Traffic in Scotland.

Before You Leave.

  • The first and best suggestion we can make is to get a copy of Robert Lockhart's book, Driving In Britain - A North American's Guide to the Ins and Outs and Roundabouts of Driving Over There. We came across it years ago and have reread it - as a refresher - before each subsequent driving holiday in Britain.
  • The book is - as they say - a jolly good read. Do not underestimate the contents because they are presented in a very readable style. Lockhart explains to us colonists the very things we need to know... the important details of managing those mysterious roundabouts, driving on motorways [expressways], exercising caution at zebra crossings [pedestrian crossings], understanding the cryptic yellow lines on the kerbs ['curbs'] and more. After reading it, not only will you be aware of the important details of driving on the left, you may also have gained an insight into the way a British driver thinks - and, therefore - will tend to behave on the road with you. That is called 'defensive driving'.
  • We do get the personal satisfaction of passing along a good piece of advice that someday could possibly save a life... yours! ...or, even ours.

The Highway Code & Road Signs.

Route Planning and Maps

  • Before you leave, be sure to have the driving directions all sorted out. It used to take us the better part of an hour to sort out [evaluate] the route options, mileage and travel times for a single trip using Google Maps. Microsoft's® Microsoft Autoroute Europe 2011 does the same in seconds... along with detailed, turn-by-turn driving directions and maps. Start with your location and maximum desired driving time and the software offers venues within your planned driving range.
  • In recent years, the MOT ['Ministry of Transport'] has embarked on an extensive renaming of the roadways. For example, an 'A' road with two digits ('Ann') may be changed to three digits ('Annn'), another 'A' road ('Annn') may be downgraded to a secondary road, 'B' status, with a corresponding change in both the alpha and numeric designation ('Bnnnn'). In virtually all cases, the geography of the road has not changed, only its designation. But that can be a bit off-putting ['discouraging'] when you are in a race against time trying to visit that must see stately home before they close for the day.
  • Therefore, even if you have a collection of maps from previous holidays ['vacations'] in Britain, we suggest getting a copy of the most recent AA - Big Road Atlas Britain. It is virtually a 'given' that it also will be out-of-date even as it is printed. But, it will have less errors than older versions. And, that should reduce the likelihood of getting lost at an inconvenient moment.

The Hired Car

  • Manual, stick-shift transmissions are the norm for hired ['rental'] cars. If you want an automatic, be sure to reserve one. After all, you will have enough to do 'driving on the left' without simultaneously relearning how to manage a stick-shift.
  • Be sure to look into the size of your hired car's boot ['trunk'.] Will it accommodate all of the luggage that you are bringing along? We always request a particular make/model vehicle. One rental agency - who shall go nameless - substituted a much smaller sized vehicle. We ended up putting the spare tyre ['tire'] on the back seat (!) with a large note on the tyre saying 'Gone flat. Fix' ...offering the causal passer-by a plausible reason to why it was there.

And, One Last Bit Before You Leave

While on Holiday ['Vacation']

Being a page of tourist Driving Tips that you will probably not find in the guide books.

  • Allow enough time for your body rest to adjust before getting behind the wheel. 
  • If possible, avoid collecting ['picking-up'] your hired ['rented'] car in the larger city centres ['downtown' areas].
  • In spite of the surcharges for hiring a car at airports, if we can organise ['arrange'] it, we try to start and end at airports. Advantages... The first few minutes can be spent at low speed in the car park ['parking lot'] getting the feel of the car before venturing out. The roadways nr ['near'] airports tend to be very clearly marked. Similarly, airports themselves are clearly signposted so it is easy to find where it is you arranged for the return.
  • The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) and Automobile Association (AA) - equivalent of the AAA in the States - have web sites worth exploring.

Emergency Services

  • We hope that you won't have to use this next bit of information... While in Britain, if you need to contact emergency services ring ['dial'] 999. Note that this number is the equivalent of dialing 911 in the United States or (mostly) 112 on Europe's main land.

Pay and Display' Car Parks

  • You will find in town centres 'pay and display' car parks. Estimate the length of your stay and prepay at the parking lot's vending machine. Affix the receipt to the clip or button (So, that's what it's for!) on the inside of your car's windscreen ['windshield'.]

Direction Indicators

  • Visitors will find that traffic travels at speeds which are sometimes uncomfortably fast for conditions. When reaction time is added to the equation, it is a 'given' that using direction indicators ['turn signals'] properly can help to avert accidents.
  • When driving in Britain, stay alert, think ahead and let 'em know where you are headed by signaling properly.
  • In general, good practice suggests that it takes three blinks of the direction indicator before other drivers become aware of your intentions.
  • 'Late signalling' - turning the signal on just as you are beginning your maneuver - can be dangerous and quite possibly worse than no signalling at all.

