General Road Rules Rules and traffic signs in the UK
General Road Rules
Rules and traffic signs in the UK
Every country has their own rules on the road, written or unwritten. It is important that you know and understand these rules before you go on the road in the UK.
The following general road rules and tips may help you adjust to driving in the UK:
Among the many strange habits of the British is that of driving on the left-hand side of the road. If you’re used to driving on the right it may be helpful to have a reminder (e.g. ‘think left!’) on your car’s dashboard. Take extra care when pulling out of junctions, one-way streets and at roundabouts. Remember to look first to the right when crossing the road and drivers of left-hand cars should make sure that headlights are dipped to the left when driving at night.
If you’re unused to driving on the left, you should be prepared for some disorientation, although most people have few problems adjusting to it. Some drivers have a real fear of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. If this applies to you, the International Drivers Service (020-8570 9190) specialises in teaching foreigners how to survive on British roads. The traffic system, density and speed of traffic are all also completely alien to many foreigners, particularly Americans.
All motorists are advised to carry a warning triangle, although it isn’t mandatory. If you have an accident or a breakdown, you should signal this by switching on your hazard warning lights. If you have a warning triangle, it must be placed at the edge of the road, at least 50m behind the car on secondary roads and at least 150m on motorways.
There’s no priority to the right (or left) on British roads (unlike, for example, the continental priority to the right). At all crossroads and junctions, there’s either an octagonal stop sign with a solid white line on road or a triangular give way sign (dotted white line on road), where a secondary road meets a major road. ‘Stop’ or ‘give way’ may also be painted on the road surface. You must stop completely at a stop sign (all four wheels must come to rest), before pulling out on to a major road, even if you can see that no traffic is approaching. At a give way sign, you aren’t required to stop, but must give priority to traffic already on the major road.
On country roads, sharp bends are shown by signs and the severity (tightness) of a bend is indicated by white arrows on a black background (or vice versa); the more arrows, the tighter the bend (so slow down).
Don’t drive in lanes reserved for buses and taxis, unless necessary to avoid a stationary vehicle or obstruction, and give priority to authorised users. Bus lanes are indicated by road markings and signs indicate the period of operation, which is usually during rush hours only (although some lanes are in use 24 hours a day), and which vehicles are permitted to use them. Bus drivers get irate if you illegally drive in their lane and you can be fined for doing so.
The following speed limits are in force for cars and motorcycles throughout the UK, unless traffic signs show otherwise:
Type of Road: Speed Limit
Motorways and dual-carriageways: 70mph (113kph)
Unrestricted single carriageway roads: 60mph (97kph)
Built-up areas (towns): 30mph (48kph)*
* Applies to all traffic on all roads with street lighting unless otherwise indicated by a sign.
Speed limits are marked in miles per hour, not kilometres. When towing a caravan or trailer, speed limits on all roads (except those in built-up and residential areas) are reduced by 10mph (16kph). Cars towing caravans aren’t permitted to use the outside (overtaking) lane of a three-lane motorway at any time. Speed limits for buses, coaches and goods vehicles not exceeding 7.5 tonnes are the same as when towing, except that the permitted speed limit on motorways is 70mph. Heavy goods vehicles (exceeding 7.5 tonnes) are permitted to travel at 40mph on single carriageways, 50mph on dual carriageways and 60mph on motorways.
Like motorists in all countries, the British have their own idiosyncrasies and customs. In general, Britons have a reputation for being good drivers, and most are courteous. Unlike many other Europeans, they’re usually happy to give way to a driver waiting to enter the flow of traffic or change lanes. However, tempers are rising on the UK’s overcrowded streets and road rage (‘invented’ in California, where drivers blow their tops and attack or drive into other motorists) is becoming more common. It’s often provoked by tailgating, headlight flashing, obscene gestures, obstruction and verbal abuse, so be careful how you behave when driving. Although British drivers are generally law-abiding (except with regard to speed limits), a recent survey found that millions would drive on the wrong side of the law if they thought they could get away with it.
One of the biggest problems when motoring in towns and most residential areas, is the vast number of cars parked (legally or illegally) on roads, so that you have to stop because your side of the road is completely blocked or because oncoming traffic isn’t keeping far enough over to its side of the road to allow you sufficient room to pass. Parked cars are also particularly hazardous when pulling out of busy junctions. (many more of which should have roundabouts).
Take it easy when driving in winter. Although heavy snow is rare, particularly in the south, the UK has a lot of fog and ice, which make driving extremely hazardous (it also gets dark at around 4pm or even earlier in the north). Black ice is also common and is the most dangerous sort, because it cannot be seen. When road conditions are bad, allow two to three times longer than usual to reach your destination.