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19th May 2022

Tips for driving in the UK for the first time

Whether you’re visiting, living or studying in the UK, this blog provides practical tips for non-UK residents planning to drive in Britain for the first time.

Car Insurance from just £125 per year

Every year, thousands of visitors from overseas enjoy a road trip to and around the UK. 

Most will be experienced driving on the right-hand side of the road and it will be their first experience driving on the left. Making the change from right to left needn’t be as daunting a proposition as you might imagine.

Here we offer some words of wisdom for non-UK residents on adapting to driving in the UK.

non-uk resident

1. Remember your speed is in mph, not kph

Speed limits in Britain are in miles per hour, not kph, which non-UK residents can find a little confusing. Limits change depending on the kind of vehicle you are driving and the roads on which you are driving. 

The national speed limit for cars and motorcycles is 70mph (112kph) on a motorway or dual carriageway. If you’re towing a trailer or caravan, however, the speed limit is reduced to 60mph (96kph).

You should remember that speed limits are not a target; they are a restriction on the maximum speed you can drive. Depending on certain road and weather conditions, it may be wise to drive well below the specified limit. 

2. Mirror, mirror, signal, manoeuvre

When overtaking and performing other manoeuvres in a right-hand drive car, it’s easy to see oncoming traffic. In a left-hand drive car, your field of vision is much more limited when you are driving on the left of the carriageway. To overtake safely, keep your distance from the car in front and that will increase what you see coming towards you. When you are confident it is clear to proceed, indicate in good time and make your move decisively. 

When performing other manoeuvres check and double check your mirrors – the rear view and wing mirrors – to ensure you are proceeding safely.

3. Get used to driving on the left side of the road

The majority of the world drives left-hand drive cars, which means that it can be difficult to get used to controls when they’re on the opposite side of the vehicle. It’s a good idea to start off by driving at off-peak times so you can get used to this with fewer distractions.

Some common issues that people struggle to get used to include:

  • Going around the roundabout clockwise
  • Changing gears with the left hand
  • Looking up at the rearview mirror on the left
  • Where windscreen wipers and other controls are

4. Check your insurance

It is vital you are fully insured to drive your car in the UK. The minimum cover is third party, which means that if you are in an accident, your insurance will cover any damage you cause to another person, vehicle or property.

Comprehensive motor insurance will cover third party costs but also damage to your vehicle. 

Sterling Insurance offers a range of policies for non-UK residents. Whether you’re on a whistlestop tour or you’re here for an extended work posting, cover is a quick phone call away on 0344 381 9990.

5. Road tolls and congestion charges must be paid

Toll roads are roads or areas that you have to pay to use, a little like the autoroute or “peage” in France. The busiest tolls in the UK are the London Congestion Zone, the Dartford River Crossing on the M25 and the M6 Midlands Expressway. 

Not all tolls can be paid in cash. The congestion charge and the Dartford Crossing, for example, must be paid online.

6. Negotiating roundabouts

Roundabouts can be confusing for drivers in the UK who need to navigate one for the first time, especially if you’re used to driving on the right-hand side. No matter how confusing they look, the basic principles are the same for them all. 

Traffic flows in a clockwise direction and you must give way to traffic approaching from the right unless you are directed to do otherwise by signs, road markings or traffic lights. You will also need to pay close attention to road markings as they will direct you to the lane you need to be in to safely exit the roundabout. 

7. You must stop if you have an accident

If you have an accident while driving in Britain, you must stop if there is damage to a property, another vehicle, or if an animal or person is injured, regardless of how severe the collision. You must provide your name, address and insurance details if they are requested of you. See the government website for more guidance on what to do in the event of an accident.

8. Adjust your headlamps

You will need to adjust your headlamps to prevent dazzling oncoming motorists. This is a simple procedure which can be done mechanically, or by sticking headlamp deflectors onto the lenses of your lights. If you don’t adapt your headlamps for driving on the left you can be fined. 

non-uk resident

9. Swat up on the Highway Code

It’s a good idea for non-UK residents to get hold of a copy of The Highway Code before driving your car in Britain for the first time. The Highway Code provides advice, practical guidance and mandatory rules for all road users, including pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists, as well as motorcyclists and drivers. 

It provides information on road signs, road markings, vehicle markings, and road safety. There are also chapters on vehicle maintenance, licence requirements, documentation, penalties, and vehicle security.

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