Having invaded the UK this July 4th, I thought I’d post on some of the things that make our motherland, albeit the one we stormed away from different from the USA. Also I’ll give some practical tips. Right now I should add a disclaimer. I’m not responsible for the consequences if you follow them. I repeat, you’re on your own.
This post is about driving.
They drive on the other side of the road. The left, those socialist commies, the left I tell you. Sorry I was channeling my “inner republican.”
But they do drive on the left, and if you are hiring a car it is helpful to know a few tricks.
First, do you need a car? If you are staying in the cities, no. Renting one in London would be exceedingly daft as they have excellent transport and more importantly, huge areas where you need a special permit to drive. Don’t bother. You can get from city to city and to most, but not all, of the touristy spots without your own car.
However, if you’re like us and visiting the non-touristy spots (somehow I doubt my brother and sister in law would appreciate the company) then you’ll need one. Check the deals you can get by booking one when you get your tickets. BA is especially good for this and a car rental with tickets is sometimes cheaper than tickets.
Almost all the cars are manual transmission. I repeat, almost all the cars are manual transmission. You can pay extra for an automatic, but be manly and use the stick. (did I just write that?, yes). It works very much like it does in the US. Except you use your left hand and remember to reach further left than you think you need to. You’ll find, or at least I do, that the right/left side of the road comes naturally, but there are some gotcha’s.
Turns with islands. You’ll initially want to go down the wrong side. Don’t.
Pedestrians and other road hazards, things like zebra crossings. They’re on the left. You’re used to them being on the right. Make a conscious effort to look in the other side. By the way, not only is it illegal to run down pedestrians, but you have to stop for them. Silly law, but that’s the way it is.
Stop lights. Stop lights go yellow before they turn green. Just like drag strips. It’s good, and I wish they’d do that back home. Of course the idiots in Atlanta would hop the yellow, so perhaps its for the best. The law is to put your car in neutral and set the parking brake when you’re at a stop. The yellow is to tell you to put it in gear. Then expect traffic to shoot off when it turns green. Sort of like at a drag race. By the way, don’t be shocked when your engine stops when you put it out of gear and set the brake. That’s to save petrol, I mean gas.
There is no right turn on red.
Traffic circles are ubiquitous. There is a rule for them. The vehicle (including bikes, lorries and other cars) on the circle to the right has the right of way. They mean it. If you’re turning left, be in the left lane (or left side of your lane) with the turn signal set. If you’re going straight don’t set your signal, and if you’re turning right, set the turn signal to the right. Then enter the circle and exit at the right time. If you’re turning right, set the signal to left when it’s time to leave the circle. It is ok to go around if you miss your turn. (Not just Yanks do this.)
Turning across traffic. If it’s light, OK. Otherwise don’t. Go with traffic and use the next roundabout (circle) to go the way you want.
The Motorways have a speed limit of 70, except when they don’t. A-roads, B-roads have 60, and other roads 50. Except when posted otherwise. A-roads are sort of like numbered state highways, B-roads are a little smaller, and the others, well they range from quite decent to little more than an “metalled” (paved) track. A warning, in the country or in National Parks, the A-roads can be one lane wide. It makes driving interesting and fun.
Don’t use your horn. It’s not polite. You can however give them the finger.
Enough for now, we have to drive to Tesco’s to pick up a few supplies.
2 thoughts on “A Yank’s Guide to the UK, Part 1.”
You’re a brave man to drive over there. My son worked in Reading during a year’s working holiday and never once was tempted to drive.
Don’t really have a choice. It’s easier than driving in Atlanta! My wife mostly grew up in Reading and until a couple of years ago, staying with her parents was our usual summer trip. Now we stay with her brother in Frampton Cotterell. Still there’s nothing like climbing off of a flight in Heathrow or Gatwick and driving through rush hour traffic on the wrong side of the road at what feels like 3am.
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