Before you start looking for cars for sale in the UK, how much do you really know about driving in this country? Read on to find out more.
Driving age and license
The legal age for driving in the UK is 17 and over, and you must have a valid driving licence or be instructed by a suitable person who does. That doesn’t just mean driving instructors, but does require that person to be over 21 and have held their own licence for at least three years, qualifying them to drive the type vehicle being driven by the learner.
They don’t have to be holders of a UK licence, but it must be a licence from the EU/EAA area.
To qualify for your own UK driving licence you must pass a practical driving test and a theory test. Don’t apply for these too early – most learner drivers that fail do so through lack of experience. A qualified driving instructor will give you the best training.
In order to keep you licence you must not accrue more than 12 penalty points; these are given for offences such as speeding or driving without due care and attention, and also come with a fine.
Basic roadcraft, signs and speed limits
The Highway Code will tell you everything you need to know about the rules and regulations that govern the UK’s road – but these are the most important basics.
Unlike the rest of Europe, in the UK traffic drives on the left (rather than the right). Similarly, priority on roundabouts is from the right.
Road signs are usually clearly posted. There are three basic types:
- Circular signs that give instructions – an example being speed limits
- Triangular signs that give warnings – an example being road works
- Rectangular signs that give information – an example being motorway junction signs
Speed limits are also usually clearly marked, as although there are some basic standards – such as 30mph limits in urban areas – these aren’t absolute or universal. Some urban areas, particularly where there are lots of pedestrians or cyclists, may have 20mph limits, for instance.
The maximum legal speed you can drive in the UK is 70mph, which applies on most motorways and dual carriageways. However, lower limits on these kinds of roads are entirely possible, and some ‘active’ stretches have variable limits governed by digital signs in the overhead gantries, and often policed by speed cameras.
The maximum legal speed away from motorways and dual carriageways is 60mph, though 40mph and 50mph limits are also enforced.
Not all vehicles are allowed to travel the same speeds, either. Lorries with certain weights are restricted to no more than 60mph, and vans are limited to 10mph less than cars in some circumstances.
The UK’s most confusing road sign is the national limit sign – a white circle with a black diagonal stripe, as this denotes the maximum legal speed can be driven on that road but doesn’t say what that limit is. And depending on the type of road, that maximum is different, as explained above.
It’s also worth noting that a red X displayed over a lane on a motorway means that lane is shut and you must not drive in it. This is particularly important on so-called smart motorways where there is no hard shoulder at the side of the road, but you can be penalised regardless.
Other legal issues
Other things to consider about driving in the UK include that it’s illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving, that speed limits are enforced by cameras of various different types – including those that measure average speed over a set distance – as well as the police, and that there is a limit on the amount of alcohol you can consume.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the drink-drive limit is:
- 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
- 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
- 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
In Scotland the rules are stricter:
- 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood
- 22 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath
- 67 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine
Congestion charging and low emissions zones
An ever increasing number of cities in the UK are introducing low or ultra-low emissions zones (ULEZ) – or even simply congestion charge zones. The most famous examples of all of these are in London, but you’ll find them popping up in other places as well.
If you enter a ULEZ in a vehicle that doesn’t comply with the necessary emissions regulations you will need to pay a penalty fee using an online service. All vehicles entering a congestion charge zone have to pay. Make sure you take care of the charges within the specified time frame or you’ll be subject to a much higher fine.
A similar online payment process is required for the Dartford Toll that allows traffic to pass over or under the River Thames. For other toll roads, such as the M6 Toll, you’ll simply pay at a booth at the time.