Driving in Great Britain on a non-GB licence
May 19, 2016 1:39 PM   Subscribe

 
And Northern Ireland?
posted by jonathanhughes at 1:53 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sweet I am totally listing this on my linkedin.
posted by 7segment at 1:57 PM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


(GB does not include NI. The UK does.)
posted by runincircles at 1:58 PM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


And Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland is in the United Kingdom, but not in Great Britain, which refers to the island itself. Confusingly, the country code for the United Kingdom is GB, but yeah, NI is not in Great Britain.
posted by brainmouse at 1:59 PM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Driving in NI.
posted by gregglind at 2:04 PM on May 19, 2016


I was expecting a simulator, whereupon I make a right-hand turn directly into the grill of a double-decker bus.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:05 PM on May 19, 2016 [16 favorites]


I've driven several thousands of miles on my visits to the UK, and in my experience there are 3 major issues that I have with driving over there:

1) Driving on the left
2) The road design
3) Amount and speed of traffic.

As the saying goes, you want to pick 2.

For example:
The Highlands - Driving on the left on narrow roads, but little traffic.
The SouthEast - Driving on the left in crazy traffic, but the roads are much bigger and often divided.
Parking garages (yes really) - Slow speeds, follow the arrows, but remembering to keep left on exit is the challenge.
London and environs - Tends* to have all 3 at the same time. Avoid.

But seriously, it is not as hard as that second link makes it out.
Common sense goes a long way, don't make any sudden moves, don't feel the need to beat the locals at their own game, and things will go smoothly.

Also, if you can competently drive a manual shift (meaning, no jerking from the intersection, stop and start on a hill with no rollback, etc), a RHD car isn't that difficult. The shift pattern is the same, the pedals are the same, you're just using a different hand to move the lever.
Plus, if you're driving a small-ish car (recommended), you'll save a ton on gas, which is important with the crazy prices over there.

*White Van drivers have a different version of left than most other drivers
posted by madajb at 2:05 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


That "sinuous & suicidally narrow" video from Loch Lomond looks just about as narrow & twisty as your average state highway in New England.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:07 PM on May 19, 2016


And Northern Ireland?

Don't worry. CGP Grey will explain it all to you.
posted by zachlipton at 2:10 PM on May 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


*watches zachlipton's link. twitches*
posted by billiebee at 2:45 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is a test of whether you "may" drive in the UK with your license.

Can you is a different question.
posted by srboisvert at 2:58 PM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


That CGP Grey link is far too simplistic. It doesn't cover the semi-devolved nature of Scotland, the hemi-semi devolved Welsh, or the Northern Ireland agreement at all.

And as for Orkney and Shetland and the outstanding issues with Denmark - well!
posted by Devonian at 3:10 PM on May 19, 2016


Soon after we first moved from the US to the UK we rented a car to do some exploring. I was surprised at how easy it was to get used to driving on the other side of the road; the fact that all the other cars were doing so seemed to help a lot with orientation. But we were entirely unprepared for the narrowness of rural country roads. Here's a sample representative conversation from our first drive:

Passenger (sitting on the left): OH MY GOD YOU ARE DRIVING WAY TOO FAR TO THE LEFT YOU ARE GOING TO SCRAPE THAT FUCKING HEDGEROW

Driver (on the right) NO WAY I AM WAY OVER THE CENTER OF THE ROAD I AM WAY TOO FAR ON THE RIGHT I'M GOING TO HIT ONCOMING TRAFFIC!

And of course we were both correct. And then we had to stop because of sheep in the road.
posted by tractorfeed at 3:11 PM on May 19, 2016 [17 favorites]


I drove in Ireland (visiting from the US) and the driving on the left didn't bother me very much at all. The trouble was a combination that collectively became very stressful at moments: narrow country lanes and congested urban/village environments, shifting the manual transmission with the "wrong" hand, and a rental car that was bigger than I'd have liked with unfamiliar dimensions, so I never was quite sure where the corners were. This often led to the situation described by tractorfeed.
posted by exogenous at 3:14 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


OMG this is perfect timing. I'm a Canuck who recently moved to the UK for work, and I'll be needing to rent a car to drive around the Welsh hills to a music festival in a couple of months. I was just telling myself this afternoon, "I better figure out this driving license thing before I try to rent a car". And then BAM.

Thanks, gregglind!
posted by LMGM at 3:16 PM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Only time I've driven in Great Britain was in Orkney. My main problem was that with the roads so empty, it was easier to forget I should be driving on the left (no visual cues) and so a couple of times turned into the wrong lane.

