Jeremy Stein - Journal

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UK Driving for Americans

I assume you already know that you’re supposed to drive on the left. That was about all I knew when I started driving here, and I can now see how crazy it is that I was allowed to drive on these roads with a US license. (You can do so for up to a year.) I was a hazard on the roads, largely because I didn’t know what half the signs meant. I thought they would be self-explanatory. Some are, but many aren’t.

You’re probably familiar with the “no-something” signs you see everywhere in America…

No smoking.

No, uh, people? No walking? No pedestrians, I guess.

No guns. (Most of the world doesn’t actually need these signs.)

No dogs.

No ghosts.

You get the idea.

So then you get to the UK and you see a bunch of these signs:

No… blue?

I knew there was something I wasn’t supposed to do. It turns out that the something was parking. The UK is big on telling you not to park. We’ll get to that more later.

So, you finally understand no parking, but then you encounter this:

Does that mean they really don’t want you to park?

Sort of. It means no stopping. (You can’t even stop to drop off a passenger, theoretically.)

In general, however, if you’re not supposed to do something, it goes in a red circle (without a slash). Here are some examples:

No motor vehicles.

No passing. (The red car is passing – on the right of course.)

Uh, this doesn’t quite follow the pattern. Actually this means the speed limit is 70.

Distances and speeds in the UK are in miles. The exact same sign in continental Europe would mean km/h.

Let me take one moment to patriotically point out that the US has little ambiguity in its speed limit signs:

If you can read English, it’s obvious enough what that means.

The UK (and actually most of Europe) has another speed limit sign that is completely inscrutible:

That means “national speed limit”. The speed limit varies slightly by the type of vehicle you’re driving, but here are the rules for normal cars:

In residential areas (whenever there are street lights): 30 mph
On regular roads: 60 mph
On roads with a barrier between the two directions (e.g. divided highway): 70 mph

Now another type of sign. In the US, warning signs are on yellow diamonds. In the UK, they’re inside a red triangle:

Slippery road. (Hopefully a hyperbolic representation of the danger.)

Elderly people, presumably wandering into the street at all hours.

Susceptible to high winds. (That’s a drawing of a wind sock, in case it wasn’t obvious.)

But then they turn the triangle upside down for the yield sign, which in the UK is called “give way”:

That also explains why you may see that point-down triangle as a road marking:

It looks deceptively similar to a direction marker pointing the wrong way. If you don’t know what it means, you might panic thinking that a big arrow is telling people to go the opposite of the direction you’re going. Nope, it just means you have to yield to the traffic at the intersection (or more likely, the roundabout).

Now that we’re on the subject of road marking, I’ll tell you about various colored (coloured) lines along the edge of the road. Basically they all mean that you can’t park there.

Single yellow line. You can only park at certain times (most likely not the time you’re looking for a parking spot).

Double yellow line. No parking.

Single white line. Technically doesn’t mean you can’t park there, but is generally used to mark a spot where parking is otherwise illegal (e.g. in front of a driveway).

So, basically, no parking.

Zig zag white lines are found near pedestrian crossings. They indicate that parking is not allowed.

Single red line. Red lines are common in London. They mean no parking and no stopping. The single version means that it only applies at certain times (but if you’re trying to park there, then it’s probably that time).

So, no parking.

Double red line. No parking. (Nor stopping.)

Whew! That’s a lot of different ways to tell people not to park. So what do the British do?

Parking on the sidewalk (“pavement”) is pretty common, especially when the streets are so narrow that cars couldn’t get by you otherwise.

Finally you should know that UK is really serious about bus lanes:

In the States, you can use a bus lane as a turn lane. Not so in the UK. Bus lanes are only for buses (and bicycles). If you violate that rule, you’ll be sorry because of this sign:

That’s supposed to be a camera. (Did they design the sign in 1920?)

I’ve never seen a police car enforcing speed limits or any other driving rules. If you do something wrong near a camera, you’ll get your fine in the mail. The cameras aren’t hidden; there are signs alerting you. But they’re pretty common.

OK, those are the important signs, so now you should be able to tackle driving in the UK. Good luck!

March 4, 2018 1 Comment.

One Comment

  1. Joan M Hershberger replied:

    ???I’m confused. I’ll take the bus,

    March 6th, 2018 at 8:58 pm. Permalink.

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