Driving in the UK: Quick Tips

This will be my last post on getting your UK license/overall driving in the UK (until I discover yet another weird caveat to driving here). E doesn’t understand how there’s MORE to say about driving here…but I reminded him of our parking ticket, traffic ticket, missing side mirrors, general confusion, and multiple month long process of obtaining a license.  And I just wanted to compile a little list of oddities I’ve encountered, things I think you should know about, or just humorous little tidbits.

Driving test related quick tips

Look, signal, and maneuver – This may not seem that difficult to grasp or seem that important…but it is. In the states we are generally taught to signal, look, then move. Here (to pass your test) you have to look in every single direction, check for bikers, and blind spots before you even think about touching that turn signal.

Speed Bumps – the are quite large and can be placed differently across the road- but you’re supposed to straddle them. Even if that means (that due to parking) that means going into the complete wrong side of the road if that’s the only place you can straddle the bump- because the goal is to make the person testing you as comfortable as possible.

Four Maneuvers – During your driving test you’ll be asked to perform one of four maneuvers. You won’t know which until your asked. You can make errors on the maneuver and still pass- unless you drive over a kerb. That’s an automatic fail. But you can hit the kerb, then pull forward and straighten out. During every maneuver you must look every direction 1,000 times. It makes actually completing the maneuver distracting.

  • Back In – Backing into a bay parking spot. Easy enough but make sure you practice it.
  • Parallel Park – also, not difficult. But you need to be a full car length behind the car in front of you (see road behind the tires of the car in front of you) and between 8-12 inches from the car. This is not Chicago squeeze in as close as possible parallel parking. Learning this should explain all your rage when trying to find a parking spot and freaking out because everyone could move up 6 more inches and create 10 more parking spots.
  • Three-point turn– don’t forget to swivel your head 100x more than actually necessary.
  • Back around the corner – yes, this is a maneuver. I have never in life encountered a situation where I would need to do this. But I actually have seen it down and if you mock it, the Scots will tell you all about how this is a maneuver they use all the time. It just seems illogical to me to encourage people to reverse down the road. But yeah, backing down a road- totally normally here.

Dazzled – All over your written test you will see/read the word ‘dazzled’ in regards to driving. You must avoid dazzling other drivers at all costs! Fog lights dazzle drivers. Reverse lights dazzle drivers. Hazard lights dazzle drivers. High beams (or brights) dazzle people. People are just easily dazzled in Scotland.

Emergency Stop – this may or may not happen during your driving test. E got one, but I didn’t. You literally just slam on the breaks as hard as you possibly can. No messing around.  Make sure your back seats and locked so they don’t flip down. Make sure you don’t have a soccer ball in your backseat that will fly forward and break your mirror or anything. Seriously.

Pull Over Anywhere – literally you can (and will be encouraged to) pull over anywhere. As long as there aren’t 2 yellow lines. But you will be asked to stop and pull over on busy country roads with no kerb and a straight drop off to a ditch…totally inconveniencing everyone around you- but it doesn’t matter. I got asked no less than 10 times to randomly pull over during my test.

No Hazard Lights – hazard lights are like a dirty word here. I don’t know when you’re supposed to use them other than never. They might dazzle a driver. Also you’ll have to drop your automatic into neutral with a parking brake instead of park…because to get to park you go through reverse which having your reverse lights flick on for a second might either dazzle the driver behind you or confuse them…as if they aren’t already confused what the hell you’re doing pulling over at such a stupid place on the road blocking all traffic.

Parking Brake – they don’t care if you have an automatic, every time you come to stop you must put the parking brake on.

BYOML – Bring your own mirror and L-plates. I have no idea why the test administrator doesn’t have his/her own since they do the job all day every day. But nope. You need to bring “L” learner’s tags for the front and back of your car and your own suction cup mirror for the test administrator to use.

Passport Date Fear – Your driving instructor may put the fear in you that you can’t drive yourself to your test, especially if you technically aren’t supposed to be driving. But I can say they didn’t check E or I’s visa/passport date to see when we entered the country. So I wouldn’t worry about it.

General driving in the UK tips

 Parking ALL directions – You might turn down a road and see cars facing you parked on both sides of the road and suddenly freak out that you’ve turned the wrong way down a one way. Fear not. Most times you haven’t. You’re just allowed to park any direction you please.

Must be a one way road – See above. And in addition, you turn down a road, and there’s cars parked on each side, and you see a car coming at you, and this road CAN’T POSSIBLY BE A TWO WAY ROAD BECAUSE YOU SIMPLY CAN NOT FIT TWO CARS PASSING EACH OTHER ON IT. But, it is actually a two-way road. And furthermore, this is almost every neighborhood road in Scotland. You really practice your patience waiting for an oncoming car to pass through.

Parking Garages – they have them and they didn’t design them well. Sometimes you go wind up at a dead end in the parking garage and have to do a 42-point turn to get out. A lot of the time you won’t be able to make it up around the next floor’s corner without a reverse involved.

Unnamed Roads – Quite common. Not in any downtown, but I live under 5 miles from the city centre of Aberdeen, and you have to turn onto two unnamed roads to get to my house. Do you know how hard that makes giving directions?

Disappearing Lane Markings – you might be driving down the road, clearly seeing the dividing line between your lane and the other. And all of a sudden that lane marking disappears, only to reappear 10 yards later. When the lane divider disappears, suck it in! That means that out of nowhere on that wee bit of road it’s not actually two lanes anymore. As in, there isn’t room for two proper lanes.

Handmade Road Signs – You learn those are the ones you should listen to the most.

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Dual Carriageway – A proper American highway! Two lanes of traffic going each way and a median!

Stop Signs – There aren’t any! Okay, I’ve seen about 7 since I moved here over a year ago. Yield. Always a yield. Generally just the triangle painted on the pavement. Be careful not to miss it or you could end up blowing through an intersection and getting sideswiped.

Tire Pressure – Apparently Scots are really stressed to an extreme level the importance of tire pressure awareness. There is always a line 3 deep to fill up your tires.

Gas Station Etiquette – Gas stations are one way. One way in, one way out. But it’s not marked as such. You’ll just realize it when everyone is glaring at you. To that end, all the gas pump hoses are extra long so you can almost always fill up regardless of what side your tank actually is.

Winter/Snow Tires – extremely overused in this country. Possibly another fear mongering tactic. Although I might eat my words now that I live in the country…But we drive through some pretty rough snow and conditions in the Midwest and I don’t know anyone who swaps out their tires in the winter.

Set Speed Limits – you won’t find many speed limit signs in Scotland. More than anything you’ll see this sign.040924_cb_mp_comm_sign_001

That sign means national speed limits apply. And 90% of the time, all speed limits and signs are just national speed limits. Here are the rules:

  1. Dual Carriageway: 70
  2. Residential Areas w. Street Lights : 30
  3. Anywhere else: 60

The only time when it’s different than that is in some residential areas where they speed limit will be posted as 20. Those are your options: 70, 60, 30, and 20 mph. That means that on crazy ass absolute pitch black windy unmarked narrow roads with sheep jumping across….it’s 60 mph.

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