Driving in the United Kingdom
This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (November 2007)
Driving in the United Kingdom is governed by various legal powers and in some cases is subject to the passing of a driving test. The government produces a Highway Code that details the requirements for all road users, including drivers. Unlike most other countries in the world, the UK traffic drives on the left.
British roads are limited for most vehicles by the National Speed Limit. Road signs in the UK use imperial units, so speed limits are posted in miles per hour. Speed limits are the maximum speed at which certain drivers may legally drive on a road rather than a defined appropriate speed, and in some cases the nature of a road may dictate that one should drive significantly more slowly than the speed limit may allow. This restricts some vehicles by default to a speed of 30 mph in built up areas, and some light vehicles to 60 mph on single carriageways and 70 mph on dual carriageways and motorways, with some large vehicles or some of those towing trailers subject to reduced limits on some roads depending on the class of both road and vehicle. Sections of road subject to the national or in-town speed limit only require limit marker signs at the start of a section, without repeaters, provided street lights are or are not present as appropriate. Speed limits of 5 mph, 20 mph, 30 mph, 40 mph, 50 mph and 60 mph are also used on roads in the UK where it is deemed that the national or in-town speed limit is inappropriate, with repeater signs posted at regular intervals.
Drivers on dual carriageways (which may or may not be motorways) are legally required to use the left-most lane unless overtaking other vehicles on the road, unless signs or road markings indicate that the left-most lane(s) is only for traffic leaving at the next junction. Drivers who wish to overtake a slower vehicle are thus expected to move out from their lane (having used the indicator lights to warn other road-users of their intention to do so), pass the slower vehicle and return to the left-most lane. This enables faster traffic to overtake unhindered if it wishes to do so. On the UK's busiest roads, where there may be four or more lanes in each direction, there is often a situation where overtaking becomes continual as each successive lane moves at a slightly faster speed than that to its left.
On motorways an extra left lane termed the 'hard shoulder' is usually present for use only when a vehicle has broken down. It is illegal to drive in this lane unless indicated otherwise, for example on one of the increasing number of Smart Motorways.
The action of undertaking, where the driver moves to the left of a slower moving vehicle to get past it is, although not illegal, discouraged on motorways under Highway Code 268. This rule allows for undertaking to occur in conditions that cause the left-hand lane to move faster than the right-hand lane and for traffic to keep up with the flow of the lane.
There are two broad categories of pedestrian crossing to aid the safe passage across major roads by those travelling on foot. There are no laws against jaywalking in the UK.
- Traffic Light Controlled Crossings: Drivers are controlled by traffic light signals.
- Zebra Crossings: Black and white stripes are painted on the road and flashing amber Belisha beacons are on each side of the road. Drivers must give way to pedestrians on the crossing.
Driving licences may be obtained by any UK resident over the age of 17, subject to certain conditions. Initially, a provisional licence is issued, which restricts the holder to driving whilst accompanied by a driver who is at least 21 years old, who has held a full licence in the category of vehicle they are supervising the learner driver in for at least three years, and does not allow the provisional licence holder to drive on motorways. The provisional licence may be exchanged for a full licence after the holder has passed the practical driving test. Upon reaching the age of 70, drivers may apply to have their licences renewed with their doctors' permission.
Many foreign driving licences permit one to drive in the UK, but must be exchanged for British licences after a year. Drivers from the USA, however, must take a British test if they wish to drive in the UK for more than a year after arriving in the country. This is because US driver licensing is carried out by individual states, but the US Constitution does not permit individual states to enter bilateral treaties with other sovereign governments. However driving licences from the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are valid in the United Kingdom.
Some of the rules of the road should be enforced by the police, others are enforced by council wardens. Speed cameras are common. Red-light and bus lane cameras are also used. Motorists convicted of certain traffic, and certain non-traffic offences may have "points" added to their licences: some traffic offences such as exceeding the speed limit by a small amount, typically warrant three points, and motorists with twelve points face a driving ban. Normally the points for a speeding offence, driving through a red light or in a bus lane will be punished with points from 3-6.
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