Home Living in the UK Transportation The surprising truth about driving in the UK
Last update on January 28, 2019

Full of its little quirks, the United Kingdom never fails to produce a few welcome surprises. One of these is that sometimes it’s cheaper to explore the country by car than to book a seat on the train.

This is good news if you’re coming over here to live, or even just to see the best of the UK on a short break with the family. This article focuses on some of the journeys you can save on, plus some of the important aspects you need to know before you get out and about on four wheels.

Where you can save on travel in the UK

Despite the UK’s reputation for high fuel costs, fuel calculations show that when travelling in some of the most economical vehicles in the UK, such as the Peugeot 208 (1.4 diesel 2014 model) and, for families, the Skoda Superb (1.6 diesel 2014 model), auto travel is cheaper than taking the train on some of the country’s most popular routes. Both cars have received good reviews on Auto Express for their running costs, and the savings are startling.

Driving in the UK

Book yourself a day return ticket on the train the day before you travel from Edinburgh to London, and you’ll save GBP 167.46 if you drive the Peugeot 208; you’ll save GBP 161.27 if you make the journey in the Skoda Superb. This is based on an average cost of fuel at 117 pence per litre—and we’re talking about off-peak tickets here, so there are potentially even bigger savings if you book during on-peak travel time the day before you travel.

Perhaps you fancy taking a break and getting out of the Big Smoke for a traditional British seaside holiday experience? A car journey to the popular seaside town of Blackpool will cost you a mere GBP 77.93 in the Peugeot 208 or GBP 86 in the Skoda Superb, but a whopping GBP 358 for an off-peak day return on the train, leaving you with savings of GBP 280.07 with the Peugeot and GBP 272 with the Skoda.

What to know about driving in the UK

Knowing you can make those kinds of savings might inspire you to drive in the UK, but of course, you can’t just jump into a car and get out onto the roads without an understanding of UK traffic laws. Some of the nation’s traffic laws differ substantially from those of other countries, and in some cases even from other countries in the UK.

We use imperial measurements on the roads

If you come from a country where they use the metric system, it will take you some time to adapt to the rules of the road in the UK. Speed limits and distances on signs are displayed in miles rather than metres and kilometres: one mile is equal to 1.61 kilometres, while one yard is equal to 0.91 metres.

Don’t be surprised at a lack of signs displaying speed limits. Drivers in the UK are generally expected to know the national speed limits, and you’ll often only see signs indicating the limit where it differs from the norm.

UK traffic laws

The best thing you can do is simply learn UK speed limits to stay on the straight and narrow while you’re on the roads:

  • Motorways and dual carriageways: 70 mph (112 km/h)
  • Single carriageways: 60 mph (96 km/h
  • Built-up areas urban roads: 30 mph (68 km/h)

There may also be locally set limits, which are clearly designated:

  • Roads with sharp bends: 50 mph (80 km/h)
  • Areas near schools or with heavy foot traffic: 20 mph (32 km/h)

Having the right documents

Bringing your own car to drive in the UK will require all kinds of documents:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid driving licence
  • The documents of your vehicle
  • A European Accident statement (consult your car insurance company)
  • A Green Insurance card
  • Insurance: although third-party insurance is the minimum legal requirement, you’d be better off having comprehensive insurance to cover a range of eventualities.

Important aspects of everyday driving

One of the most important differences between the UK and many countries is that we drive on the left-hand side. This is no trivial matter: you must drive in the left-hand lane on the motorways. The right lane is used to overtake other cars.

As you approach roundabouts, note that the traffic at these points flows in a clockwise direction. Give way to traffic approaching the roundabout from the right, unless a sign, road marking or traffic lights indicate differently.

Be aware that roads in the UK are generally quite narrow. If you happen to be driving uphill, the oncoming vehicle should give you the right of way.

Driving and the law

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the legal limit is 0.08%, or 80 micrograms of alcohol content in the blood per 100 millilitres of breath; in Scotland, it is just 0.05%, or 50 micrograms. Fines can stretch to four-figure sums if you’re caught over the limit, and there’s also the possibility of losing your licence. The safest policy is to never drink if you have to get behind the wheel afterwards.

Mobile phone usage at the wheel is generally prohibited, except for calling 999 or 112 in emergency situations. Texting while driving is completely illegal, so pull over to a safe, suitable spot if you have to text someone when you’re driving a car in the UK. You may use a hands-free phone to talk when you’re driving, but the police may stop you—and will—if they suspect that this is distracting you from the road.

All passengers must wear seatbelts if the vehicle is equipped with them. The only time you may not have your seatbelt fastened is when you’re reversing. Not wearing your seatbelt when you should be can incur a fine running into hundreds of pounds.

Learning the rules will make your experience of driving in the UK all the better. With the extra money in your pocket saved by travelling by car, you can see even more of the sights with your family—making for an even more satisfying trip.