There is no better way to see and feel a country than by driving through it. England, with its undulating green hills and meadows, Scotland with its glens and woods, and the rugged beauty of Wales and Ireland have to be experienced through the windshield. First-time visitors to the UK would be apprehensive about the driving, but the right hand drive—a legacy of the Raj—makes navigating the M6 easier. Here are some tips to drive in the UK.
How to Hire: There are numerous companies such as Hertz and Enterprise etc, which offer car hire service at all major cities in the UK. It is best to compare the prices on some sites like travel super market, travelmart or via.com etc, to arrive at the best deals. Automatic transmission and premium category cars cost up to 40 percent more than lower category cars.
The car can be booked without any payment by giving the credit card details. It can be cancelled up to 48 hours without any charges; however, the company may charge a small premium for it. The earlier you book, more are the chances of getting a better deal.
In case you are hiring the car from one city and dropping off at another (like I picked up at London and dropped at Glasgow), the company will usually levy a charge for it.
Documentation: An internationally valid credit card is needed for the payments. Besides, Indian citizens need to obtain an international driving permit from the local RTO along with the original driving licence.
Insurance: It is a very crucial point. There are two models. In one model, you are charged for any damages up to a certain amount, usually £1,000 and beyond that the insurer pays. This model has a lower fee and is usually a part of the deal. In the second model, i.e, zero liability insurance, the premium is higher. I would recommend the zero liability model as it protects you from litigation and liabilities.
• We have the same-side driving, unlike Europe
• You can read and understand all signage and road directions
• There is no hassle in filling up at the gas stations
• The traffic is highly disciplined and traffic rules are observed with strictness
• Extremely efficient GPS-guided maps usually come free with the vehicles, especially in the premium category cars and may be chargeable in normal car segment
• Britain has one of the most picturesque countryside in Europe and having your own car allows you to pace your trip at your convenience and explore non-touristy destinations
• It requires immense patience to drive in the UK. For instance, the national upper speed limit on Highways is 70 mph (approx. 112 kmph), but it drops to 30 mph in urban areas and to 20 mph (32 kmph) in built-up areas.
• There are a lot of restrictions on parking even for a short duration. The roads in the UK cities are narrower compared to India and only a few parking slots are available. The parking is usually paid and can cost as much as £1 for an hour in premium areas (like the Royal Mile in Edinburgh).
• Most of the mid-segment hotels like the Travelodge or Premier Inn or Airbnb apartments do not provide free parking. So, this may cost additionally approx. `900 for seven to eight hours.
• The country roads in Scottish Highlands are narrow and very winding (just like Himalayan roads in India). They have very few towns in between, so in case of a breakdown, the car hire company may take more time to provide assistance.
• At the petrol pumps, you have to fill up the car on your own. So, it is better to learn the details of the operations.
• The cost of petrol varies from place to place. It is cheaper in the smaller towns and is costlier on the highways. So tank up when visiting the countryside as that can save you a few pounds.
Other Aspects and General Issues
• Never, repeat never, lose your cool even in the face of extreme provocation on the road. Initially you may be a bit nervous or reckless and may attract some honking from other irritated drivers but just smile and say sorry, and let it go. It never pays to get into trouble in a foreign land. It can ruin your trip.
• Never honk. This was the most difficult part for me. Using a horn is equivalent to abusing in the UK. So, just give up your Indian habit of honking on the turns or on road crossings, which we consider to be a part of safe driving habits in India. You have to assume that the other driver will stop for you if you are approaching a crossing from his right side. And yes, they do observe this rule without any violations.
So, the rule that priority is to be given to the vehicle (including two-wheelers or even cyclists) coming from your right is the most important rule to be observed. Incidentally, the Motor Vehicles Act in India also provides for the same rule but it is observed more in violation in our country.
• So, go out and hire the vehicle of your choice, and then just zip through the roads of the UK. The people are polite and friendly, and you can carry great conversations with them. Enjoy the advantages of being a citizen of a Commonwealth country and the shared history (good as well as bad) between India and the Great Britain.
(The author is an avid traveller. He can be contacted at email@example.com)