Well, that and the fog was so thick at times I couldn't see anything... but I was kind of used to that since I was living on the coast south of SF at the time which is similar.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:53 PM on May 19, 2016


OMG this is perfect timing. I'm a Canuck who recently moved to the UK for work, and I'll be needing to rent a car to drive around the Welsh hills to a music festival in a couple of months. I was just telling myself this afternoon, "I better figure out this driving license thing before I try to rent a car". And then BAM.

Canada and the UK have a reciprocal license treaty so you can just automagically exchange your Canuck license for a UK one and then back if you return to Canadia.
posted by srboisvert at 3:58 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a Brit who drives in China I can't help but smile. Oh how I miss the order of the UK amid the chaos that is driving in China.
posted by Ramo at 4:02 PM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Passenger (sitting on the left): OH MY GOD YOU ARE DRIVING WAY TOO FAR TO THE LEFT YOU ARE GOING TO SCRAPE THAT FUCKING HEDGEROW

Where I am in Cornwall the hedges are called Cornish hedges, which indicates that they are actually mounds of dirt covered in large stones, covered in more dirt and then allowed to seed and flower. Which is worth knowing if the scraping the hedges option ever seems like the better one.
posted by biffa at 4:29 PM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


My main problem was that with the roads so empty, it was easier to forget I should be driving on the left (no visual cues) and so a couple of times turned into the wrong lane.

This. It's not the driving on the left that's hard (keeping the driver's side towards the middle remains the same) it's the turning that messes with you b/c the visual indicators drop away inside of intersections and you instinctively head towards the "right" side.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:51 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Every now and then, usually when overly tired and my thoughts adrift, my brain would suddenly scream OH MY GOD YOU'RE DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE, but on the whole I found it surprisingly easy getting acclimated to driving on the left when we lived in the UK.

Fond memories of Cornwall and being waved down by an oncoming driver to warn us of a particularly skittish horse around the next bend that was liable to jump the fence if we were foolish enough to speed past too quickly "Horse on bonnet: not recommended!"

I really miss it now that I live in Miami where standards are so incredibly low and the levels of hostility and general dickishness so high.

I especially loved negotiating with oncoming cars on those narrow lanes in Cornwall. It's exactly that sort of situation that makes me skeptical of widespread autonomous car adoption, at least in areas like that - I'm imagining total stalemate any time two cars meet and each tries to defer to the other.
posted by theory at 5:13 PM on May 19, 2016


The Highlands - Driving on the left on narrow roads, but little traffic.

This makes it sound like you are not experienced on the roads marked “single track with passing places.” you can only drive down the centre — just keep to the left at the “passing places” and hope you don have to reverse too far to reach one.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:52 PM on May 19, 2016


This makes it sound like you are not experienced on the roads marked “single track with passing places.” you can only drive down the centre — just keep to the left at the “passing places” and hope you don have to reverse too far to reach one.

I have an excellent dashboard video of me reversing about half a mile to make room for an HGV on its way to a distillery.
I'm pretty sure I had the right of way, but it seemed imprudent to force the issue.
posted by madajb at 7:29 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


According to this website my British ancestry limits me to landships and gyrocopters.
posted by um at 8:00 PM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Driving on the "wrong" side is no where near as hard as people imagine if the car you're in matches the roads. You'll still be positioning yourself towards the centre of the road, people adjust very quickly.

American visitors we have hosted have found the prevalence of manual transmissions ("stick shift") more of a problem. If you rent or borrow a car in the USA it is highly likely to be an automatic transmission, to the extent that a lot of drivers are not competent with a manual. If you've only drive an automatic since learning (or since "ever") make sure you check ahead with whoever you're renting/borrowing from. Manual transmissions are very common in the UK and the default for budget rentals here and across most of Europe.
posted by samworm at 12:08 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


That Orcutt fellow in the second link is a bit twitchy, isn't he?
posted by psolo at 2:04 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


samworm: "Driving on the "wrong" side is no where near as hard as people imagine if the car you're in matches the roads. You'll still be positioning yourself towards the centre of the road, people adjust very quickly."
Quite the reverse for me. I've driven in London, England, Wales, Scotland, NI and Ireland on various holidays, and I'm much more comfortable driving my own LHD car than a RHD rental. When driving my own car, I don't need to spend any extra brain cycles on operating a car with the stick on the wrong side of me, unfamiliar instrumentation etc. - I can focus fully on going the wrong way around the many roundabouts.

This is of course greatly helped by my wife (who refuses to drive on the left unless it's an emergency) being a great co-pilot, helping to spot for overtaking, reminding me to keep left when turning and so on.
posted by brokkr at 2:09 AM on May 20, 2016


samworm: "Manual transmissions are very common in the UK and the default for budget rentals here and across most of Europe."
When renting cars in Ireland, automatics are very expensive compared to a regular car. My theory is that this is to rip off the many American tourists who can't drive stick.
posted by brokkr at 2:10 AM on May 20, 2016


I was expecting a simulator, whereupon I make a right-hand turn directly into the grill of a double-decker bus.

