Many consider driving on the motorway a right of passage. Now, learner drivers are allowed to drive on our M-roads. The motorway remains the preferred choice for commuters as well as holidaymakers. Tensions can build up when 17% British traffic uses these roads. If it’s not people in the middle lane, there are impatient drivers following you for miles. It is frustrating. It’s frustrating, and many drivers don’t realize they are doing it.
Every year, millions of people lose their lives due to simple driving errors or concentration problems. These poor driving habits can be anything from annoying to outright illegal. If you are caught, points could be added to your license, which could lead to higher car insurance rates. Here’s a quick reminder of how to use the motorway safely and without irritating other drivers. You’ll also be on the right side for the law.
Road Basics in the UK
As with all countries, there are basic rules that must be followed when driving. These are:
- Keep to the left side of the road
- Respect all speed limits posted and road signs
- If you have a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, don’t drive.
- All red traffic lights and STOP signs must be stopped
- Every person in the vehicle must use a seat belt (see below for exceptions).
- Follow all instructions given by police officers
- All emergency vehicles with sirens or lights flashing should be given way
- Check registration of your vehicle before setting out
Are you old enough to drive?
The minimum age to obtain a UK driving license is 17. Although you can drive starting at 16, you must have a provisional driver’s license and a qualified passenger. If you’re visiting the UK and want to drive, you will need a full driving license. You must be at least 17.
Be aware that car rental companies will often require that you be at least 21 years old to rent a vehicle. Many charge additional fees for those under 25. You might consider exploring the UK by public transport if you’re 21 years old or younger.
Know your roads!
There are many types of roads in the UK. These are identified by a lettering system. Each road will have a number unique to it, and a letter to identify its type. For example, M1 denotes a motorway. The letter M denotes motorway and the number 1 denotes that it is. The roads generally look like this:
- There are “M” roads. An “M” road is a motorway. It is the longest and fastest road in the UK. A M road can have up to four lanes, but it is more common to have three lanes. Sometimes, “M” roads only have two lanes each way. Motorways are limited to speeds of 70 miles an hour. Motorways are not allowed for learners and certain types of vehicles. Motorways don’t have roundabouts or traffic lights. To join them, you can use the on-and-off slipways. Motorway signs are always composed of white letters on a blue background.
- A roads. A roads are the main roads of the UK. They generally have a speed limit at 60 miles per hour, unless otherwise stated. There will be sections of the “A” road that are dual carriageway. In these cases, speeds will be limited to 70 miles an hour. To allow this, there must be a central reservation dividing the two lanes. Roundabouts and traffic lights can be added to “A” roads. Signs are usually a combination of yellow or white writing on a background of green. In remote areas of the UK, it is possible to have “A” roads single-track.
- B roads. A “B” road can be a smaller road that is used to connect “A” roads. Although they can still transport a lot of traffic, they are not as long.
- These roads are called “C”, “D”, and “Other”. These roads are often smaller and may even be single-track. These roads are often found in rural areas or cover shorter distances in rural areas.
The British Measurement System
For driving-related measurements, the UK uses primarily imperial units. Distances of major importance are always measured in miles. However, shorter distances such as distances to STOP signs, can be measured in yards. A yard is 3 feet in length, and a mile is 1760 yards. Speed limits are indicated in miles per an hour and vehicles indicate their speed in miles per an hour.
Fuel is measured in metric units and sold in litres. However, fuel economy numbers for vehicles are always listed in miles per gallon. It doesn’t make sense, I know. But that’s the way it is.
Speed limits are posted on a regular basis and vary according to the road.
Speed limit signs are circular. The speed limit sign is circular and has a red circle around the number. This sign is legally binding. Sometimes, you’ll see a sign with a white circle and a diagonal running through it. This indicates that all speed limits previously posted have been lifted and you can now resume the national speed limit of 60 MPH on normal roads and 70 MPH on dual carriageways and motorways.
Motorways and dual carriageways have a speed limit of 70 miles an hour. However, you may see drivers driving illegally faster than this on these roads. You should not be tempted to break the speed limit. Penalties for violating it can be severe. Nearly all roads in the UK have a speed limit of 60 MPH. If not indicated otherwise, the speed limit in densely populated areas will be 30 MPH.
You should also note that speed limits in the UK can vary depending on what vehicle you drive and whether you tow something. You should always verify the speed limits for the vehicle you drive, especially if you’re renting a motor-home or towing a caravan. For official guidance, see here.
