Very few people can forget their first experience of driving in London. Driving in London is a nightmare and can embarrass even the regular drivers.
The roads are tricky and confusing. You must be extra alert to navigate the many mini-roundabouts. At the same time, you have to pay total attention to many street signage, speed cameras, bus lanes, erratic drivers, pedestrian crossings, to mention a few. But is driving in London hard?
How Easy is Driving in London
Many people who drive on London roads for the first time, feel like they are learning to drive again. Even regular drivers find the hassle of driving around London too much, so some end up switching to public transport.
But others find the stress of having to meet train schedules or jumping onto the bus a real pain. They prefer driving and move about on their schedule.
The good thing about driving a car in London is flexibility. You can go wherever and when you want, or stop anywhere you like.
Traffic in London
London is a city that never sleeps. People are always on the move so most of the time it can be challenging to drive on London roads.
During the morning hours between 7 am and 10 am, people move all over London to go to work and others are even traveling home from work. It is what in London they call the morning rush hour because there is heavy traffic on all London roads and cars will be moving a lot slower.
Also read: Why Does Everyone Want to Live in London?
The rush hour ends in the morning at around 10 am up to 4.30 pm but even during that period, there are a lot of people moving to and from different places in London.
The evening rush hour starts from 4.30 pm and ends at 8 pm. This is the time when many people will be going home from work but others will be on their way to start their evening work.
Just like in the morning rush hour, there’s always a lot of traffic in Central London during the evening hours. The only difference is most of the traffic will be moving out of the City center to surrounding areas.
Driving in London at Night
Driving in London during the day is not at all fun. Too much traffic, roadworks, angry cyclists, and wild motorbikes. It is only in the night driving on London roads is not very demanding.
London at night, the streets are clear of daytime clutter. The roads are mostly free of heavy traffic, few buses, and the occasional pedestrians on crossings.
If you want to overcome the challenges of driving on London roads, especially during the daytime, it is to know what to do.
So, if you are visiting and want to drive, don’t panic. Yes, driving in London can be stressful, but it’s not as difficult as you may think.
You will find the first few hours on the road to be rather tricky than an impossible task. If you’re a good driver, adjusting to the London way of driving will not be a big problem.
However, there are several things you’ll need to consider that differ from the way you drive in your country. The most notable one is the side of the road people in the United Kingdom (UK) drive on.
They drive on the left side of the road, unlike in most countries where they do it on the right.
UK Road Rules and Standards
But the differences between driving a car in the UK and your country are many. The rules, road signs, street markings, and speed limits may all be different.
You need to get familiar with the UK driving requirements and standards before you try to drive in London.
You must understand the standard road signs such as speed limits, give way markings, bus lanes, yellow box junctions, and approaches to roundabouts.
Also, learn the meaning of lines for parking, passing, give way or yield, and many more. You must also read the “UK Highway Code” which is the manual for driving in the UK. It will get you up to speed with those road requirements very quickly.
Driving in London Left or Right?
Driving on the left side of the road is not too much of a worry. Many people who visit London come from countries where they drive on the right side of the road, which is different from the UK. Switching from the right side to the left takes a little bit of time to learn. Anyone who has changed from right to left in the past will tell you that it doesn’t feel normal.
In some ways, it can feel like you are a new driver. But if you’re a good driver, it will be just a matter of adjusting from your unconscious habits learned from driving in the home country.
Things such as looking left instead of right at an intersection or road junction will take a few hours to get used to.
You’ll be surprised how strange it feels when you enter the car and find the steering wheel is on the right side. Maybe you’ll be tempted to ask why do the British drive on the left.
But don’t panic. Because the pedals inside the car are the same, and shifting the gear lever with your left hand is not as difficult as you may think.
Driving Documents for Driving in London
Don’t forget to bring a valid driving license or international driving permit with you. Otherwise, you’ll not be able to hire a car. Also, to avoid trouble if you get pulled over by a London police officer.
Read more: The Average Cost of Living in London
Renting a Car in London
It’s more likely you are going to hire a car when you get to London. But you’ll still have a few things to consider. If you’re not a confident manual driver, get an automatic car.
It is not sensible to drive on the roads with unfamiliar rules while struggling with a manual car.
Also, some people who switch from the right-side drive to the left, initially struggle to shift gears with their left hand.
So, getting an automatic car removes the challenge of changing gears and lets you pay full attention to the driving.
Practice driving on the left side of the road in London
If you end up choosing a manual car, take several minutes to become familiar with the controls, particularly the headlights and wipers. The car mirrors will be in different places.
The rear-view mirror will be top left, and wing mirror bottom right. Get used to changing gears from 1st to 2nd quickly, particularly for roundabouts.
Once you get the car, make sure you know where you’re going before you start driving. Take it to the road that’s not congested with traffic and drive it to feel comfortable.
When you start going about your business, still avoid driving during the busy hours when the roads are full of traffic.