Direction Indicators and Roundabouts

  • For example, let us say that you are in the inner lane of a roundabout and planning on doing a '360'. That is, going all the way around so that you and your navigator can sort out ['determine'] which exit you need to take. The correct procedure is to leave your right direction indicator ['turn signal'] blinking to indicate that you - at this time - will continue going in a circle. As you change from the inner to the nearside ['left'] lane, use your left turn signal to indicate your intention to do so. Immediately upon completing the lane change, turn the signal off if you will not be taking the next exit.
  • Then, as you are approaching your selected turn off, turn on your left direction indicator immediately after you pass the exit just before the one you want. To signal any earlier would be to indicate that you will be taking the next possible exit!
  • There are many more 'combinations and permutations' of proper turn signal usage for roundabouts. Our experience has been that - by being observant - proper British turn signal practices have become 'second nature' to us the more we have driven in Britain.

Oops! Sorry.

  • As visitors to Britain, we have admittedly made our share of silly driving mistakes. The fortunate fact that there were no accidents is testimony to British driving skills and the patience and courtesy of British drivers.
  • Learner drivers in Britain are required to display an 'L' sign on their cars to let other motorists know that they are still acquiring their skills. On one of the British Islands, the hired ['rental'] cars of tourists are required to display a 'T' sign to let other drivers know that a tourist relatively unfamiliar with the local driving conventions is at the wheel. It would probably be a good idea to require 'T' signs in mainland Britain were it not for the possibility of alerting potential thieves that a tourist unlikely to stay around to press charges has hired the car.
  • Absent a 'T' sign, the hapless tourist could benefit from having a way of communicating 'Oops! Sorry.' In the late 1960s the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) and the Highways Agency sponsored a 'Courtesy on the Road' program. Recognizing the need for motorists to communicate 'Oops! Sorry', they devised and promoted a hand signal of apology that they found to be instantly and intuitively recognised as an admission of guilt and contrition.
  • 'Oops! Sorry' hand signal of apology: Offending driver raises his/her left hand, palm forward.
  • Additionally, you might want to make a slight, 'sheepish' nod of your head along with the hand signal of apology.
  • An observation: It is not difficult to understand why this hand signal would be 'instantly and intuitively recognised as an admission of guilt and contrition'. Readers will recall the 'not to be trifled with' teacher of their grammar school days who asked the students 'Who did that?' Appreciating that only honesty could mitigate their deserved punishment, the offending student would raise their hand, palm forward.

Cheers and Thanks!

  • Having experienced an act of driving courtesy, remember to give the other driver a wave of your left (so as to be more readily seen) hand along with a big smile communicating - albeit silently - 'Cheers and Thank you!'
  • A friend of ours in England recalled the time when he was driving a business associate from the Colonies (i.e. America) around Wales for several days. The business associate remarked that our friend - although from Middle England - certainly knew an awful lot of folks in Scotland. When asked why he said that he responded, 'Because you and the other drivers are always waving to each other.' Our friend explained the 'Cheers and Thanks!' wave and pointed out that it was all about common courtesy.

The Etiquette of Wing Mirrors.

  • Every car we have hired in Britain has wing mirrors ['outside rear view mirrors'] that fold in against the car body. This can take as much as 12-inches off the effective width of the vehicle.
  • Many roads in Britain, for sure in Scotland, are excruciatingly narrow and bounded by dense, ancient hedgerows.
  • When faced with a tight passing situation, we quickly roll-down the farside ['driver's or right side'] and nearside ['passenger's or left side'] windows and pull-back the wing mirrors. That along with squeezing over all the way to the left (Remember... we are driving on the left over here!) may allow safe passage and a 'Cheers and Thanks Wave' from the other driver.

The Etiquette of Car Horns.

  • In many countries, car horns are mostly used as an expression of impatience and/or a somewhat negative opinion of someone else's driving abilities. In Britain, one rarely hears a car horn. That is simply not done. The only time one hears a car horn is as a warning of imminent danger! In the absence of 'imminent danger', drivers tend to call your attention to a situation by quickly flashing their headlights.