Are you wearing a seat belt?
Every passenger in the vehicle must use a seat belt. If a vehicle has three or more seat belts in its back, it is not allowed to carry four people. The driver is responsible for ensuring that everyone is wearing a belt. There are severe penalties for not complying with the law.
There are several key exceptions to the use of a seat belt. Reversing is the exception that will apply most to visitors to the UK. You can remove your seat belt to help you see where you are going when you reverse your vehicle. However, you must return it to your vehicle as soon as you stop.
If you are unable to wear a seat belt in the UK, it is possible to drive around without one. You will need a certificate of exemption from compulsory seat belt wearing, which you must keep in your vehicle. If you drive a classic car that didn’t have seat belts originally, you can do it without them. These vehicles do not allow children under the age of three to be in their seats. All other children must sit in the back.
Drivers of licensed taxis can drive without a seat belt, so don’t be alarmed that your driver isn’t wearing one. However, all passengers in the taxi must wear the seat belt.
Colours are key!
The UK, like most countries around the globe, uses traffic lights to manage traffic. These lights can be either red or yellow. These colors signify:
- Red means to stop. Red is stop and you must stop at the red traffic light. If you are the first vehicle to arrive at the traffic light, there will be a line marking the spot where you must stop. Otherwise, you can just wait behind the other cars. You may be allowed to continue even if you have stopped at a red light in certain situations. See “turning on red traffic lights” below.
- Yellow means you must stop at the stop line. You may continue if you move too fast to stop safely, such as if you are just about to cross the stop line and the light changes from green to yellow, It is best to stop if it is possible and do not attempt to beat the light.
- Green – continue. You may continue if the light changes from red to yellow or green. You may continue driving if a light turns green when you approach it. However, if the light changes to yellow, you must stop, unless it becomes unsafe.
You might have heard of the US rule that allows drivers to turn at traffic lights even if they are red. The UK does not allow this. If the traffic light is red you must stay stationary until it turns green.
STOP means stop
The STOP signs in the UK look the same as the STOP signs all over the globe. These large, red octagonal signs are marked with the words “STOP” written in white letters. You must immediately stop your car if you come across one.
Because they are only allowed to be placed at intersections with very limited visibility, STOP signs aren’t very common in the UK. You must stop your vehicle at all times when you see a STOP sign. Multi-way STOP signs such as the ones found in the USA are not permitted in the UK. You must give way to a STOP sign, and wait until it’s safe to continue.
The UK is far more familiar with give way signs than stop signs. These signs are triangular and have the words “give way” written on them. They are similar to the US “Yield” signs. A white triangle will usually be painted on the road.
You must yield to other vehicles at a Give Way sign. However, if the road is clear when you approach it, you are not required to stop completely.
You can find more information about road junctions in the UK Highway Code, here.
Using the Roundabout
When roads intersect, roundabouts are quite common in the UK. It is very easy to use them. You must give way to traffic coming from your right on a roundabout. Turn left onto the roundabout and follow it clockwise. Only exceptions to the give-way rule are if there are traffic lights at the roundabout. In this case, you have the right of way if it is green. Otherwise traffic will be stopped at red lights.
Knowing your exit is crucial before you get to the roundabout. This will allow you to signal in the right lane and avoid any confusion. For example, if you want to take the first exit, signal left and then use the left-hand land.
If you’re going straight (or all the other way), signal right and use right lane. It is always better to slow down, and remember that not all people signal correctly at roundabouts.
You can use either lane for intermediate exits or going straight ahead. This section of UK Highway Code provides more information about correct roundabout usage. It also contains helpful diagrams regarding lane use and signalling.
The Pedestrian Crossing
As a driver, you should be aware that there are many types of pedestrian crossings throughout the UK. These crossings have received odd names such as Zebra, Puffin, and Pelican.
Stop lights are not required for Zebra crossings. They are named so because they have white and black stripes. These crossings are easily identified by the yellow flashing beacons and the white stripes that have been painted on the road. If a pedestrian is crossing the road, vehicles must stop at these crossings.
The crossings of Pelican and Puffin are very similar. They are traffic light controlled and don’t have road stripes. To cross, pedestrians must push the button at the side of each road. This will activate the little green man’s walk symbol and change the colour of the traffic light. These buttons can only be used if the traffic light is red or if someone is crossing the road.
These are the most common types of pedestrian crossings, but there are many other pedestrian crossings. For more information on the rules and regulations for pedestrians crossing roads in the UK, please see the official guidance.