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Driving in Great Britain

Advice for drivers and riders visiting Britain

You may use your national driving licence but must have reached the minimum age to drive a vehicle in the United Kingdom. You must be:

  • 17 years or over to ride a motorcycle with a cylinder capacity not exceeding 125cc, or power not exceeding 11kW
  • 19 years or over to ride a motorcycle not exceeding 35kW, and
  • 21 years or older to ride a motorcycle unlimited in size/power
  • 17 years old or more to drive a car

A provisional (learner’s) driving licence issued abroad is not valid for use in the United Kingdom.

Also in this article:

Motor Insurance
Fuel
Speed limits
Seat belts and children
Lights
Motorcycles
Drinking and driving
Fines
Other rules and advice
Box junctions
London Congestion Charge
Dartford Crossing
London LEZ and ULEZ

 

Summer driving advice


Motor insurance

You must not drive an imported vehicle in the United Kingdom without adequate motor insurance. If you do not hold an insurance certificate valid for the United Kingdom, arrangements should be made prior to travel.

The minimum cover is third-party insurance, including trailers.

Fuel

  • Unleaded 95 octane petrol is sold as 'premium unleaded'
  • Unleaded 97-octane petrol as 'super unleaded'
  • All UK petrol and diesel contains 10ppm or less Sulphur.
  • Leaded '4-star' petrol and lead replacement petrol (LRP) are not longer available

If you are driving an older car designed to use leaded petrol you should use lead-replacement additives available in filling stations and accessory stores.

Fuel prices vary according to the region, fuel brand and type of outlet.

New fuel pump labels (introduced in 2019) show the maximum percentage of renewable biofuel blended in petrol (ethanol) and diesel (biodiesel):

  • Petrol - E5 in a circle
  • Diesel - B7 in a square
  • Petrol containing up to 10% ethanol (E10) is not currently available in the UK
Liquefied Petroleum Gas

You can get LPG at around 1400 filling stations.

UK filling stations use a bayonet type LPG pump attachment that requires an adaptor for use with other European LPG vehicle connectors.  UK filling stations do not generally have adaptors available so you should make sure that you have a suitable adaptor before travelling.

European to UK LPG adaptors should be available from: Autogas 2000 Ltd

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Speed limits

Standard legal limits, which may be varied by signs, for private vehicles without trailers:

  • In built up areas: up to 30 mph (48 km/h) unless otherwise indicated
  • Outside built up areas: 60 mph (96 km/h)
  • Motorways and dual-carriageways up to 70 mph (112 km/h)

Motor caravans with an unladen weight exceeding 3.5 tonnes or motor vehicles adapted to carry more than eight passengers must not use the outside lane of a motorway with three or more lanes.

  • Variable speed limits set by overhead signs are increasingly common on motorways.
  • 20 mph (32 km/h) limits are increasingly common in built up areas
Car towing a caravan or trailer
  • Must not use the outside lane of a motorway with three or more lanes
  • Restricted to 50 mph on single carriageway roads outside built-up areas
  • Restricted to 60 mph on dual carriageways and motorways.

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Seat belts and children in cars

If fitted, seat belts must be worn in the front and rear of vehicles by all occupants.

Children under 3 years old
  • Must use a child restraint appropriate for their age/weight in any vehicle (including vans and other goods vehicles).
  • The only exception is that a child under three may travel unrestrained in the rear of a taxi if the right child restraint is not available.
  • Rear-facing baby seats must not be used in a seat protected by a frontal air-bag unless the air-bag has been deactivated.
Children 3 to 11 years and under 135cm in height
  • Must use an appropriate child restraint at all times when travelling in the front seat
  • Must use the correct child restraint in the rear where adult seat belts are fitted
  • May use an adult seat belt in the rear:
    • In a taxi, if the correct child restraint is not available
    • For a short and occasional trip if the correct child restraint is not available
    • Where two occupied child restraints in the rear prevent the use of a third

The driver is responsible for compliance with this law for children under 14 years and the fine varies between £30 and £500.

