Hints and Tips on Driving Classic Cars in the UK

Over the years we have had numerous customers from the US and Europe and we are frequently asked about driving on what they regard as 'the wrong side of the road'.


The first thing to understand is that we don't drive on the wrong side of the road, we drive on the right side of the road over here. That is right as in the ‘correct’ side of the road, which is of course the left hand side of the road. This goes back long before the days of the motor car. Mounted riders would pass each other right hand to right hand so that they could fight with swords. Go and see a jousting tournament at Warwick Castle if you don’t believe me. If the driver of a left hand drive car started wielding a sword he would decapitate his passenger, rather than the opposition. So it is quite logical really. Fortunately with the exception of small amounts of road rage it is no longer necessary to keep your weapon arm free, so it doesn’t matter that half the world chose to drive on the left and half chose to drive on the right.  


A few of the main points are summarised here, but everything you need to know about driving in the UK is contained in an HM Government publication ‘The Highway Code’. This contains all the rules that everyone should know and is the basis for the UK driving test. This can be viewed online or we will provide a copy on request.


Take the tourist road quiz from the Right Driver websiteIf you don't have access to a current copy of the Highway Code or don't have the time to read and digest it, then why not test your knowledge of our rules of the road and road signs online. There are a number of excellent online tests on the Right Driver website including one specifically aimed at drivers visiting the UK.


The main things that concern drivers are as follows:

  • Speed limits
  • Traffic lights
  • Roundabouts
  • Yellow boxes
  • Drinking and driving
Speed limits   


National Speed LimitUK speed limits aren’t always obvious. Firstly although the UK is now part of Europe we have managed to keep miles rather than kilometres so all speed limit signs are in MPH. The speed limit in built up areas is generally 30, although in some places, e.g. near schools it can be 20.  


If there are no speed limit signs but there is street lighting, then this counts as a built up area and the limit is 30. Outside towns, the most commonly seen speed limit sign is a white circle with a black sloping line. This means National Speed Limit which is 60 on single carriageway roads and 70 on dual carriageways and motorways. So be careful as this one sign can mean 60 or 70 mph.  


Do people stick to the speed limits? This varies considerably. On motorways the trucks tend to fill up the left hand lane and do between 60 and 70. Some trucks are limited to 56. So the cars in the middle lane do between 70 and 80, nearer 80. Traffic in the third lane tends to go even faster.  


There are relatively few police on our motorways. Some of the overhead gantry signs, particularly on the M42 around Birmingham and the M4 and M25 near London contain speed cameras.  


You are much more at risk of being caught speeding on slower roads than on motorways. Local councils and police forces are now allowed to keep the proceeds of speeding fines which previously used to go to central government. Each speeding conviction costs at least £60 and gives at least 3 points on a UK driving licence. At 12 points you lose your licence for at least 3 months. So guess what – speed cameras sprouted up all around the country. Some hidden behind trees, road signs or bridges. It became possible to drive down a road, be flashed four times and without knowing it, be several hundred pounds out of pocket and lose your licence. After a huge, and continuing, backlash from drivers the rules were changed. The speed cameras became SAFETY cameras, run by ‘safety partnerships’. They should be sighted at accident black spots, are no longer allowed to be hidden and are covered in yellow reflective plastic so you can see them.


Now you get pressure waves in the traffic flow. Cars travel at 70 or more, until they see a yellow camera and then slow down to the required speed, pass the camera and then up to 70 again. Depending on which statistics you read the new safety approach has had no effect on reducing accidents and has even resulted in an increase in rear end shunts. But the police have more funds so it must be good.  


If any of our hire customers are caught in a speed trap, we will receive notification from the relevant police force and we are legally obliged to provide details of the person driving the car.


Traffic lights  


Traffic LightsOur traffic lights work slightly differently from those in the US and Europe. In the US drivers are allowed to turn right on a red light, if it is clear. Over here most town roads are only two lanes – one in each direction and there is no room for turning traffic to merge in. So a red light always means STOP. If you drive through one, at best you will get a ticket, at worst you will get T-boned.


The phasing of our lights sometimes confuses people.

