Taking a Road Trip
by Dawn Copeman
Why take the
car when you come to Britain? Why not relax and take the train?
Well, travelling by train might not be as relaxing as you think.
Firstly, due to a variety of political reasons, there are no
trash cans and no left luggage lockers at our stations, which
mean our stations are dirty places where you need to lug your
luggage around with you all day. Secondly, our rail fares are the
most expensive in Europe despite the fact that our trains are
notorious for being late, so much so that our newspapers publish
tables every quarter that show which train operator was late the
least often in the previous three months.
So it is hardly surprising then that the British population, if
they are travelling anywhere, prefer to go by car. Nearly
three-quarters of the British population have access to a car and
a quarter of the population have two cars or more.
Now whilst it is true that life for the driver is far from rosy
-- the British motorist has had recently to contend with the
introduction of motorway tolls on a stretch of the M6, bus lanes
on the M4 and speed cameras on almost every stretch of road --
travelling by car is still the best way to get around Britain.
This is because driving enables you to set your own timetable, to
explore the British countryside, to go off the beaten track when
you feel like it and maybe even indulge in some brown signing
So what do you need to know about driving in the United Kingdom,
other than we drive on the left? Firstly, you must be over 17
and under 70 and ensure that your driving licence has twelve
months left on it before it expires. Secondly, you need to make
yourself familiar with the Highway Code. No, this has nothing to
do with Dick Turpin; it's the quaint name we have for the rules
of the road.
Most of our road signs should present no difficulty to you. We
have three types: circular signs are orders or prohibitions,
triangular signs are warnings, and rectangular signs give
Speed limit signs are a number in a red circle. A black diagonal
line in a white circle means that the National Speed Limit
applies. The speed limits for cars generally are:
- 30 mph in built up areas
- 60 mph on single
carriageway roads, such as A or B roads
- 70 mph on dual
carriageways and motorways
Bear in mind, however, that these limits can be reduced, so
keep an eye out for speed limit signs on normal roads or flashing
lights on motorways reducing the speed limit.
Speed limits are a sore point in Britain at the moment, as speed
cameras have been set up all over the country. Ostensibly, these
cameras are set up at accident blackspots, but many commentators,
including several members of Parliament and organisations such as
the Royal Automobile Club, feel that the true purpose of speed
cameras is to generate revenue. A British motorist caught
speeding by a camera or a policeman will have to pay a £60
fine and have three penalty points placed on his licence. The
points last for three years and if a driver gets twelve points,
they lose their driving licence for a full year.
If you are a tourist from out of the country, however, the police
have limited powers to deal with you. There are moves to enable
the British police to issue on-the-spot fines, but at present if
you speed, you are most likely to be given a warning. In extreme
cases you could have your vehicle seized or you might be arrested
and held in detention until a court date could be set up, but
this is only likely if you have been driving dangerously.
And dangerous driving is what you could be charged with if you
are caught driving whilst using a handheld cell phone. This is
illegal in the UK, except if you are dialling 999 for the
emergency services. If you need to use your phone whilst
driving, you must use a hands-free voice activated one.
Finally, you must always wear a seatbelt in the UK, even in the
back of a car. You will be stopped by the police if you are not
After you've got to grips with our driving laws, the only other
area which might cause you problems is roundabouts. The basic
rule is as you approach a roundabout you give way to traffic
already on the roundabout and to traffic coming from the right.
So, now you've got your hire car, let's go
brown-signing. This involves driving around the countryside
looking for a brown sign, then following it to see where it
leads. Brown signs are basically tourist information signs. All
English Heritage and National Trust properties are signposted
with brown signs, as are other museums, historic buildings,
natural attractions, zoos, theatres, gardens and theme parks.
Tourist facilities such as pubs, restaurants, hotels and picnic
areas are also brown signed.
My husband and I regularly go brown-signing, especially when we
are in a part of the country we don't know very well. Some days
we hit the jackpot and find astounding places; this is how we
first discovered Kirkham Priory before we joined English
Heritage. On the same day we also visited a Neolithic monolith
and the earth work remains of a castle. On other days we don't
fare so well, but the thrill is in the chase and the fun of brown
signing is that it is like a mystery tour of the past.
So, read the Highway Code, hire a car and head off into the big
brown yonder! Who knows what you might find?
- Highway Code
Dawn Copeman is a freelance writer and commercial writer who has had more than 100 articles published on travel, history, cookery, health and writing. She currently lives in Lincolnshire, where she is
working on her first fiction book. She started her career as a freelance
writer in 2004 and has been a contributing editor for several publications, including TimeTravel-Britain.com and Writing-World.com .
Article © 2006 Dawn Copeman
Photos courtesy of Britainonview.com