A guide to driving in the UK

With an increasing number of our motorhome hire customers visiting from abroad we thought it was time to put together a few UK driving tips and explain some of the differences of driving in the UK when compared to other countries. Hopefully these pointers will keep you (and our motorhomes!) safe whilst touring Britain.


1) Driving Licence.


The minimum age to obtain a licence in the UK is 17. Drivers must take both a theory and practical examination before getting behind the wheel alone. Luckily, visitors to the UK don’t need to take a UK test before driving. As long as you have a valid licence in your own country you’re eligible to drive a car or one our motorhomes without extra documentation, however if looking to drive something over 3.5 tonnes or 8 seats restrictions may apply.

In addition to UK laws our vehicle insurance also has a few restrictions:

a) To drive one of our motorhomes you have to be over 25 and have 2 years driving experience.

b) 21 to drive one of our minidub campervans you have to have at least 2 years driving experience and be over 21.

c) Fewer than 6 points (two minor endorsements) on your licence.

d) You must provide Photo ID and proof of address before hire.


2) Drive on the left.


In Britain all vehicles drive on the left and overtake on the right. When travelling on dual carriageways or motorways (freeway/autobahn) you should remain in the left hand lane unless overtaking. Once you have passed the slower vehicle you should return to the inner, lefthand lane. Generally, it is not acceptable to overtake in a lefthand lane. Known as undertaking this could result in being charged or cautioned for careless driving. The only acceptable time to undertake is if the outer lane is at a standstill.


3) Speed limits whilst driving in the UK.


Depending on the location and the type of road the UK has several speed limits. Round signs with the maximum speed displayed are used to indicate changes in the speed limit. Alternatively a white circular sign with a black diagonal line indicates national speed limits.

Unless specifically signed differently the national speed limits apply:

a) Built up area with street lighting: 30mph

b) Single lane roads in non-urban areas: 60mph

c) Dual carriageway without central reservation: 60mph

d) Dual carriageway with central reservation: 70mph

e) Motorways: 70mph

Traffic management is used on some sections of heavily used motorway. In these sections the speed limit changes according to the flow of traffic, the current limit is regularly displayed overhead. Be sure to keep an eye on the numbers displayed and adjust your speed accordingly.


4) Speed Cameras


Monitoring speed is taken seriously in Britain with 3 different types of speed camera regularly being used. Depending on the system in operation these cameras may be permanently switched on, mobile or only in operation at certain times.

a) Fixed cameras: Found at accident blackspots, fixed speed cameras monitor a specific section of road and take an instant reading of a vehicles’ speed as it passes. As these are intended to improve road safety, areas using speed cameras are signposted and the cameras are situated in bright yellow boxes.

b) Mobile speed cameras: These are either handheld devices used by police officers or larger cameras fitted to police vans parked on the side of the road. The locations local police forces could potentially site mobile cameras are published, although they don’t inform the public where the cameras are at any particular time.

c) Average speed cameras: Usually located around roadworks, these cameras record speed between two set points. This means the speed limit must be adhered to for longer distances to avoid a ticket! Entering and leaving average speed check areas are signposted.


5) Seat Belts and booster seats.


In simple terms, it is a requirement for all passengers in a vehicle to use a seat belt whilst the vehicle is in motion. Depending on the position of the seat and the age of the vehicle, a lap belt may be acceptable but all of our vehicles are fitted with full, 3-point tether seat belts.

In addition to seat belts, children under 12 or 135cm must use a high backed booster seat, whilst travelling. For ease, we can hire these seats for a small supplement if required.


6) Drinking and Driving Limit


The legal limit for driving in the UK changes according to what country you’re in. England and Wales is 80mg per 100ml of blood or 35mg per 100ml of breath. In Scotland the limits are lower at 50mg per 100ml of blood or 22mg per 100ml of breath. What this means in practical terms is difficult to quantify.

