Rules of the Road - UK

Time Zone

The UK’s standard time zone is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This is in use from the last Sunday of October to the last Sunday of March. Outside of these dates, the UK switches from GMT to British Summer Time (BST), which is UTC+1.

Currency

Pound Sterling (£), divided into 100 pence.

Climate

The UK has a temperate climate, with extremes relatively rare. The UK is famous for its rain! Average annual rainfall in the north is more than 1,600 mm, but central and southern England is less than 800 mm. The coldest months are December, January and February, when the temperature is usually between -2 and 6°c. Drivers should be aware of the risks of snow and ice. Lower temperatures, however, are common in mountainous areas during the winter months, where conditions are sometimes very harsh with gales, heavy rainfall and blizzards.

Language Spoken

The main language is English. Welsh (Cymraeg) is a Celtic language with official status in Wales. Most road signs and markings in Wales are bilingual, with the Welsh text appearing first in predominantly Welsh-speaking areas.

Road Safety Statistics

In the year ending September 2014 there were 1,730 reported road fatalities in Great Britain (excluding Northern Ireland). This equates to a rate of 2.7 per 100,000 population – one of the lowest in the world.  For comparison, in 2012 the rate was 4.9 per 100,000 in France, 5.6 in Australia and 11.6 in the USA.

In urban areas, public transport in the UK, including trains, trams, buses, taxis and the London Underground is very good, and should always be considered as a viable option to driving.

What Side of the Road to Drive On

In the UK you should drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Types of Road

The UK has a good network estimated to be 245,000 of miles of roads, including motorways, A-roads (primary and non-primary), B-roads and other roads.

There are a number of narrow, winding roads, where caution must be applied when driving.

Most roads are well maintained and of a high standard.

A small number of toll roads exist in the UK, typically restricted to bridges and tunnels.

There is a congestion charge for most motor vehicles in central London between 07:00 and 18:00 Mondays to Fridays. Enforcement is by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR). A smaller congestion charge scheme is in place in Durham.

Types of Fuel

Unleaded petrol, diesel, LPG and lead replacement petrol (LRP) are readily available. Hybrid and Electric vehicles are also increasingly common.

Where to Find Fuel

Fuel stations are widely available throughout the UK including at many supermarkets, standalone fuel stations and numerous motorway services. Charging facilities for electric vehicles are mainly restricted to urban areas.

Note that fuel stations in smaller towns may have shorter opening hours than those in more urban areas.

Buying Fuel

Fuel is self-serve and all stations accept cash and major credit / debit cards.

License Requirements

Visitors to the UK may drive on a valid national driving license from their own country or an International Driving Permit for up to 12 months. Visitors from the EEA/EU may drive in the UK on their full, valid driving license until they’re 70, or for 3 years after becoming resident in the UK, whichever is longer. The minimum driving age is 17.

Documentation

You need to carry your driving license / International Driving Permit and proof of insurance as well as the vehicle registration documents or vehicle rental agreement.

Wildlife – What to Expect

In rural areas it is common to encounter farm traffic and animals on the road. Drive slowly in such areas and stop if necessary. Wait for animals to pass / cross before proceeding.

Speed Limits

Unless otherwise posted the maximum speed limits in the UK for car drivers are:

  • 70 miles (112 kilometres) per hour – Motorways
  • 70  miles (112 kilometres) per hour – Dual carriageways
  • 60 miles (96 kilometres) per hour – Single carriageways
  • 30 miles (48 kilometres) per hour – Built-up areas
  • 20 miles(32 kilometres) per hour – in certain home zones and close to schools

Penalties

The UK has fixed and mobile speed cameras, supported by average speed zones on some Motorways to detect speeding motorists. New digital cameras are increasing enforcement levels.

Drivers caught speeding will typically be sent a fixed charge fine through the post.

The UK has a penalty point system, which drivers with foreign driving licenses are also subject to. If someone is caught speeding in the details will be held on a database for the purpose of recording penalty points. If this driver later applies for a British driving license the penalty points will be activated on the license once it is issued. In some regions drivers can opt to pay to undertake a driver training course to avoid receiving the points.

Alcohol and Drugs – Maximum Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)

The legal alcohol limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml (0.08) of blood in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 50mg (0.05) in Scotland.

The police can stop you at any time and ask you to take a breath test (‘breathalyze’ you) if they think you’ve been drinking, committed a traffic offence or been involved in a road traffic collision.

If you refuse to take a breath test, or fail to supply a sample of breath and don’t have a ‘reasonable excuse’, you can be arrested.

