may not be one located in a place that’s convenient for you. No worries, there are lots of other options.

Places to avoid:

  • Anywhere with double yellow lines… Do not park here under any circumstance. If you have a blue badge (disability badge) you are able to park on a double yellow line for up to 3 hours as long as your car is not an obstruction.
  • Single yellow lines mean no waiting, parking, loading or unloading at the times shown on the accompanying sign, these restrictions are often lifted at certain times of the day (usually weekends and/or evenings).
  • Loading bays. A loading bay will be marked by a dotted white line surrounding it, along with the words ‘Loading Only’ painted on the road, these are usually reserved for lorries and vans making a delivery. These should be avoided if you aren’t making a large delivery or big pick up.
  • Yellow zig-zags, these are usually located outside schools, hospitals, fire, police or ambulance stations
  • White zig zag lines, these are painted on the approach to a pedestrian crossing. You cannot park here as it could cause an obstruction to pedestrians checking the road.
  • Over a dropped curb. People will often have dropped curbs in front of their driveways, this is a signal of where NOT to park, this is to keep entry and exits clear into peoples properties. The general consensus is if you have even half a wheel over a dropped curb, you can be fined.
  • On pavements. In London, it is not allowed to park on a pavement, partially or fully. In areas outside of London, it is sometimes allowed (unless signage states otherwise) but frowned upon. Just be considerate to pedestrians, they may have prams and/or wheelchairs.

Street Parking

This is where things get tricky. There are many different restrictions when parking on the road and it often depends on how close you are to the town centre, the further out you go, the fewer restrictions there are! Please note all of the below situations will be signposted, so look out for these signs as you drive along to make sure you aren’t wasting your time and putting yourself at risk by parking there.

Permit holders only – Do not park in these areas if you do not have an issued parking permit to be there. If you are visiting friends and family and wanting to park on their street, it is likely they will have a visitor pass,. If they do, this must be displayed on your dashboard. If they don’t then you cannot park there. There may be certain times of the day or days of the week you are allowed to park here, please check the signage.

Pay and display – There are many pay and display areas on-street parking, you are usually required to pay for your parking before going about your daily activities. Most of these accept coins but if you find yourself short, you can mostly pay by phone now. However, just because you are paying to park there it doesn’t mean you can be out all day. There are some areas where there might be a maximum parking time, 2 hours is fairly common. Once the 2 hours is up you cannot simply purchase a new ticket, you need to leave the area and park somewhere else, this is signposted as ‘no returns after 2 hours’.

Parking Penalties

The most common parking penalty is issued by the local council, you cannot avoid paying this, if you refuse to pay you can be taken to court. A penalty is usually around £70, however, if you pay within a specific time limit (usually 14 days), this penalty is halved. It is obvious if you have a penalty as you will have a bright yellow plastic envelope stuck to your screen that contains the penalty charge notice (PCN).

The second type of penalty charge is from private car park companies, these are called parking charge notices, also known as PCN. What most people don’t realise is that as soon as they enter a private car park, they are agreeing to the terms and conditions of the parking rules. The parking charge notices are also given in the form of a bright yellow plastic envelope, clamping on private land was made illegal in 2012. Whilst these parking charge notices are entirely legal, no one can demand the money from you on the spot, and if they do, call the police.


Wow. I didn’t realise there were quite so many driving rules in the UK, I guess that’s why our roads are so safe!

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