There is a myth in some quarters that the limit is equivalent to two drinks. With stronger and larger drinks regularly being served this isn’t a safe assumption to make. For some people a pint or large glass of wine would be OK whereas others would be over the limit. The simplest answer is not to drink if driving. Importantly, in Britain, particularly around Christmas and summer months, the police check drivers alcohol levels in the morning. Heavy drinking the night before may mean you’re over the limit the following day. Be aware of this before getting behind the wheel.

Unlike some other countries, there is no requirement to carry breathalyser kits in a vehicle when driving in the UK. Although these can be purchased from garages or motor supply shops such as Halfords.


7) Phone Use.


When driving in the UK a driver of a vehicle may only use a mobile phone through a hands free kit when the vehicle is in motion. The use of mobile phones whilst driving is a hot topic in the UK, with the police cracking down on illegal use. If caught, you may receive a fine of £100 and three points on your driving licence. In extreme cases you may be taken to court with a maximum punishment of £1000 and revocation of your licence.


8) Yellow lines/ yellow hatching.


Yellow paint is used to signify a restriction on parking or stopping. Single yellow lines signify no parking at certain times, there will be small signs explaining when parking isn’t allowed. In Cornwall it’s common to see narrower roads restricting parking during summer months to ease congestion, other areas may restrict parking during the working day etc.

Double yellow lines means no parking or stopping at any time, these areas are usually patrolled by traffic wardens or CCTV and leaving a vehicle on double yellows will probably result in a parking ticket and fine. Some areas in cities also utilise red double lines, vehicles may be towed away if parked here.

Busy junctions may be painted in yellow hatching, this means you shouldn’t enter the junction unless the other side is clear, this keeps the junction clear when traffic lights change etc. Whilst driving in the UK, stopping in an area of yellow hatching is a sure way to learn some interesting English words and hand gestures!


9) Red lights.


When driving in the UK the red light is always at the top of the traffic lights with amber below and green at the very bottom. When turning from green to red, the lights will display a single amber light. If approaching lights on amber drivers should slow down and prepare to stop. When turning from red to green both the red and amber light are on at the same time, at this point drivers prepare to pull off.

Unlike the US and other countries, a red light in the UK means stop with no exceptions. It’s not acceptable to turn left whilst the lights are on red, even if this doesn’t interfere with other drivers.


10) Parking a motorhome.


Unfortunately, driving in the UK isn’t as motorhome friendly as mainland Europe, in most areas wild camping is discouraged and motorhome drivers are expected to stay on private campsites. Most councils don’t provide aires or free motorhome facilities although these are slowly becoming more popular. The major exception to this is Scotland where wild camping is acceptable.

When visiting supermarkets or using free carparks without dedicated motorhome sized parking spaces convention is that motorhome owners will use spaces out of the way where possible to minimise the impact on other users of the carpark. If using a paid carpark it may be necessary to purchase two tickets if taking up two spaces.

11) Drive on the left

So important, we listed it twice! Apparently the reason you travel on the left when driving in the UK comes from the days of horses and swords. Being on this side allowed a rider to defend himself more effectively if approached by highwaymen. Although the UK roads aren’t full of bandits anymore we do still insist you don’t drive on the right hand side!

12) Roundabouts

Ask any American the worst part of driving in the UK and they’ll quickly say roundabouts. With practice, roundabouts aren’t that difficult to navigate. Just remember, LOOK RIGHT! As you approach the roundabout any vehicles on the roundabout have right of way and will approach from the right, if congested wait for a gap in the traffic. If two cars approach a roundabout you give way to the right, if the roundabout and next approach to the right are clear your good to go. Your position on the roundabout depends on which turning you’re taking. Unless the lanes are marked the outside lane is used for vehicles turning off before “12 o’clock” and the inside is used for traffic going past “12 o’clock” as you pass the roads before your exit filter over before leaving the roundabout.

Hopefully these tips will help to keep your holiday trouble free whilst travelling the UK, feel free to share this post with friends using the buttons below. For more news or information be sure to follow us on facebook www.facebook.com/kernowkampers . Want more information on booking our motorhomes, click here.

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