As one of the few yanks foolhardy enough to take the Monty Python Ridiculously Stringent UK Driver's License
Examination, I feel somewhat qualified to pontificate on the subject. (I passed.) Where necessary, translations follow in
brackets for bleddy yanks [US drivers]. Completists or other sad bastards [anglophiles] can peruse the UK
Highway Code ("always carry a First Aid kit") at http://www.detr.gov.uk/roads/roadsafety/hc/index.htm.
If you're concerned about driving in Blighty [UK], don't be. Drivers are generally more courteous and
carriageways [roads] are better marked then in the States [US of A]. Drivers generally take rules quite
seriously, and have been well-trained to use indicators [signals] and not to pass on the left [right].
Most people find that driving on the left is not a problem and get used to it pretty much immediately: the
hardest part is remembering which car door to use! Left/right confusion is most dangerous in car parks [parking
lots] and places where lanes are not clearly marked: be careful not to let your instincts take over. It's
particularly important to remember that the bulk of the car is ON YOUR
LEFT, and thus you should hug the right kerb [curb] closer than you think. For this reason, be sure to give cyclists
[damnfool idiots] an especially wide berth when overtaking [passing].
Roundabouts should not be a source of anxiety, because roundabouts are
brilliant [way cool]. One simple rule: cars
on your right (already in the roundabout) have priority [right-of-way]. Remember, you are on the left, turning
left into a clockwise (from above) roundabout. Again: cars already in the roundabout have priority. Do remember
to indicate [use your turn signals, dammit]. Some larger roundabouts have multiple and exit-only lanes; if in
doubt, get in a center lane and go around again until you are certain of your exit. The nice things about
roundabouts is that you can take your time and circle; it is also easy to do a U-turn at the next roundabout
(there will be one soon!) if you exit on the wrong spoke. So relax and circulate.
Road markings are generally clear and obvious. Note the blue circles with down-pointing arrows that indicate
"keep left" and "keep right". Crosswalks are serious business, and New Yorkers should note that you MUST stop
for any pedestrian [watch it, buddy] who is even THINKING of crossing. Be prepared for cars in front of you to
stop, sometimes rapidly. Note the zig-zags to the side of the road, which mean absolutely no parking. On that
note, a single yellow line by the kerb means no parking, while a double yellow line means no stopping.
Motorway [highway] driving is easy. Speed limits are 70 mph on the motorway (dual-carriage) and 60 mph
elsewhere when not indicated. It's not done to overtake on the left [no translation available]. Motorway exits
have a series of three blue signs with white slashes "///," "//" and "/", indicating you are 300, 200, and
100 meters respectively from the slip road [exit]. Slow down as appropriate [no translation available].
Unlike in the US, it is not guaranteed that a two-way road is wide enough for two cars to pass, particularly in
city centres [downtown]. If in doubt, yield. A blink of the headlamps
[headlights] usually means "go ahead". A very few back roads are single track [one lane] and will have turnouts
every few hundred yards; it is expected that you will yield to traffic going uphill, if necessary backing up
into a turnout.
Navigation can be tricky in cities and towns, as streets will both bend and arbitrarily change
their names every 100 yards or so. There is no such thing as a
"block" in the entire country, so avoid the word when giving
directions (also a "block of flats" means an apartment
building). To make things even more exciting, the road from Cheesefarthing-on-Pye to Bumbottington
will often be called Cheesefarthing Road in Bumbottington, and Bumbottington Road in Cheesefarthing. If you
can, obtain an Ordinance Survey (OS) map of the area you are exploring. Without
exaggeration, these are the best maps in the word,
and indicate landmarks down to cow sheds and druidic ruins.
Car Hire [rental]: UK cars are generally smaller, which is a good thing as streets are as well.
Hire as small a car as you can get away with, especially as petrol [gas] is expensive; more than 50p a liter [$4 a gallon].
Automatic transmissions are considered a luxurious extra, like air-conditioning, so
be specific when making a reservation or you will get a standard [stick].
If you are at all uncomfortable driving a manual transmission, you will
probably be more so when shifting with your left hand, so take that into
consideration. A "saloon" is not a bar but what the Yanks might
call a sedan, and is somewhat larger than average.
Anyway, I hope this helped. Happy motoring, and don't forget the funny names for car bits: bonnet [hood], boot
[trunk], wing [fender]. You also see through the windscreen and drive on
the tarmac [asphalt], as the pavement [sidewalk] is reserved for pedestrians.