Driving in the UK

Driving in the UK is a different than driving in Canada, and if I’m honest the whole experience scared the hell out of me (and still does at times).

I was used to long flat highways, dirt roads and had never even seen a roundabout before let alone drive in one. Driving on the left side of the road and sitting on the right side of the car felt wrong. 

When I wasn’t being tailgated for driving too slow I was sitting in a lay- by waiting for traffic to pass so I could rejoin the road. 

I remember crying the first few times I drove the lanes at night, especially in the fog. No point in using your sat nav, you’d be lucky to get a signal. You will also use your handbrake a lot, not much flat land over here.

A  few other things to note: the gas pedal is the accelerator; signals are indicators; tires are tyres; windshield is windscreen.  The trunk is the boot and hood is the bonnet.  You will fill your car with either diesel or petrol not gas.

I found that by taking a few driving lessons really helped me overcome my fear.  

Driving Licence

You can drive in the UK on your Canadian licence but after 12 months of residence you’ll need to exchange it for a UK licence. If you want to drive a manual car you will have to take a test to prove you can drive one. If not, you will be issued with an automatic only licence and will be restricted to only driving an automatic car. 

Buying a Car

My Saab 93

One of my favorite things about driving here is that finally after a life long obsession I can drive a convertible. For the most part a soft top would be a summer/second car in Canada. 

Since we don’t experience the same type of winters as Canada you can drive one all year round.  You needn’t worry about snow tyres, chains, winter survival kits or block heaters. A little bit of de-icer sprayed on your windscreen and you are good to go.

I have only ever bought used cars here which I found pretty cheap. Automatics tend to cost more though most people here do drive manuals.

Road Tax

Aside from the cost of petrol or diesel you have to pay road tax.  Newer cars tend to have lower road tax and insurance. You see more hybrids on the road now and you can find charging stations at most motorway services.  Interestingly, Britain will be banning the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

MOTs

The MOT test is an annual test of vehicle safety, road worthiness and exhaust emissions.  It’s required for most vehicles over 3 years old.

The cost of the MOT will vary and can be part of a deal which includes a service. Cheapest test fees I’ve seen were around £46.00.

If they say your vehicle needs work to pass the MOT you will usually receive a quotation for the work. The work can be done then or you can get it done somewhere else.  Just be aware that it MUST pass a test BEFORE the current test expiry date is reached or else you can’t drive it. You can usually get it tested a second time free of charge once the repairs are done and you use the same garage that did the initial MOT. 

Insurance

Insurance can be expensive especially if you don’t have a No Claims Discount.  My ex-husband always insured our vehicles in Canada, so I didn’t have one even though I had never had an accident. Needless to say I paid quite a bit to insure my first car. 

Third party insurance is the legal minimum. This means you’re covered if you have an accident causing damage or injury to any other person, vehicle, animal or property. It doesn’t cover any other costs like repairs to your vehicle. When looking for insurance it’s a good idea to use one of the many comparison websites to ensure you get the best deal.

Roundabouts

Roundabouts are a circular intersection or junction where traffic flows continuously in one direction around a central island.  I can’t remember ever seeing one in Canada, at least not in Manitoba.  

They even put roundabouts inside roundabouts and they are EVERYWHERE. You will be hard pressed to find a stop sign here, though in the absence of a roundabout you will find a give way sign (yield).

The most important thing to remember when you encounter a roundabout is you always yield to traffic coming from the right.  Remember to indicate!  Some of the bigger ones have traffic control lights.  Most of the lanes are marked with the road name/number and there is signage above the road.

Roads

There are different categories of Roads in the UK – motorways (M roads), dual and single carriageways (A roads) and B Roads and lanes.

Motorways (M Roads) 

The Main roads connecting the country are called Motorways. They are separate carriageways (central reservation or median) for vehicles traveling in opposite directions with a total of 4-6 lanes. They have limited access and the speed limit is 70 mph. Highways England is making a major investment in motorways and A roads with the introduction of  smart motorways which are designed to increase capacity and relieve congestion while maintaining safety.

Dual Carriageways

A dual carriageway is a highway for traffic traveling in opposite directions (2 lanes on each side) and separated by a central reservation or median. The speed limit on a Dual Carriageway is 70 mph.

B Roads

These are usually single carriageways for vehicles traveling in opposite directions with no central reservation. The speed limit is 60 mph.

Lanes

Lanes very narrow roads usually with hedgerows (8-10 feet in height) on either side of them, giving you a rat in a maze type experience. For the most part you can pass the vehicle coming in the opposite direction. If not you’ll have to find a passing point, so be prepared to back up.

If the driver in the opposite direction flashes their lights at you, it means they are going to reverse to allow you to pass them. Most cars over here can retract their side mirrors to make it easier for two vehicles to pass each other.

The speed limit can vary from 40 mph to 60 mph, but the roads can be quite twisty with a lot of blind corners, so it’s a good idea to take care and adjust your speed accordingly.

Additional Information

It’s a small country with a big population and a lot of vehicles on the road.  Give yourself plenty of time to allow for delays.  Some drivers can be aggressive and tailgate but for the most part they are pretty courteous.

When driving on the motorways and dual carriageways always try and keep to the left hand lane.  Only drive in the right lane to overtake, change lanes or to allow someone to enter from a slip road. When entering a motorway or a dual carriageway try to match your speed to the speed of the road you are entering.  This will ensure that you make a smooth transition to existing traffic flow.

There are speed cameras and areas of average speed cameras. Average speed cameras calculate how fast you were going upon entering a particular area and how fast you were going leaving.  If your average speed is above the posted speed, you’ll get a ticket in the mail in a few weeks. Speeding tickets could result in fines and points off your licence which will result in higher insurance premiums.

Helpful Links 

Highway Code and Road Safety
Traffic Info
Highways Agency
Vehicle Insurance Overview
Highway Code Roundabouts
Compare the Market

 

                                                                       Video courtesy of You Tube