Driving around Britain is a great way to see its diverse landscapes and to discover its cities and towns. What’s more, an extensive network of motorways and trunk roads make travelling around the country straightforward, allowing you to make the most of your time here.
What you need to drive in Britain
To drive in Britain, you’ll need a current valid driving licence, as well as an international driving permit if required. You must also keep proof of ownership or a rental agreement in your vehicle, plus any insurance documents. The rules on what insurance documents you need to carry differ depending on whether your vehicle is insured in a country that is part of the Green Card System. Find out more information on what you’ll need to drive in Britain.
How to hire a car in Britain
It's worth doing your research when hiring a car in Britain to ensure you get the best price. You’ll find car rental desks at airports and coastal ports, as well as others conveniently located in city centres and major towns. Reputable car-hire companies include Avis, Hertz, Europcar, Nationwide Hire, and Budget, although there are many different options to choose from.
The companies should include insurance cover with the car rental, so check this when you hire. They will also require a credit card in the name of the main driver for a deposit. At the hire desk, you will need to show your driving licence, proof of address and your passport to pick up your car.
The roads in Britain
If you’re planning to drive while in Britain, here are a few things you need to know:
- Remember to drive on the left.
- Distances on road signs are measured in miles.
- Intercity roads are usually busier between 8-9.30am and 5-7pm when people are travelling to/from work/schools on weekdays.
- Most hire cars will include GPS, or offer a system as an extra, but it’s a good idea to keep a map handy. If you want to explore more rural areas it’s worth picking up a map from the Ordnance Survey series – they’re comprehensive and will guide even the most specific of trips.
Get to know the road signs
Signs are mostly standardised in-line with the rest of Europe. Directional signs are colour-coded:
- Blue for motorways (M-roads)
- Green for major routes (A-roads)
- White for minor routes (B-roads)
- Brown signs indicate places of interest
- Advisory or warning signs are usually triangles in red and white, with easy-to-understand pictograms
Electronic information notices on motorways will also warn of roadworks, speed restrictions, accidents or patches of fog.
Level crossings, found at railway lines, often have automatic barriers. If the lights are flashing red, it means a train is coming and you must stop.
Driving rules in Britain
Speed limits range within 20-40mph (32-64 km/h) in built-up areas and a maximum of 70mph (112 km/h) on motorways or dual carriageways. Look out for speed signs on other roads.
It is compulsory for all drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts in Britain. Young children should use a suitable child seat or restraint until they are at least 135cm tall or until their 12th birthday, whichever is sooner.
Do not drink and drive in the UK as the penalties are severe; see the official government website to check the legal limit.
It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving, unless it is operated hands-free. Even then it's advisable you put your phone away while you drive, as you could still be prosecuted if your phone causes a distraction leading to an accident while you’re at the wheel.
Parking your car in Britain
You may need to pay at a meter to park, so keep a supply of coins handy. Some cities have “park and ride” schemes, including in Cardiff, Oxford and York, where you can take a bus from an out-of-city car park into the centre.
Other towns have parking schemes where you buy a card at the tourist office or newsagents, fill in your parking times and display it on your dashboard.
Don't park on double red or yellow lines at any time. Single lines sometimes mean you can park in the evenings and at weekends, but check road-side signs carefully as they will detail any restrictions.
If in doubt, keep things simple and find a car park. Outside urban areas and popular tourist zones, parking is much easier. Look out for signs with a blue “P”, indicating parking spaces, and remember not to leave any valuables or luggage alone in your car.
Filling up your car with fuel
Most petrol stations in Britain are self-service and the instructions at the pumps are easy to follow; you’ll often pay at the counter in the shop, although in some instances you can pay at the pump using a bank card.
Electric vehicles and charging points
Numerous providers offer an extensive network of electric vehicle charging points in Britain’s major cities and across the main road network. There are more than 20,000 charging locations already in operation and more are being added each year; some are free to use, while others require a payment using a contactless debit or credit card.
The Zap Map phone application can be used to find your nearest charging point. Note that a number of rural areas may not have charging points and you may wish to consider this when looking at car hire.
Get to know the British breakdown services
The AA, RAC and Green Flag are the major breakdown assistance services in the UK. If you break down on a motorway, you can call for emergency assistance from roadside orange SOS phones.
Most car-hire agencies have their own cover, and charges will include membership of the AA, the RAC or Green Flag. Be sure to ask the rental company to provide all emergency service numbers.
If you are not a member of an affiliated organisation, you can still contact a rescue service, although it may cost more.
The Environmental Transport Association gives advice on reducing the impact of carbon emissions, as well as offering a number of ethical breakdown services.
What to do if you have an accident while driving in Britain
If you have an accident that involves injury or another vehicle, you must stop, regardless of the severity of the collision. If anyone with reasonable grounds to do so requests your personal details such as name, address or insurance details, you must provide them. You can find further information on what to do in the event of an accident on the government website.