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Driving in the UK - Scary ???

Question: Does anyone have any tips on living in Europe, we are off to England for a couple of years, I have heard that driving can be quite scary, should I sign up with a driving school? -- Rachel Smyth 

Answer: Dear Rachel, Driving on the “wrong” side of the road can indeed be worrisome. It takes a long time for driving on the left to feel natural to Americans. The fact that the steering wheel is also on the “wrong” side will help you feel better (or worse) immediately. Don’t worry; you will stop trying to get in on the left side of the car after just a few weeks time. 

Taking a few driving lessons might be helpful, but mostly what you will need is practice, and lots of it. I suggest starting in places which don’t have much traffic so that you can concentrate on staying left. A huge lorry (that means truck in American) can be intimidating and something to avoid hitting at all costs. 

Going around corners at first is tricky when your inclination is to end up in the right lane. Round-abouts are also new to most Americans, and children in the back seat will definitely not be helpful. The other thing to be aware of is that most English cars are equipped with standard transmissions. Are you familiar with the word “clutch?” If you think this just means what you do the night before taking a test, you might want to learn to use a standard transmission before you even leave the US. Definitely check out the traffic rules as well as the parking regulations. Your American driver’s license will be good for six months. If you will be in England for a longer period of time, you will need to get an English license. Sorry, but that includes a road test. Or you can get an international license through AAA before you leave the US, which will be good for a year.

 If you are going to live in England, you might find yourselves in a place where you will welcome the opportunity to leave your wheels behind. I can’t imagine even wanting a car in London nor can I imagine finding a parking place there. Public transportation in some locations is truly a better way to get around. Talk about sticker shock; wait until you see the price of petrol, that substance Americans prefer to call “gas.” Cars are just not as mandatory in England as they are in the US. Remember that old fashioned thing called “walking?” It does have possibilities. 

If you need to get behind the wheel, go for it. In time you will be cruising along like everyone else on the left side of the road and your palms will barely be sweaty. People make the transition back and forth all the time, and many are still alive. Count me for one, and good luck to you! -- Linda Byard


Driving in the UK
I read your tips on driving in the UK with interest, and as a UK expatriate who has had to convert "the other way", I would like to add some more points. I found the biggest danger was after a few days, when you start to relax, and you may inadvertently go onto the wrong side. You are at risk when you are going back on to the road, say from a gas station forecourt, and there are no other vehicles on the road to remind you.

The second point is at crossroads, where you and oncoming traffic both wish to turn right. In the UK, the vehicles will pass each other first before initiating the turn (i.e. pass with driver side to driver side)- it is like there is an imaginary island that both cars must go around in a clockwise direction.

And finally on multi-lane highways, don't linger in the fast lane... all over Europe this is a passing lane, and you will incur the wrath of all motorists if you block this lane to faster traffic. Keep left means exactly that - as far left as you can! --Regards, Les (Les Forth)


Hi hints-n tips
Drive on the left and save lives, what the USA government will  not tell you

I read your interesting information about driving on the left, I would put it this way:

In the UK  we of course drive on the left. I think we should always drive on the left because driving on the left is correct for right handed people which is the great majority, please read on.

Keep your right hand on the steering wheel when changing gear if you are right handed.

When changing gear in a UK car with the steering wheel on the right , which is of course correct in the UK etc for driving on the left---------in the UK your left hand changes  gear and your right hand stays  on the steering wheel.------------ this is safer  for right handed people.

The reverse is the case in countries where one must drive on the right.-- in other words if you live in the USA you hold the steering wheel with your left hand and change gear with your right hand because of course the steering wheel is on the  left in the USA--------this is  dangerous if you are  right handed.

Bicycles.   Bike riders are in real danger in countries where driving on the right is mandatory again assuming you are right handed------Try mounting a bike  in  the USA  and you will find yourself in the stream of traffic when getting on the bike---- try it  yourself---------:    Mounting a bike in the UK is done from the sidewalk by right handed people  who find it easier to put their right leg over the bike. , Much safer and this  must have saved many lives.

