Hiring a motorhome is one of the best ways to see the UK in all her stunning glory. A country of many rich cultures, landscapes and of course, fascinating history, the UK offers something for everyone. A self-drive holiday allows you to soak it all up without missing a thing. Although an extensive train network links the city centres, the real charm is found off the beaten track – from quaint countryside pubs to tiny coastal villages, you’ll never run out of interesting places to explore.
The road system is well-maintained and – in most parts – highly sophisticated. While you will encounter walled country lanes and cobblestone streets in some areas, the majority of the roads are modern, efficient thoroughfares; think multi-lane dual carriageways and toll roads.
This driving guide covers everything you need to know about negotiating the UK’s roads with ease.
Just one thing before we start: don’t forget to drive on the left!
In the UK, you drive on the left side of the road – this can present a steep learning curve for many people. If you’re used to driving on the right, then take extra care and remember to stay left when turning corners. It’s also a good idea to spend some time getting to know your motorhome, as things such as indicators, windscreen wipers and of course, the gearbox, are likely to be found on the opposite side.
UK Road Rules
For an official guide to driving in the UK, look no further than The Highway Code. There are two different versions: The Great Britain version (for England, Wales and Scotland, which is available in both English and Welsh), and the Northern Ireland Version which is available in English and Irish.
In the UK, distances are measured by miles as opposed to kilometres. All speed signs will refer to miles per hour (mph). On motorways and dual carriageways, the default speed limit is 70 mph, whereas on dual carriageways it’s 60 mph and in urban areas, it’s 30 mph.
The breath alcohol limit in the UK is 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath, and the blood alcohol limit is 80 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. However, we strongly advise that you avoid consuming any alcohol before you drive.
All passengers (and the driver) are required to wear a seatbelt whenever the motorhome is in motion. It’s up to the driver to enforce this rule for all passengers under the age of 14. If you’re travelling with children, the driver will also need to ensure they are seated in an approved child restraint.
It is illegal to use any type of hand-held mobile device while driving. Hands-free sets are permitted, although please note that if an officer of the law believes you are distracted and driving unsafely due to your hands-free device, they have the authority to take action.
Foreign visitors to the UK are allowed to drive for up to 12 months as long as they have a valid driver’s licence from their home country and are 17 years of age. Visitors from certain countries, such as those in the EU, may be able to use their home licence for up to three years. If your licence is not written in English, you’re advised to obtain an international driver’s permit.
Also known as ‘signals’, indicators are used to convey your intention to other road users before actions like changing lanes, turning left or right or leaving a parked space. Remember, indicators show intention only; they do not require other cars to accommodate your move, so be sure to indicate at least a few seconds before you intend to act, and always wait until it’s safe.
The centre of the road will either be marked by a broken white line or two white lines (one solid and one broken). When there is only one broken white line, you may overtake if it is safe to do so. You may also overtake if there are two white lines and the one closest to you is broken, providing you can complete the action before the line closest to you becomes solid. When the line closest to you is solid, you are not allowed to overtake.
These are used to mark different lanes for traffic heading in the same direction on multi-lane roads, such as motorways. You must stay in your lane. If you need to change lanes, indicate, check all of your mirrors and blind spots, and only move when it is safe.
Overtaking other cars
If you need to overtake another vehicle, you do so on the right. Please only perform this maneuver if you are sure the road is clear and there is enough space in front of the car you are planning to pass. Travelling in a motorhome, you will likely find that other cars want to overtake you; if safe, pull over to the left and give them plenty of space to pass.
Stop and Give Way signs
You must come to a complete stop at a stop sign, and only once there is a safe gap may you continue. At give way signs, you are not required to stop completely, but you must give way to other traffic before continuing.
Traffic junctions and intersections
There are many different junctions in the UK; below are the main ones to be aware of.
Marked by criss-cross yellow lines, box junctions are square-shaped and unique to the UK. You must wait to enter the box until your lane is clear, with one exception – if you are turning right and are prevented from doing so due to oncoming traffic, you are allowed to enter the box and wait until it’s safe to continue.
The UK traffic system follows the universal pattern seen in most places throughout the world; green means you may go, red means you must stop and amber/orange means you need to come to a stop if you can. Some traffic lights also feature coloured arrows which indicate if it is safe to turn-only.