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Lights

  • You must use sidelights between sunset and sunrise.
  • You must use headlights at night (between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise) except on a road with lit streetlights.
  • You should use dipped headlights at night in built-up areas unless the road is well lit, and use headlights at night on lit motorways and roads with a speed limit in excess of 30 mph.
  • You must use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced - generally to less than 100m.
  • You may use front and rear fog lights when visibility is reduced but must switch them off when visibility improves.
Use of lights

You must not use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.

If you are driving a left-hand drive vehicle you should ensure that, if used, the headlights are adjusted for driving on the left, otherwise you risk being stopped by the police and subsequently fined up to £1,000.

Motorcycles

If you are riding a motorcycle, scooter or moped you must wear a safety helmet of an approved design. This also applies to passengers, except those in sidecars. The helmet must be manufactured to a standard similar to the British Standard.

Use of headlights during the day is recommended.

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Drinking and driving

  • The maximum permitted level of alcohol in the blood is 0.08 per cent.
  • A lower limit of 0.05 per cent applies in Scotland.
  • Penalty up to £5,000 and/or 6 months’ imprisonment and 12 months withdrawal of driving licence if first time.

The police may also carry out tests to detect a driver who may be under the influence of narcotics.

  • A portable saliva test is used and a positive reading for several drugs will result in prosecution.
  • Some psychotropic medications may be included – drivers must enquire as to the acceptable safe dosage for driving and they must carry a prescription on board their vehicles.
Fines

Drivers without a satisfactory UK address who commit traffic offences will have to pay a financial penalty deposit equal to the amount of the fixed penalty or £300 as a deposit in respect of a potential court fine.  The deposit has to be paid on the spot. 

Those who can provide a satisfactory UK address will be issued with a fixed penalty which has to be paid within 28 working days.

The Police and examiners from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency can collect on-the-spot payments.

Vehicles illegally parked are liable to a fine.

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Other rules/requirements in Great Britain

  • Drive on the left, overtake on the right.
  • It is recommended, but not compulsory, that you carry
    • a warning triangle
    • first-aid kit
    • fire extinguisher, and
    • a reflective jacket to wear in the event of a breakdown.
  • You must not use a warning triangle if you breakdown on a motorway.
  • It is an offence to use a hand-held phone or similar device when driving.
  • You must not use the horn when the vehicle is stationary, except at times of danger due to another vehicle in movement, or as an anti-theft device.
    • Use of the horn is prohibited in built-up areas from 2330 to 0700 hours.

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Box junctions

At some intersections called ‘box junctions’, criss-cross yellow lines are painted on the roadway.  Traffic at these junctions must not enter ‘the box’ (i.e. the area of yellow lines) unless the exit road or lane is clear.

London Congestion Charge

A toll is payable when driving in central London on weekdays (Monday to Friday excluding public holidays) between 0700 and 1800 hours.

Dartford Crossing

Drivers using the Dartford crossing to the East of London where the M25 crosses the river Thames need to pay the 'Dart Charge' in advance or on the day after crossing.

  • A toll is payable if you cross between 06:00 and 22:00
  • Pay online, by phone or at payzone retail outlets.
The London Low Emission Zone

The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) covers most of Greater London, operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is enforced by cameras.

  • Daily charges are very high - between £100 and £200 depending on vehicle type - so it is very important that you find out if you have a vehicle that is affected by the scheme.
  • The charge applies to some vehicles that might be owned and operated privately - vans, minibuses, horseboxes, motorhomes/motorcaravans, utility vehicles and pick-ups depending on size and emissions standard.
  • Non-GB registered vehicles that meet the required LEZ standards will need to register with the scheme in advance
The London Ultra Low Emission Zone

London's ULEZ started operating in April 2019 and covers the same area as the Congestion Charge.

  • The ULEZ operates 24 hours a day on every day of the year
  • A daily charge applies to all vehicles that don't meet the minimum emissions standards:
    • petrol - Euro 4
    • diesel - Euro 6

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(updated 17 June 2019)

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