Reversing up a steep drive:  My drive in the UK is very steep----------when I reverse out I hold the steering wheel with my right hand and look over my left shoulder to the rear window.   In a USA car you must hold the steering wheel with your left hand and look over your right shoulder to look out of the rear window.. So you must reverse with your left hand  on the steering wheel.. Or stick your head out of  the window if you want to use your right hand on the steering wheel. ---dangerous for the majority who are right handed.

OK for left handed people to drive on the right---lucky them  Yours sincerely  Christopher (Chris)  Davison  London  UK


Many thanks for your contribution. In your posting you raise several very interesting points. Lets see if our American cousins see sense and get back on the right side (left, I mean) I am sure that we can expect some comments! - Dave - Webmaster hints-n-tips.com


Hi Dave,
Thanks for the reply, if a debate starts I would be very pleased to contribute. The sad thing is that whole countries including the USA are denied this information because it would "embarrass" national thinking and education. They should give a rational answer to the points raised and an honest reply.

I think it was Sweden which actually converted to the right side driving not so long ago, perhaps because of the EU, the same EU which has the nerve to tell us that the English word for chocolate must mean chocolate with a certain cocoa butter content, even in the English language. - Regards Chris


An American replies

Hello I just read Davison's argument on why the left side is the correct side and I am affaid I must disagree. I am a professional driver and have driven in most places around the globe; first it should be noted that even in F1, before the invention of the paddle shifter, the shifter was on the right not the left. This is because the shifting of the vehicle is more complicated then holding it straight or even turning it slightly as you would do, only in racing.

The bike argument can be negated by the fact that if you are in a car in either country and pull to the side of the road you must exit the vehicle on the traffic side, at least on a bike you have a choice. You say it is more comfortable to mount on the right, well that just sounds like you are trading safety for comfort which is your choice of course.

As far as backing out of the drive way the correct way is to keep both hands on the wheel and use your mirrors. Turning around impedes your vision to one side as you cant turn your head more than 90 degrees. I hope this clears things up.

Yours sincerely Christopher Jarmon, Walton On Thames,UK but still American.


Road Trip in Scotland. Hello, I'm an American living in Germany. I am planning a vacation to Scotland this summer, and my family and I thought it would be fun to make a road-trip out of the experience. However, we just realized that we might not be able to drive our American-made car (Ford Fusion) in the UK... Do you have any info re: how that might work (or not work)? Thanks for any advice! -- Brianne Grogan, DPT

Comment: You should not meet with any problems other than the fact that in the UK everyone drives on the left. After a while you can get the hang of it. A tip is to leave a post -it note or similar on the dashboard or windshield to remind yourself when you set off. Do this for the first few days at least. Prime a travelling companion to keep reminding you to keep to the left.

Driving a right hand drive car on the 'wrong side' is not much of a disadvantage and under some circumstances has benefits, but you do have to be slightly more alert. Ensure that in the first few days you limit your travel time as the stress will result in your becoming fatigued a bit earlier than you would otherwise. Read Linda Byards article (above)

Tourists have no problems with Continental European or American made cars. This applies to all European territories.

There is no legislation banning LHD vehicles from entering the country and being used on UK roads. All signatories - and the UK is one - to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic allow the import and even the registration of either type of car.

Enjoy your road trip to Scotland and drop us a line to let us know how it went. The scenery in the Highlands can be quite stunning and the people hospitable, but do look out for the Midges (little flying and biting insects) -- Ed

UK license in America: If you are visiting the US you can use your driving licence for at least 30 days and much longer in some states. You can do something similar here if you are American. I believe that the validity period for American licence is in the UK is one year-- Archie Fisher Perth Scotland -

US driving license in UK: I've rented cars in England, Spain, Japan, and Ireland with no difficulty, have driven, and have even been pulled over (a little right-left confusion) and my California license has not been a problem. Enjoy! – Jon

Links - 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic

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