So was I! This reminded me of my visit to the UK a few years ago. I was quite comfortable* driving a (LHD) camper in England until one right turn on a T intersection when I looked LEFT and seeing no traffic decided to proceed, only to look RIGHT and slam on the brakes. Then I sat in silence, watching a long column of passing cars whose drivers eyed me with expressions ranging from horror to exasperation and amusement. Were I driving a more sprightly vehicle, this might have ended in disaster.

In retrospect, the best advice I can give to someone planning to drive in England is to get European Truck Simulator 2 and practice.

* Except on roundabouts.
posted by hat_eater at 3:04 AM on May 20, 2016


I can and I have. Never in a car, though. It's easier on a motorbike, because you don't have the whole deal with parts of the vehicle that are on the wrong side and if you do fuck up, you need hella little space to save yourself.

I have only one rear view mirror, and I switched it over to the other side as a handy reminder that Things Are Different. Worked like a charm.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:23 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Being a pedestrian in the city also has challenges for Americans (and others, I imagine.) When you step off a curb to cross the road the natural tendency is to look the wrong way for on-coming traffic. This leads to some interesting moments when not using a zebra crossing!
posted by fgdmorr at 6:37 AM on May 20, 2016


Honestly, I find it easiest to not even try to remember where to look, and look in ALL directions ALL of the time.
(But the markings on the streets in London that state LOOK RIGHT are helpful, too.)
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:50 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Chris Orcutt piece is a bit, well...

"For most of our trip, I timed the driving so that we covered a lot of ground before dawn"

I bet his partner loved that.

"Quickly darling, we must away; the sky begins to redden in the east and the natives are stirring from their slumbers"
posted by fatfrank at 6:51 AM on May 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I recently developed a field-expedient chant after my partner muffed a right turn: "Right's like a left." Maybe it's more effective when associated with a near-death experience, but maybe it'll help you avoid one in the first place. Enjoy!
posted by whuppy at 7:06 AM on May 20, 2016


Also, I kinda want put Orcutt into a car on Canal St just to watch his head asplode.
posted by whuppy at 7:12 AM on May 20, 2016


I could drive in the UK, but I wouldn't want to die there. We were just talking about this the other day.
posted by Oyéah at 8:14 AM on May 20, 2016


whuppy: ""Right's like a left.""
Left? Right!
posted by brokkr at 8:20 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Chris Orcutt piece is a bit, well...

"For most of our trip, I timed the driving so that we covered a lot of ground before dawn"


So basically they were driving in the middle of the night. The warmer air brought by the jetstream helps you not realize just how far north the UK is. He claims that they were driving before dawn in June, a month when sunrise is always before 5 am. This means dawn basically begins at around 4 am (ask me how I know. Wait, don't.)
posted by tractorfeed at 9:21 AM on May 20, 2016


If you've only drive an automatic since learning (or since "ever") make sure you check ahead with whoever you're renting/borrowing from.

I think I might be the only person I know who learned to drive in the US who learned in a manual.

I'm going with my boyfriend to visit my grandad and we keep going round and round about a) whether to hire a car and b) if we do, whether to book an automatic (which, according to the internet, is only slightly more expensive). I don't entirely believe there will be an automatic available in an area where American tourists are not to be found regardless of whether the internet will let you book one.
posted by hoyland at 3:57 PM on May 20, 2016


hoyland, I've not entirely worked out how car hire companies manage their stock, but every time I've been waiting around at a car hire place, they're always on the phone to someone at a branch in Swindon or Leeds or Newport about when that Yaris is coming in. And when I was asked "Have you driven an Insignia before?" and I answered "Yes, I drove 300 miles in one I got from you last weekend, I've probably driven that exact same car before.", my answer was gently poo-poohed. It was indeed a different Insignia. (And it only drove 15 more miles as a hire car, on account of me doing a full turn on a mini-roundabout at the same time someone wanted to overtake me, but that's a different story.)

So yes, you'll get an automatic if you ordered one, assuming you're using a franchised car hire brand.
posted by ambrosen at 7:36 AM on May 21, 2016


Hoyland, sad news re: prices: For a few days unlimited - stick was $150, automatic: $270, at least as of a few days ago, from Heathrow.
posted by gregglind at 10:20 AM on May 21, 2016


My hovercraft license from Lichtenstein is apparently acceptable, but only if I ride my own hovercraft into the country.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:20 AM on May 26, 2016


But do you have an endorsement to carry eels?
posted by exogenous at 6:48 PM on May 26, 2016


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