To turn right is to turn across oncoming traffic, therefore take extra caution and give way to oncoming traffic before you turn. When waiting, pull into a marked turning bay when possible, or sit as close to the centre line as you safely can to avoid holding up other cars on the road.
Also known as ‘traffic circles’ in some countries, roundabouts are not controlled by traffic lights and therefore rely on the give way rules. As you approach the roundabout, slow down, indicate your intended final direction and prepare to give way to your right. When the road is clear, veer to the left and join the roundabout. Just before you leave, indicate to the left to signal your exit to other drivers.
Keep an eye out for emergency vehicles, such as police cars, ambulances or fire engines. These vehicles are usually brightly coloured and easily recognisable. If they are flashing blue, red or green lights, or their headlights, or operating a siren, they have right of way and you must pull over so that they can pass (providing it is safe to do so).
Here are some common road signs to keep an eye out for.
Red, white and black signs
Road signs with these colourings tend to convey an order, warning or prohibition, so pay close attention and take extra care.
Speed limit signs
These signs are white and circular in shape, with a red border and black numbers.
Similar to speed limit signs, these are also white circles with red borders, only on the inside they feature pictographs which convey instructions like ‘no cycling’ or ‘no left turn’.
Hexagon-shaped and red in colour, these signs feature the word ‘STOP’ clearly marked in white letters.
Give way signs
These are triangle-shaped with a red border and ‘GIVE WAY’ written in black lettering.
Similar to Give Way signs, warning signs are triangles with red borders, except they feature pictographs and symbols to indicate upcoming hazards, such as junctions, traffic lights, sharp bends, road narrowing or level crossings.
Signs featuring driving instructions or information are usually blue and white and use symbols to convey action, such as arrows.
These are blue squares with a white ‘P’ marked in the centre. If parking restrictions apply, these will be clearly detailed on the sign.
Signs which indicate upcoming motorways, roads or destination information are usually blue and white. Those which feature directions, place names and distances are green and white on primary routes, or black and white on non-primary or local routes.
‘No waiting’ or ‘no stopping’ signs
These are blue circles with red borders and one or two diagonal bars.
Signs which indicate roadworks are yellow and often feature information about the work being undertaken. These are usually accompanied by temporary speed limit signs.
Areas of interest
Keep a close eye out for brown and white signs, as these indicate that an area of interest is nearby, such as tourist attractions, zoos or historic sites. These signs are also used to mark public facilities like toilets and picnic areas.
Parking in the UK
The ease of finding a park varies widely across the UK. In large cities like London it can be quite a challenge, and given the size of the average motorhome, you’re probably best to use public transport for the day instead. Fortunately, in smaller towns where public transport isn’t great, there tends to be ample parking available.
As a general rule, you can park for free in marked road bays or on the roadside, but the following exceptions apply:
No parking on the hard shoulder of a motorway
No parking in a taxi bay or on a pedestrian crossing
No parking on a road with double white lines down the centre
No parking in tram, bus or cycle lanes during hours of operation
No parking within 10 metres of a junction
No parking on a clearway
No parking where there are double yellow lines or a white zig-zag line
If you’re unsure, look for parking signs; these will outline information about any restrictions that apply. Certain parks are for residents only; these will be clearly marked with a white ‘P’ on a blue background and the words ‘Resident permit holders only’.
If you’re not lucky enough to nab a free space, there are plenty of paid parks to choose from. In most cases, these are operated by local councils and payment is taken via a parking meter; be sure to carry some spare coins.
You will also find paid parking spaces in private carparks; as these aren’t council-owned, prices vary widely. Expect steep charges at tourist attractions or in big cities.
The UK road system
Motorways, A-roads, B-roads and local routes form the bones of the UK road network. See below for an overview of each road type.
Clearly marked with an ‘M’ prefix, these roads are controlled-access, dual-carriageway highways. Each main motorway is assigned a number. In England and Wales, you will find M1-M6, and in Scotland M7-M9. Smaller motorways which link to the main motorways are assigned a second number. For example, the M18 is linked to the M1, and the M80 to the M8. In Northern Ireland, the numbering system is separate to the rest of the UK; look out for the M1, M2, M3 and M5, as well as a network of smaller motorways.
