Tips for driving on the left while in the UK – Guide to Driving in Britain

If you’re looking at the car hire UK options available to you before heading to the country on holiday, there will be several things you will want to consider.

Renting a car is perfect if you want to go exploring and can certainly give you a sense of independence, but as you compare cheap car hire you should be aware that the experience of driving in Britain is likely to be different to what you are used to back home.

The main distinction is likely to be the fact UK motorists drive on the left-hand side of the road, something which sets them apart from many other countries, including the US, France and Spain.

For this reason, you will also find that the driver’s seat on British cars is on the right – as opposed to the left – of the vehicle. This means shifting gears, applying the handbrake and changing radio stations will all have to be done with your left hand, although you may be used to doing this with your right.

Such differences are particularly apparent when it comes to navigating roundabouts. Unlike countries where motorists drive on the other side of the road, UK roundabouts mean that traffic approaching from the right has the right of way, so you will need to look in this direction before entering.

Some roundabouts use traffic signals to guide you as to when you can enter, although others may not. Traffic goes in a clockwise direction and when it comes to exiting, you will need to be in the farthest lane to your left.

Be sure to indicate in plenty of time so that other motorists are aware of what you are doing, leaving it late before signalling – or not doing so at all – can frustrate other road users.

However, driving on the left may not be the only change you encounter while on UK roads. You may also find some of the traffic terminology used is different. Instead of going to a gas station to fill up on fuel, British drivers go to a petrol station. They also refer to the rear storage part of a car as the boot, rather than the trunk.

While driving in the UK it is the law that you have to wear your seatbelt and using a mobile phone is also illegal, so make you do not fall foul of these regulations.

As a general rule, it is seen as impolite to drive too close behind another vehicle or to honk your horn excessively, so try to avoid doing this. It is also customary to give thanks to a driver who has allowed you the right of way – be it a quick flash of your lights or a simple wave.

You may also have to contend with different parking rules compared to the ones you have in your home country. It is illegal to park on any road that has been marked with double yellow lines. Doing so may result in a fine and see your car get clamped. Similarly, it is also illegal to park in areas that have been marked with a circular sign containing a cross or diagonal line inside it.

Driving on the left-hand side and getting used to other UK driving customs and practices can at first be daunting, but with a little time and patience you can soon master it and explore Britain to your heart’s content


  1. avatar says

    Don’t also forget to look a bit at what signs are in the UK…example, knowing the national speed limits & what that sign is; and know what a zebra (pronounced with a short e) crossing is all about…you must stop if a person puts their foot onto it (I slow down as I reach it to be honest just in case)…definitely look at the rules of the road before you drive as there are some differences!

  2. avatarPat says

    Word to the wise: If you’ve hired a car from the States, to avoid any pick up disasters, phone the pick-up location at least a day in advance to make sure your rental information is there and the car you specified will be ready when you arrive. Especially do this if you’ve hired an automatic transmission car. On a trip in 2009, we arrived to pick up our Hertz car, only to find out that they did not have the rental information or an auto transmission car for us, even though we had the confirmation number, etc. We lost half a day there, waiting for them to process our rental and drive all the way to London from Oxford for a car.

  3. avatarAlastair says

    Just a couple of small additions:

    – double yellow lines usually mean no parking at any time; a single yellow line usually means no parking during the working day (typically 8am to 6pm) and an intermittent single yellow line means no parking at certain times during the day, for example peak hours. The details of these restrictions will be shown on small yellow signs (about eight inches by six inches) attached to lamp posts or walls. In some cities, particularly London, you may also come across double red lines. These mean no stopping at all (unless of course the traffic physically prevents you from moving forward).

    There are several species of pedestrian crossing. Some (most commonly known as ‘Pelican’ crossings) have conventional traffic lights, except that when the amber light starts flashing, you can move on if there’s nobody on the crossing. Look out, though, for the crossings marked by so-called Belisha beacons (flashing orange globes), which are rarer than they used to be. The roadway at these is marked by broad black and white stripes on the road. If a pedestrian is on the crossing, or is waiting to cross, you should stop for them.

    Lastly, a word about single track roads. In some remoter areas, particularly in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, the most minor roads are single track and there are passing places to allow vehicles to pass each other. Etiquette here is to try to avoid forcing someone else to give way to you so, when you see someone coming the other way, you should pull into the next passing place if it’s on the left, or stop on the left, opposite the passing place, if it’s on the right. Always give way to traffic coming up hill towards you. Finally, but very importantly: if you find that someone has caught up with you and is following close behind you, give a clear signal then pull into the first available passing place on the left. It will be very much appreciated – remember that it may be the local doctor on the way to an emergency, or someone on some other urgent business.

  4. avatar says

    For any foreign visitors planning on driving on the south side of Glasgow. Please beware that there are a number of junctions that have no place in the highway code. Think K junctions instead of T junctions, cross roads with six entry and exit points. Its wild.