Drinking and driving is regarded as a very serious offence in the UK and severe penalties are awarded including fines, disqualification and imprisonment.

It is also illegal to drive with a specific controlled drug in the body above an accepted limit.

Avoiding Impairment

You must never drive if you have consumed alcohol or taken illegal drugs. Check the label of prescription drugs for fatigue related side-effects.

Road Signs to Expect

Distance signposts are shown in miles and are written in English (and Welsh in Wales). Warning signs are triangle shaped and have a white background with a red border.

Other Information / Requirements

Dipped headlights must be used in poor daytime visibility.

Motorcycles

Riders and passengers must wear helmets on all journeys (This does not apply to a follower of the Sikh religion while wearing a turban). Helmets MUST comply with the Regulations and they MUST be fastened securely. Dipped headlights are compulsory during the day.

Mobile Phones

Handheld mobile phones must not be used while driving, and although not illegal, even hands-free kits are frowned upon.

Seat Belts

All vehicle occupants must wear seat belts.

Children

Children must be seated in an appropriate child restraint until they are either 135 cm in height or 12 years old (which ever they reach first). After this they must use an adult seat belt.

Overtaking

Overtaking is only permitted on the right.

Horns

Except when another road user poses a danger, horns must not be used in urban areas between 23:30 and 07:00 hours.

Radar Detectors

The use of radar detectors is not currently illegal in the UK.

Level Crossings

Some level crossings have manual gates that need to be opened and closed by motorists.

Recommended Equipment

You are advised to carry a breakdown warning triangle, a first aid kit, fire extinguisher and spare bulbs with you. If you wear glasses or contact lenses carry spares in your vehicle.

Requirements

Most vehicle rental companies will require drivers to be in possession of a full unendorsed driver’s license (some minor endorsements may be acceptable but check before booking) and to have held a license for at least 12 months (24 months if under 25). An International Driving License is required if your license is not in Roman script. Drivers under 25 or over 70 may be subject to additional charges.

Payment

When renting a vehicle you will be required to provide a credit card for payment.

In addition to the charges for renting the vehicle you will probably be required to submit a security deposit in the form of a ‘hold’ on an amount of money on your credit card. The amount of the deposit depends on the type of vehicle and usually includes a deposit for a full tank of fuel and other facilities.

Types of Rental Vehicle Available

The majority of vehicles available for rental will have manual transmission although automatics are usually available on request. If you do not have experience of driving a manual transmission vehicle it is advisable to request an automatic, even if it costs a little more.

General

The UK is densely populated (especially so in the South East of England) and the roads can be congested, particularly in urban areas designed before motor vehicles were thought of. This means that carefully sharing the road space with others is important, especially given the massive growth in cycling and small delivery vehicles in recent years.

With the exception of speeding, where there is a popular myth that ‘10% over the limit is legal’ to allow for speedometer and detection equipment error, most British drivers tend to be compliant and follow the rules, which are enforced strictly.

In rural areas, roads are often narrow and winding, sometimes with loose chippings. The best advice is to use common sense and keep your speed low, especially if it is icy, snowing, raining, misty or foggy (as it often is in winter).

Some rural roads are poorly signposted. This means that it is advisable to use a sat-nav or purchase a map (these are readily available at vehicle rental offices or fuel stations) to find your way around.

Drivers from the US must remember there are no turns on red in the UK! Always stop and wait for the light. At some traffic lights there may be a green filter arrow. Do not enter that lane unless you want to go in the direction of the arrow.

Drivers

Due to the congested nature of British roads, particularly in urban areas, you sometimes find yourself with too little road-space or needing to manoeuvre around obstacles such as parked vehicles, vans unloading, or road works. British drivers often use hand signals and flash their lights to allow others into gaps, make room for each other and to thank other drivers for their courtesy. Confusingly, they also flash their lights as a rebuke too! If someone helps you out, it’s a good idea to wave to say ‘thanks’.

Overview

Levels of violent crime are relatively low in the UK, but petty crime and residential crime is more common. Thieves often target rental vehicles and tourists, particularly close to tourist attractions.

You should remain alert and aware of your surroundings, avoiding unlit areas. Do not visit parks after dark and keep valuables out of sight.

When leaving your vehicle make sure it is securely parked and try to use secure parking areas only.

Security Measures

Driving at Night
To maximise your safety you should avoid driving at night, particularly outside of major cities.

Vehicle Security
Always lock your vehicle, even when leaving it unattended for a few seconds.