  • GREEN means you may go on if the way is clear. Take special care if you intend to turn left or right and give way to pedestrians who are crossing
  • AMBER means 'Stop' at the stop line. You may go on only if the AMBER appears after you have crossed the stop line or are so close to it that to pull up might cause an accident
  • RED means 'Stop'. Wait behind the stop line on the carriageway
  • RED AND AMBER also means 'Stop'. Do not pass through or start until GREEN shows. In practice you will find drivers start to move at this point
Because too many people run through RED lights, many traffic lights have cameras set to catch such dangerous drivers.  


In some European countries the full set of lights will only work at peak times and the AMBER light will flash at other times meaning that you can proceed through the junction with care. This does not happen in the UK, so if you see a single AMBER light, it is just about to change to RED.  

  One the joys of driving in the UK a roundabout. The same principles apply whether they are large motorway intersections of small white mini roundabouts.



RoundaboutTo keep traffic flowing without the use of traffic lights we invented roundabouts (traffic circles).


The rules are simple.



  • Give priority to traffic approaching from your right, unless directed otherwise by signs, road markings or traffic lights. So if you are trying to join a roundabout, you wait for a gap.   
  • If you are trying to leave, you have priority. Signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want.


    A pair of mini roundabouts often used to ease traffic flow at a staggered road junction



To ease the problem in small towns, where there is neither room for traffic lights nor roundabouts, someone came up with the bright idea of a ‘mini’ roundabout. This is small white blob in the middle of a road junction, as if someone spilled a tin of white paint.


Approach these in the same way as normal roundabouts. All vehicles MUST pass round the central markings except large vehicles which are physically incapable of doing so. Remember, there is less space to manoeuvre and less time to signal. Beware of vehicles making U-turns.


At double mini-roundabouts treat each roundabout separately and give way to traffic from the right. 

  A 'box junction' is often but not always accompanied by traffic lights. The objective is to keep the box clear to ease the traffic flow.

Box junctions  


There is one more type of marked junction that may cause confusion – yellow boxes. Some traffic light controlled junctions will have a yellow box. These are criss-cross yellow lines painted on the road.


You MUST NOT enter the box until your exit road or lane is clear.  


However, you may enter the box and wait when you want to turn right, and are only stopped from doing so by oncoming traffic, or by other vehicles waiting to turn right.






Drinking and driving  


Do not drink and drive as it will seriously affect your judgement and abilities. You MUST NOT drive with a breath alcohol level higher than 35 mg /100ml or a blood alcohol level of more than 80 mg/100 ml. This equates to about 2 pints of standard strength beer (4%) or 2 glasses of wine. Alcohol will:

  • give a false sense of confidence
  • reduce co-ordination and slow down reactions
  • affect judgement of speed, distance and risk
  • reduce your driving ability, even if you are below the legal limit
  • take time to leave your body; you may be unfit to drive in the evening after drinking at lunchtime, or in the morning after drinking the previous evening. If you are going to drink, arrange another means of transport.
For these reasons we never provide alcohol in any of our picnic hampers, so don’t be offended if we refuse to provide you with a champagne picnic.  


Use of Mobile Phones  


It is an offence to use a hand held mobile phone while driving. Any driver caught using a hand held mobile phone is liable to incur an on the spot fine of £60 as a minimum and have their licence endorsed with 3 penalty points. Depending on the nature of the driving at the time, the driver may be at risk of being charged with Driving Without Due Care and Attention. None of our cars are fitted with hands free kits, so we recommend that phones are either answered by the passenger or that the driver wears a hands free headset. 


No Smoking  

From 1st July 2007 it is illegal to smoke in any vehicle that is used by the general public, which includes hire cars.From 1st July 2007 it is illegal to smoke in any vehicle that is used by the general public, which includes hire cars.


That includes all hire cars including our classic cars. This is subject to a possible fixed penalty of £50 which is reduced to £30 if paid within 15 days.  






So that sums it up, don’t drink alcohol, don't hold a phone, keep an eye on your speed and watch out for yellow boxes on grey poles, stop at all red lights, don’t get stuck in a yellow box painted on a junction and go round in circles where appropriate.  


If you really want to know more we can supply copies of ‘The Highway Code’ or this can be viewed and/or ordered, online.

All extracts from the Highway Code are © Crown copyright


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