Expat Life

My Experience as an American Driving in the UK

streering wheel of a BMW: driving in the UK

If you grew up in the UK, I’m pretty sure you think that the rest of the world is driving on the wrong side of the road. There are only a handful of countries where cars are driven on the left, and when I was growing up, watching British TV shows always prompted a joke in my living room about how anyone could think of driving on the left. Most of us are right-handed, aren’t we? So to me, it made perfect sense!

Fast forward a few years to when I moved to the UK in 2012, and I have to admit that despite considering myself a good driver, it took me a year to pluck up the courage to drive here. And when I did, I wondered what I had been worried about, because if there is one thing I can definitely say about driving in the UK it’s that it’s the safest place I’ve ever driven!

I’ve been in Spain, for example, where driving is an absolute nightmare. Sure, there are maniacs on British roads like anywhere else, but the majority of drivers are careful and pretty considerate. Most will put their signal lights on when they are meant to, give way, and make sure their cars are safe to drive. Like, the basics we had to learn to pass our driving test, right?!

The relative fairness of the Police here in the UK also struck me pretty early on after starting to drive here. I say relative because of course, there are always mistakes made or unfairness handed out by Police officers in any country, but I have to say I’ve always been impressed by the consistency of the UK Police, particularly out on the roads.

In the US, you see a Police car up the road, and even though you know you’ve got your documents in order and your car is roadworthy, you gulp. But here in the UK, I’ve always felt that the Police are out on the roads to help, rather than hinder. And having been pulled over several times in the US even though I’d done nothing wrong, I can’t tell you how much more relaxed this makes me feel when I’m behind the wheel.

One specific incident comes to mind a couple of years ago when we were driving home from the cinema on a Friday night in mid-December and there was an alcohol check happening at a junction heading out of town. The officer greeted me with a big smile, asked me if I’d had anything to drink that evening. I told him I hadn’t, and it being pretty clear I was sober, he just thanked me and wished me a very Merry Christmas.

Never had that type of experience in the States, I can assure you!

The one aspect of driving I haven’t found quite so straightforward in the UK is the DVLA. Well, it’s not the DVLA per say, but making sure my car papers are all ok. In the US you just buy your car sticker (i.e. the tax disc) when it’s due and stick it on the inside of the windscreen. Simples!

I know it was like this here until a couple of years ago, but I got caught out last year when I realised that I hadn’t renewed my tax online. Panic set in as I was at a motorway service station at the time and had noticed while going through my google calendar.

I was only a few days overdue but I was so worried, that my gut reaction was to get on the phone immediately to ensure I wasn’t going to receive a fine, and I had some difficulty finding the right DVLA contact number to dial.

All was well in the end as I was just advised to renew online and I resolved it within 10 minutes. The person I spoke to was really efficient, but it did take longer than it should have to find the right number to call and this delayed my worry unnecessarily.

It’s really not a big deal, but in this modern age of time constraint and rushing about like a headless chicken, the less time you need to spend on looking for things the better!

My one piece of advice, if you are an American worried about driving in the UK, is to speak directly to the DVLA about what you need to do to stay on the right side of the driving laws, just so there’s no room for error. And once you’ve got that covered, you’ll find driving around these beautiful Isles an absolute pleasure.