Don't Be a Danger Driver

  • Obey the speed limits and the traffic lights. (Yes. One can still find the odd ['occasional'] traffic light.) Note that many town councils can and do supercede otherwise nationwide speed limits with local, lower limits.
  • Do not even think about 'beating a train' to a level railway crossing! The trains can and do exceed 100 miles per hour. Speeding, disregarding traffic signals and not stopping at railway crossings are taken very seriously in Britain is drink driving ['drunk driving'].

Danger Drivers and Motorways

  • Common causes of 'road rage' (Yes. It exists in Britain.) on motorways ['expressways'] include...
  • Tailgaters - Either the car in back is driving too fast for conditions and is 'trapped' behind a sensible driver or the car in front is driving too slow for conditions. Either way, the car in back becomes a Tailgater.
  • Middle Lane Hogs - Overtaking ['passing'] on the mostly three-lane motorways is only on the right. If the inside lane is empty, a slow moving vehicle is in front of you in the middle lane and the outside lane is congested... good driving practice says that you flash your headlights. If the driver does not pull into the inside lane and relinquish the middle lane, he is a Middle Lane Hog and you have become a Tailgater.
  • Swoopers - Driving along in the outside lane, at the last minute a driver 'swoops' across the two inside lanes to a slip road ['off ramp'].
  • Mobile Phone Users - The car wandering back and forth over the lane lines is probably driven by either a drink driver ['driving under the influence'] or using a mobile telephone. Use of mobile phones while driving is subject to prosecution.

You're on a Candid Camera

  • Speed trap cameras called 'GATSO' (another link) are also used at traffic light and level crossings and document the infraction. If you spot one before the flash of light, it may be possible to hit the brakes and drop below the enforcement speed limit. You 'may' have been caught when you see the visible flash of light illuminating the car and driver. We say 'may have been caught' because GATSOs are notorious for malfunctioning and as many as 7 out of 8 are reportedly lacking film in the camera. But, all that is changing...
  • Newer, high-tech, digital speed cameras called 'Specs' send the information electronically and instantaneously to the authorities. They operate 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. The 'Specs' cameras are deployed in pairs and varying in distance from one another. All cars are identified by their registration ['license'] plates. The precise time of each snap ['photo'] along with the distance between the cameras allows a computer to calculate the average speed of the vehicle. Since they use infra-red bulbs, you will not see a flash. Having missed seeing the first camera, hitting the brakes when you spot the second will not help! You have already been caught. Some fines are 250 Pounds Sterling. The potential is there for a constable to be waiting for you when you drop off your hired car or when you come home in your own car.
  • The UK Speed Trap Guide and the Speedtrap Bible offer more on this subject.
  • There is a web site has details of speed trap locations.

Motorway Pitstops

  • Britain's motorway ['expressway'] services offer convenient - and higher priced - meals, petrol ['gasoline'], newsagents ['newspapers, books, magazines, local maps, et. al.'] and, occasionally, a TIC ['Tourist Information Centre']. The majority of these services are operated by Granada, Welcome Break, Little Chef and Road Chef.
  • Locals have expressed an increasing level of frustration with the prices charged for petrol and food at these services. Mr Peter Keep's website offers alternatives within five minutes and three miles of m-way junctions. His website presently lists over 1500 petrol stations, garages, lodging, restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops along fourteen major motorways.


  • What with all the taxes on it, the price of petrol ['gasoline'] in Britain will leave you gobsmacked ['suprised into silence']. Taxes account for approximately 75% of the price of petrol. 
  • Try to avoid driving through major town centres when a bypass or alternative route is available. Also, minimise your driving on 'Bank Holiday Mondays' when it can seem that all of Scotland is one giant tailback ['traffic jam'].
  • By the way, every petrol forecourt ['gasoline station'] that we have stopped at has taken the major credit cards. Just be sure to check out - before your holiday - which of your credit cards will offer the best exchange rate!

British Drivers

  • Our personal experience has been that the average British driver has it over us in their courtesy, patience and overall driving skill... they drive assertively, very rarely aggressively.
  • One wag has suggested that driving in Scotland is like a ballet and, by comparison, upon returning home the driving in the Colonies seems more like a hockey match.
  • All that having been said, take a look at what Bill Lavender's Driving On Line has to offer.

The headlights

  • The headlights of your (own) car or motorcycle are set at the roadside. This means that in Scotland where driving is on the other side of the road you can dazzle oncoming traffic. As the blinding of oncoming traffic is prohibited, it is advisable to tape your headlights. There are special Left Hand Drive Headlight Beam Converters For Driving In UK . If you plan to drive in the dark.  You can also tape your own headlights. Ducktape will do. Ask your dealer to help you with this.


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