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Driving on the left: advice for visitors to the UK

You have just arrived in the UK for your visit, picked up your hire car and … got into the passenger side by mistake! This is one of a relatively small number of countries where the rule of the road is that you drive on the left, which also means that most cars have right-hand drive. That in itself presents a few challenges for those who are not used to it, but let’s concentrate here on the peculiarities of actually driving on the left.

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When driving along a narrow road, whether in town or country, you will inevitably meet somebody coming the other way. Your natural tendency will be to swerve to the right to make room for the other vehicle. In Britain, this could cause a head-on crash, because the other driver will be swerving to his/her left, which is what you should have done. You must concentrate at all times and “think left”.

This is also essential when you need to turn into a multi-lane road that has a central refuge. Suppose that you have been on a minor road and have stopped when it meets a junction with a main road. To turn right, you must cross the traffic in two goes, stopping again before joining the flow of traffic going your way. Many nasty accidents have been caused when overseas drivers have forgotten where they are and turned right into the first carriageway they meet and not the second. You must also, of course, remember that at the first crossing the traffic is coming from your right and at the second it is coming from your left.

When you turn right from a main road into a side road you will be turning across the opposite side of your road, with traffic coming towards you from your left as you turn.  Whereas turning left was the tricky turn where you come from, here it is turning right. Also, be sure to turn into the left side of the road you are turning into, and not the right side.

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Roundabouts are a particular feature of the British road system that you may not be used to. The rule is that you always give way to traffic approaching from your right, which means traffic that is already on the roundabout. A typical roundabout might contain four roads leading into it. As you approach, there will probably be two lanes marked out, one with arrows pointing left and straight on, and the other with an arrow pointing to the right. Only go into the right-hand lane if you are turning right, otherwise stay in the left-hand lane. Go round the roundabout on the “outside” if turning left or going straight on, and the “inside” if turning right, moving across as you approach your exit.

Many large roundabouts have the lanes marked with the number of the road (and the direction) to which they lead. These lanes will take you in exactly the direction you want to go, so be sure that you know the number you need to follow!

Overtaking is always done on the right-hand side, and it is important to move back to the left after you have finished your manoeuvre. Many bad accidents have happened when non-British drivers have forgotten this and have carried on driving on the wrong side of the road.

On multi-lane roads, such as motorways, it is essential to remember that overtaking on the left is only permitted when traffic is badly held up. Under normal circumstances this is definitely not allowed. This also means that it is not permitted to stick in the middle lane if the left-hand lane is clear. If you need to pass someone who has forgotten this rule, you must go all the way out to the third lane and then back again!

The above all assumes that you are driving a right-hand drive car. Should you be in a left-hand drive car you will face some extra difficulties. In particular, when overtaking you will find it more difficult to see the traffic coming the other way. You may need to rely on your passenger to act as look-out in these events, or be careful not to get so close to the vehicle in front that you cannot see what is coming towards you.

It is important to make good use of your mirrors at all times, and to be aware of everything that is going on around you. Because your natural reactions are “all wrong” when driving on the left, and you will need more time to respond to the situations you will encounter, it is essential to give yourself enough time to adjust. That means driving a little slower than you might otherwise be used to. As in so many other things, better safe than sorry!

It will not take long to get used to driving on the left, and your reactions will gradually become more natural. However, you do need to concentrate all the time which means that driving may be more tiring for you. You therefore need to stop and rest more often than you might do when driving at home. Mind you, you are driving in the UK, so there is usually something worth stopping for!


What do you think?

22 Points

Written by Indexer


  1. Having driven a “right-hand drive” car almost all my life, I almost had an accident the moment I started to drive in the States! Even though I knew that they drove on the opposite side, I guess old habits die hard. After that incident, my brother-in-law refused to let me drive.?

    • My only experience of “wrong side” driving was a short trip to northern France. I found it surprisingly easy to adjust, but I much preferred to crawl along behind a slow-moving vehicle than risk overtaking it!

  2. I’ve been at the other end of this, driving on the right, both in my own Irish RHD car and in local hire cars, and I know just how hard it can be. One morning, upon exiting our rural campsite and driving along a bendy deserted road, I was nearly responsible for wiping out my entire family, along with a few Bretons travelling in the opposite direction. I comprehended the situation in the very nick of time and managed to avoid the catastrophe. Since then I have always concentrated very hard on the task.
    Your piece is very rich on detail, but to get the message across clearly, I think it would greatly benefit from a number of diagrams.