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Top 10 UK and Ireland Driving Tips

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UK and Ireland Driving is less daunting than you may imagine. Roads are engineered for driving on the left so the chances of you entering a traffic circle or intersection from the wrong side are pretty slim.

You are not alone in having concerns though. Have a look at our UK driving poll to see where you stand among drivers on this. Thousands of visitors enjoy driving in the UK and Ireland, happily and safely, every year. Here are some UK and Ireland driving tips and pointers that should help ease your driving in the British Isles. Some are useful too for Australia, India, Japan or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

1. Start slow

If you've never driven in the UK before, don't plan to pick up a car at the airport and dive straight onto a motorway heading for a major city. Take a train to your first, out of town, destination and adjust to driving on the left along quieter roads first. Build up your confidence on country and secondary roads, before trying high speed motorways and big city centers.

2. Ask for an automatic

When renting a car in the UK, make sure to ask for an automatic transmission if you are more comfortable driving one. UK drivers usually learn to drive a standard transmission (called a manual transmission) first and most rental cars are manual. Unless you ask for an automatic when you book your car, you may end up with a stick shift you can't drive.

3. Watch out for U-turners

Drivers are allowed to execute a U-turn or 3-point-turn on any UK road where it can be safely done and it is not expressly forbidden. Don't be surprised if you see a driver hold up four lanes of traffic to make a U-turn. Taxi drivers are expecially fearless about this.

4. Go with the flow

You'll often see cars parked on what looks like the wrong side of the street, facing oncoming traffic. In the UK that's legal and drivers will often cross the road to grab a space. Don't be tempted to emulate them. If you aren't used to driving on the left, you may forget later and pull out into oncoming traffic.

5. Stay cool

The most interesting and scenic roads in Britain are often the smallest. It's possible to get stuck behind an elderly country couple, tootling along at 25 mph, or a tractor hauling a load of hay and going even slower. Don't get hot under the collar and try to pass impulsively. It's safer to be patient and wait until you have a clear, long view of the road ahead. It's amazing how fast oncoming traffic moves when you are trying to pass a tractor.

6. Back off

Even smaller country roads, only one car wide, are common in rural Britain. When driving on such roads, watch out for small, sometimes paved, areas where you can pull over to let an oncoming car pass you. These are called lay-bys -- which is descriptive of what they are for. Sometimes the other driver will pull over to let you pass, sometimes whoever is nearest to the lay-by may have to back up into it. If a driver pulls aside to let you pass, make sure you acknowledge the courtesy with a wave of thanks.

7. Mind the Hedgerows

Throughout the English countryside, hedgerows are used instead of fences to divide fields. They are tall, dense combinations of shrubs, vines and small trees, all twisted together and impenetrable. On narrow roads, they can prevent you from seeing what's immediately ahead. I once came face to face with eight cows who had escaped from a field! If the hedgerow blocks your view on a tight curve, take it slow and sound your horn. At night, flash your high beams so any oncoming car is aware of you.

8. Watch your speed

On motorways, the speed limit is usually 70mph, but on country roads it slows down to 40 or 50mph. And once you enter a village, the speed limit is never more than 30mph -- slower limits are posted. Be careful about this because all over the UK, town centers are now armed with speed cameras that catch the unwary. If you see a yellow sign with a picture of a camera on it, a digital speed camera will be watching you within about 200 yards.

9. Pay and Display

Most villages now have Pay and Display parking lots to prevent congestion on the narrow, old streets and lanes. The cost is minimal -- for 40 to 50 pence an hour you get a paper parking slip to display on your dashboard. You can park on streets with single yellow lines after parking restrictions are lifted -- usually after 6 p.m., but double yellow lines are always a no-no.

10. Look out for Zebras

A Zebra is a pedestrian crossing. Once a pedestrian steps off the curb onto a Zebra crossing, you must stop and remain stopped until the pedestrian has finished crossing and has stepped back onto the sidewalk. Zebras (the "e" is pronounced like the first "e" in ever) consist of white stripes painted on the road. They are further marked by striped poles, on each end, topped with ball-shaped yellow lights. Usually, they also have spotlights aimed at the stripes on the road. Most settled areas will have one or more Zebra crossings, near shops, schools, businesses and churches.

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