Techniques and Issues in
From multi-lane motorways to single lane
Bet you don't know what
this sign means.
Hint - it is not showing a
maximum speed of 30 mph, quite the opposite. The
answer is in the text below.
This is part of our multi-page series
on Driving in Britain.
Links to other pages at the bottom.
You may find yourself
experiencing both extremes of driving scenarios while in
Britain. Some of the time you may be on congested six lane
in each direction super-freeways; but at other times, you might
be driving along meandering country lanes no more than one car
Fortunately, both scenarios, and
the multitude of other scenarios in the middle, all involve
interactions with generally safe, skilled and courteous fellow
motorists, and the beauty of the British countryside will richly
reward your decision to venture outside of the big cities.
So, equipped with the knowledge
and skills from this multi-part series you can plan your British
touring with confidence and competence.
Driving on One Lane Roads
You can travel around most of
the UK on regular two lane roads, and may never need to drive on a
one lane road at all; or if you do end up on one land roads, it
might be for only a mile or so to get to some special place well
off the beaten track.
On the other hand, in the
smaller country areas, you'll find the regions are often criss-crossed
by one lane roads which present as much shorter routes to get
where you're going; and in some of the more deserted regions of
the Scottish Highlands, you'll have no choice but to take one land
roads which are the only arterial routes from one place to
If you find yourself taking a
one lane road, whether by choice or necessity, relax. It
isn't as dangerous as you might think, especially if you follow
certain sensible procedures.
The first is to go slowly and
carefully, particularly when going around corners that might
conceal a car coming towards you from the other direction.
We suggest you consider
turning your lights on. This does two things - it makes you
more visible to oncoming cars, and also immediately shows them
that you are traveling towards them rather than being stopped or
moving in the same direction as they are.
You should also keep mental
note of the occasional passing bays that will be on the road as
you pass them. That way, if you see an oncoming car, you
have a sense for the regularity of the passing bays and can guess
as to if you should reverse back to a nearby one behind you, or if
you should hope the other guy will reverse back instead to one
Hopefully however, you'll see
each other in time for one of you to move forward to a passing bay
in the middle between you, meaning neither of you have to reverse
Freeway (motorway) driving in the
The usual speed limit on
freeways in Britain is 70 mph. But many cars exceed 80 mph
and not much traffic goes slower than 70 mph, so in general,
traffic moves quickly.
It is even common to find cars
traveling at 90 mph, and cars going much faster will occasionally
rush past as well.
There is one very important
rule to follow on British freeways. Always keep to the left
or 'slow' lane unless you are overtaking. In the US, a lot of
people just get in a lane and stay in it, whether they are
overtaking or not. That is absolutely not acceptable in
Britain, where drivers are fastidious at keeping to the left
unless actively engaged in a specific act of overtaking.
Part of the reason for this is
because it is illegal to overtake on the left. The other
part is because it is illegal to stay on the right, and impolite
As long as you heed this most
important rule, you'll do just fine. And if you find
yourself unfortunately stuck behind a slow driver in the fast
lane, it is perfectly acceptable to flash your lights at the
driver to signal they should move back over to the left.
Much of the UK freeway system
seems to operate perilously close to capacity much of the time,
and in particular, the M25 circular motorway around London is
always close to capacity. This means that congestion can and
sometimes does occur, particularly if there has been an accident,
or roadworks, or at rush hours.
Service areas with gas
stations, rest rooms, and some fast food outlets can be found
every 20 - 40 miles or so along the freeways.
Inside or Outside lane
The 'slow' lane on a UK
freeway is of course on the left, and is the main lane where exits
from the freeway leave. In the US we would probably call
that the 'outside' lane.
But in the UK, this is termed
the 'inside' lane. Confused? Just refer to the slow
and fast (or overtaking) lanes, perhaps.
Exits are numbered
sequentially rather than based on mileage from a reference point.
In city areas, exits are closely spaced, but out in the country,
they can be ten miles or more apart.
So if you passing by exit 17
and are due to leave the freeway at exit 23, you really have no
way of knowing, just by the numbers, if this is a short distance
or potentially 50 miles away.
You may also notice exit
numbers with a letter after them - eg exit 7A. This occurs
when an extra exit is added between exits 7 and 8.
Speed Limits and Enforcement
Most of the time, you'll find
the applicable speed limit clearly posted on the roads you are
The one exception is the
'National Speed Limit' sign (shown at the top of the page).
This numberless symbol means '60 mph'.
Freeways (called motorways in
Britain) and other dual carriageways generally have a 70 mph speed
limit, which currently (May 2011) is being the subject of
discussions to increase up to 80 mph. Other roads have
successively lower speeds.
Unlike the US, there is very
little speed enforcement by actual police officers in patrol cars.
Most enforcement is done by automatic speed cameras.
The general rule of thumb is
that you can drive up to 10% plus 2 mph over the speed limit
without risking a ticket. So if the limit is 40, you can
drive at up to 46, and if 70, you could probably go up to 79
without triggering any enforcement action.
In addition to regular speed
enforcement based on your instantaneous speed at a single point,
there are also average speed cameras, usually in motorway work
zones where the speed has been restricted down from 70 mph to
something much lower.
You'll see these on yellow
overhead gantries, every few miles, as you drive through the
restricted area, and there are advisory signs telling you of their
presence. They are very effective in getting drivers to slow
down and observe the posted speed, which is perhaps just as well,
because the British seem to delight in closing down sometimes tens
of miles of their motorways with no sign of any roadworks other
than thousands of traffic safety cones blocking off the unused
lanes. Very frustrating.
It seems that the UK police
seldom bother enforcing automatically generated tickets issued to
out of country drivers, and because it is a driver offense rather
than a car owner offense, rental car companies won't pay speeding
fines on your behalf and then charge you for the 'service'.
might charge you a service fee though if they have to release your
name and address information to the police.
Talking about speed limits, do
pay attention to the speed sign illustrated at the top of the
This sign does not show the
maximum speed you can drive; instead it shows the minimum speed
which you must exceed.
So if you ever see a white
number inside a blue circle, that is the lowest speed you can
drive at. Maximum speed limits are black numbers inside
white circles with red external rings around them.
For More Information About
Driving in Britain
Our Driving in Britain
series has four main pages plus two additional pages about other
important issues to do with driving in Britain.
The pages are :
An Introduction to Driving in
Britain - tells you the basic essentials to do with driving in
Driving Techniques and
Issues (this is the page you are currently on) - about one lane roads and motorways (freeways), speed
limits and enforcement.
Miscellaneous Considerations when Driving in Britain - All
sorts of other things, ranging from the price of petrol to drink
driving and seatbelt rules.
How to Drive
around Roundabouts - for information about driving around the
roundabouts that are prevalent in Britain (and elsewhere too).
We also have a page about
How to Drive
on the Left (Other) Side of the Road which sets out some
helpful tips and pointers for how to make this as easy as
And, not so much about
driving, but still an important aspect of driving, see also our
page about where and how to park your car
Related Articles, etc
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20 May 2011, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.