Take a ride in the London black cab for 30 minutes around the city driving you around while the driver explains both the official and unofficial traffic rules in London.
Try to ask many questions for learning how to navigate through the narrow streets, corners, and get used to looking right instead of left when preparing to turn.
Maps and Sat Nav
Google maps will be handy, but also bring a Sat Navigator (Sat Nav) that has European maps – and make sure you know how to use it before getting to London.
The Sat Nav will particularly help you a lot on exists at the roundabouts.
GPS Speed Camera Detectors
Police in London is stringent on speeding and other road-related offenses. The roads have all sorts of cameras from speed, bus lanes, and others are behind lamp posts and trees.
You’ll also find cameras inside mobile trucks, on buildings, and at road intersections or junctions.
Cameras are mainly in places where the police expect motorists to break traffic rules such as, over-speeding, drive in the bus lanes, and parking in restricted areas.
But, GPS with speed camera detectors is legal to use on the UK roads. So, if you have one, bring it to identify the location of known and hidden speed cameras on London roads.
Tips for Driving in London
1. London is a bustling city. So, expect to see people, crossing the road from nowhere, and watch out for cyclists, and erratic drivers.
2. There are many other things you need to know that are considered as road standards, but they’re not.
For instance, if a motorist stops in the road and makes a quick flash of the headlights while you’re waiting at a junction or intersection, it means that the driver is “letting you enter the road.”
3. However, the flashing headlamp signal to “let someone join the road” is not defined in the UK driving rules. So, in that circumstance, it’s best to do whatever you think is safest and do it very carefully.
In other words, respond to these not-officially codified signals with caution.
4. Never trust other drivers on the road, even when it’s apparent that they are paying attention to what’s going on around them. Always respond to what they are doing with great care.
5. You need to concentrate and be cautious all the time by looking over your right shoulder to check your blind spot. And focus on where you must be on the road, not where you don’t.
6. Always when you’re driving, keep your car to the left side and leave the right for the passing cars. Failing to stay on the left will cause the cars behind you to overtake on the wrong side, and that can be dangerous.
7. If you keep hogging on the right side, drivers behind may even flash their headlights, or start honking in frustration because you’re blocking the passing lane.
8. If you want to overtake a car in front, do it on the right side and move back to the left side as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Driving in London Charges
You’ll have to pay a charge for driving into central London’s congestion charging zone. The congestion zone is there to reduce the number of cars entering central London.
The charging starts between 7 am and 6 pm, Monday to Friday.
It’s better to pay the charge in advance before you drive through the zone. Otherwise, you will end up receiving a penalty notice, if you forget to pay by midnight after driving through the area.
Yellow Box Junctions in London
The box junction is a yellow hatched area at the intersection. You are not allowed to stop inside the box junction whatsoever.
Even if the traffic lights set you to go or you are under pressure from other motorists behind you.
You can only enter the junction, if the road ahead is clear for you to drive through without waiting in that yellow hatched box.
If you enter and stop in that yellow hatched box even for a few seconds, you’ll pay the penalty, because you are blocking the path of other road users.
Zebra Crossings or Crosswalks in London
There are lots of road signs on London roads you may not be familiar with. London is a very busy city and always crowded with people crossing from one side of the road to the other. So you will find a lot of zebra crossings or crosswalks for pedestrians.
The zebra crossings have poles with flashing yellow lights on top. One thing every driver must know is once you see a pedestrian showing the intent of walking on the zebra crossing or a crosswalk, from either side of the road, you have to stop the car immediately and wait for them to cross.
Bus Lanes in London
There’s always traffic congestion on the roads in London. Many drivers decide to use bus lanes to jump that traffic because they are in a hurry.
Bus lanes across London are well marked on the ground and have blue signs indicating their times of operation.
Some vehicles are strictly not allowed to use those lanes between the restricted periods. If you end up using bus lanes during the prohibited periods, you’ll face a penalty charge.
Also, be careful not to follow other vehicles if you see them heading into a bus lane – you may end up being penalized for violating the bus lane rules. You can be penalized with a fine for driving in London bus lane.
Parking in London
Most roads in London are narrower. Therefore, you’ll find cars parked in half the driving lanes on both sides of the road.
The biggest problem many motorists faces when driving in London is finding a parking space.
So, don’t be tempted to park your car anywhere without understanding the area’s parking rules.
The roads are marked with lines of different colors. You are allowed to park where there’s a single yellow line at certain times and on some days. But you can’t park where there are red lines, or no vehicle is allowed to pack on double yellow lines at any time.
Make sure you park your car on the left of your side, not on the right side of the opposite lane – even when there’s a parking space available on the opposite side.
If possible, drive to the end of the road, turn around, come back and park to the left on the other side.
Otherwise, the risk will be too high when you get back into the car to drive off on the wrong side of the road.
How do you find driving in London? Is driving in London hard? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below