Driving

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 and dirt roads and had never even seen a roundabout before let alone drive in one. Not only are you driving on the left side of the road but you are sitting on the right side of the car and for the first while it just felt wrong.

When I wasn’t being tailgated for driving too slow I was sitting in a lay by waiting for the traffic to pass so I could rejoin the road.  I remember the first few times I drove the lanes at night, especially fun when the fog descends. I felt like a rat in a maze.  And don’t even think of trying to use 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; trunk is the boot; hood is the bonnet and you fill your car with either diesel or petrol not gas.

Driving Licence
You can drive on your Canadian licence but after 12 months of residence you’ll need to exchange it for a UK licence to continue driving here. 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 which means you will be restricted to only driving an automatic car.

My lovely 2001 SAAB 93 convertible

Buying a Car
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 and I could never justify having a car that you could only really drive for about half the year.  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. Aside from the cost of petrol or diesel you have to pay road tax and of course insurance.  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
This is probably the thing I really wish I had known about when I got my first car. I bought it with a MOT but didn’t realise that it expired and I had to get a new one every year – I stupidly thought it was good until you sold the vehicle. Wrong. Luckily, I went to a garage to get new tyres and they pointed it out for me before a cop did and hand me a fine. The MOT test is an annual test of vehicle safety, road worthiness, exhaust emissions and it’s required for most vehicles over 3 years old.

The test costs vary from garage to garage 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 which can be done there and then (depending on the size of the job) or you can take the vehicle away fix it yourself or elsewhere but it MUST pass a test BEFORE the current test expiry date is reached or else the you won’t be able to 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 who 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 -and the scariest thing I encountered when I started driving here  – to be honest, I still hate them. 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 and remember to indicate.  Some of the bigger ones will have traffic control lights, the lanes will be marked with the road name/number and there will be 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.

Driving on a Motorway

Additional Information
It’s a small country with a big population and a lot of vehicles on the road, so keep in mind there could be long delays or diversions – as a matter of fact you can pretty much bank on it. 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, drive only in the right lane to overtake or to change lanes 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 and 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 (usually a construction zone or an area of motorway) and how fast you were going leaving, if you 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