Remove the key from the ignition when paying for fuel at a garage.

Valuables
Never leave anything to do with work in an unattended vehicle. Never place items of value in your vehicle and then leave it unattended. You never know who is watching. If you have to leave something of value in your vehicle make sure it is out of sight.

Windows and Doors
Always drive with your doors locked and windows shut.

Parking

It can sometimes be difficult to find parking spaces in town and city centres. For this reason, it is important to plan your journey in advance, including identifying the best parking facilities. Many UK businesses have limited parking spaces, and may require you to book a visitor space in advance. The basic rules regarding on-street parking such as double and single yellow lines should be understood as they are strictly policed by traffic-wardens. The process for paying for parking should also be considered as it can vary by location, with heavy fines for non-compliance.

Always try to park away from places that could hide potential attackers. If possible, avoid unattended car parks and those situated away from main roads where the streets are likely to be quieter.

When parking at night choose a well-lit area. You will be able to see your vehicle clearly and have a better chance of seeing anyone who is hanging around.

Keeping Others Informed

When travelling in a foreign country you should provide someone in your native office with an itinerary for your day so that they know where you plan to be at all times. You should also furnish them with your mobile telephone number and the number of each of your planned destinations.

Fatigue

You should take a break every two hours or sooner if you feel sleepy. Stop for at least 15 minutes and take a 10 minute snooze. Having a cup of tea or coffee before your sleep can help you be more alert when you wake up (this is NOT a substitute for a good night’s sleep). Only continue your journey if you feel alert after your sleep.

Ensure that you get a good night’s sleep before making any long journey. If you are tired, do not drive.

Speeding

You must always abide by the speed limit as speed enforcement in the UK is routine.

Slow right down when driving through residential areas or close to schools.

On rural roads, slow down for bends and avoid overtaking.

Ensure that you maintain at least a two-second gap between your vehicle and the vehicle in front. This is your braking distance in a crisis.

Distractions

You should not eat or drink on the move, reaching over for a sandwich or opening a drink will distract your attention from the road.

Avoid in depth conversations with passengers, it is vital that you maintain your concentration on the road ahead.

Alcohol and Drug Use

You must never drive if you have consumed alcohol or taken illegal drugs. Always check the label of prescription drugs for fatigue related side-effects.

The evening before you drive you MUST NOT consume more than the legal limit of alcohol.

As mentioned above, new drug driving laws have recently been implemented in England and Wales.

Stress

Never drive if you are highly stressed. This can affect your ability to concentrate.

In The Event of a Breakdown in a Work or Rental Vehicle

If you break down in a rental vehicle you should follow the instructions given to you by your employer, vehicle leasing or rental supplier. The agreement should include a recovery service.

If possible you should get out of the way of traffic. Get your vehicle off the road and into a safe position so it doesn’t cause an obstruction. Use the hazard warning lights on your vehicle and put on your reflective jacket. Put out a warning triangle if you have one. Make sure yourself and any passengers wait away from your vehicle if there is a chance it could be hit by passing traffic. Call for help and await assistance.

If you experience problems on a motorway get off at the next exit if possible. If this is not possible pull onto the hard shoulder, as far to the left as you can and as close to an emergency phone as possible (they are located every mile (1.6km) so you are never more than half a mile from one). Use your hazard warning lights and turn your headlights on to make your vehicle as visible as can be. NEVER STAY IN YOUR VEHICLE! Put on your reflective jacket and exit your vehicle (together with any passengers) on the left-side. Use a mobile phone or emergency phone to call for assistance and wait for help as far away from the roadside as you can.

In The Event of a Road Traffic Collision

In the event of a minor collision you should stop as soon as possible in a safe place and warn other road users by activating your hazard lights and put a warning triangle on the road at least 45 metres (147 feet) behind your broken-down vehicle on the same side of the road. Always take great care when placing or retrieving warning triangles, and never use them on motorways.

Keep well away from other traffic. Exchange details with other parties and witnesses including names, addresses and phone numbers, insurance details, driving license details, the vehicles’ registration numbers, make, model and colour. Photograph the scene if possible, including damage to vehicles or property. If a camera is not available it is good idea to sketch a picture of the scene. Never admit liability at the scene.

In a more serious collision in which any persons are injured you should call the emergency services immediately. Do not move any injured persons unless they are in immediate danger.

Contacting the Emergency Services

In the UK the emergency number is 999. The number 112 can also be used. This is used throughout the EU and is accessible from any phone, free of charge. The emergency services will need to know the exact location of the incident and the number of vehicles involved.