These are primary routes which are not motorways. The numbering system is nearly identical to that of motorways, except routes are marked with an ‘A’ instead of an ‘M’. For example, A8-A9, and A38. Again, Northern Ireland operates independently but the same numbering pattern applies.
These are important local routes. The numbering system is similar to that of A roads, except they usually feature three or four digits after the letter ‘B’.
Surprisingly, toll roads are few and far between in the UK. Most are located in England and in or near London. The largest toll road is the M6 Toll, which also goes by the name of the ‘Birmingham North Relief Road’. As the name suggests, it was constructed to provide an alternative route and minimise congestion. It runs parallel to the M6 and is completely optional. The cost of travelling on this road varies depending on the time of day. To give you an idea, you can expect to pay about five and half pounds on weekdays.
Several bridges and tunnels in the UK also incur charges. Here are some of the most popular ones:
Dartford Crossing (Greater London)
Humber Bridge (Kingston upon Hull)
Mersey Tunnels (Liverpool)
Severn Bridge (near Bristol, connecting England to southeast Wales)
Tyne Tunnel (between Newcastle and South Shields)
In London and Durham, congestion charges apply in certain areas and certain times of the day. These are in place to minimise traffic and discourage people from driving through highly congested areas. In London, there is a designated ‘Congestion Zone’ which covers the majority of the city centre, so it’s best to use public transport if you want to avoid this charge. If you do decide to drive, you can pay online at Transport for London. In Durham, the congestion charge only applies to Saddler Street in the city centre. You can pay by calling 0191 384 6633 or by visiting ‘The Parking Shop’ on Finchale Road.
Quirks of driving on UK roads
While these aren’t official ‘road rules’ as such, here are some common quirks to be aware of when driving on UK roads.
Roads in the UK tend to be very narrow, especially in residential areas. Throw in parked cars and cycle lanes, and it can be quite a mission to navigate them, especially in a motorhome! The trick is to take it slow and be very courteous to fellow road users. Be prepared to pull over and give way to oncoming traffic often; you can signal that you are giving way by flashing your headlights or indicating. In rural areas, also watch out for animals on the roads.
Many motorhomes in the UK have a stick shift, which is located to the left of the steering wheel. If you’re used to driving on the right side of the road, or are inexperienced with manual transmissions, be sure to request an automatic vehicle when you book your motorhome rental.
Don’t be surprised if you come across a double roundabout! These are quite common throughout the UK. Treat each roundabout like a new intersection. The same give way rules apply. This may mean you need to come to a stop on the first roundabout until you can safely join the second.
One of the best things about a self-driving holiday in the UK is the chance to experience different nations within a relatively small region. You can wake up in Wales and drive to England within minimal fuss. Borders are marked, but they are not controlled, so going from country to country is easy and enjoyable.
Below are some useful resources to help you plan your motorhome holiday in the UK.
Motorway Service Areas
Driving on the motorway can be tedious and tiring, so you’ll want to make the most of the motorway service areas. These are mini shopping areas in themselves, featuring petrol stations, convenience stores, fast food outlets and WiFi. They are the perfect spots to refuel, grab a bite to eat and rest before you set out on the road again.
Tourist Information Centres
Keep an eye out for signs marked with a lowercase ‘i’ throughout the UK; this indicates a ‘Tourist Information Centre’. Featuring maps, guides and other useful travel information, these centres are the ideal place to find out about local hotspots.
Plan your trip online with the help of these great websites:
Smartphone apps are fast becoming popular holiday-planning tools.
If you don’t have a GPS unit, Google Maps (available on Android and iOS) will help you find your way.
Use WiFi Finder to ensure you never go too long without internet (Android and iOS).
Never go through the pain of hailing a cab in London again; Hailo will send one your way.
Keep an eye on local weather with the Met Office app (available on iOS and Android)
Discover delicious culinary delights with Foodspotting.
Book a motorhome rental in advance through the Airport Rentals App, which offers an easy and convenient way to secure a vehicle from several locations throughout the UK.
Last but not least, have fun and safe travels! A motorhome trip in the UK will provide you with amazing memories to last a lifetime. Enjoy every moment.
This information is provided on a 'best intentions' basis. While we do our best to ensure the information is error free, we do not warrant its accuracy or adequacy for any intended purpose.