If you have ever tried driving in the UK, you know it is quite different to a lot of other countries. We have some very weird laws, unwritten rules and strange systems that might confuse you if you ever get behind the wheel on the UK roads. Today I am going to help you understand what the hell is going on with driving in the UK. Let’s talk about it!
Alright mate and welcome to the Dansensei British English podcast. A podcast for Intermediate and Advanced English learners that want to learn all about British life, British culture and British English. Today we are talking about driving.
Driving is a pretty important part of life in the UK. This is partly because the public transport system is pretty rubbish, especially if you are outside of London. It is also partly because we enjoy the freedom that comes with being a driver. However, it can be pretty strange if you are not used to driving in the UK. Today I am going to talk about what driving is really like in England
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Don’t forget you can find the full transcript for this episode over on dansenseienglish.com using the link in the show notes and if you want to download the free vocabulary cheat sheet for this episode, you can get in on the link below, but here are some useful words for this episode.
- Driving Licence – A permit that allows you drive a car
- Provisional licence – A temporary licence that you use while you are learning to drive
- Manoeuvre – a movement that needs care or skill
- Parallel parking – parking a vehicle along the side of the road
- Reverse – To travel backwards in a car
- Three-point turn – a method of turning a car round to face the other direction
- Elephant in the room – there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.
- Motorway – A large road with 3 lanes. Similar to a freeway in American English
- Obscene doodle – A very basic drawing of something rude, usually a dick or something
- Hard shoulder – An area at the side of the motorway where a driver can stop if there is a serious problem
- Meme – an idea, image, video, etc. that is spread very quickly on the internet
- Pothole – a hole in a road surface that results from gradual damage caused by traffic and/or weather:
- Infamous – Something that is well known for being bad or hated
- Pedestrian – a person who is walking, especially near traffic
- Roundabout – a place where three or more roads join and traffic must go around a circular area in the middle, rather than straight across
- Puddle – A small pool of water, usually on a path or road.
- Honk the horn – To use the horn in a car to make a loud noise
- Intoxicated – Under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Hefty – Something that is big or heavy
Right then, let’s get cracking!
How to get started with driving in the UK.
Let’s start today talking about the logistics of Driving in the UK. The obvious stuff, you need a licence to drive on public roads in the UK. You can get your provisional licence when you are 15 years and 9 months old and you can take the drivers test when you turn 17. If you are not from the UK and you want to get your licence, you need to have lived in the UK for at least 185 days during the last 12 months to apply.
The test is in 2 parts. There is a theory test, where you learn all about the laws and how the roads work. It is multiple choice and there is about 50 questions, or at least that’s how it was when I did it. There is also a hazard perception test as part of it too. According to the Government website, it costs £23 to take the test.
Once you have passed the test, you can apply to take the practical, or road test. This is where you drive a car on the roads with a tester who will tell you where to go and decide if you pass the test or not. It costs £62 to take the test and it lasts about 40 minutes. Usually as part of the test you will be asked to do certain maneuvers like reversing around a corner, parallel parking or a 3 point turn. You will pass the test if you make zero serious faults and less that 15 minor faults while driving. Assuming that you do that, you are now able to drive in the UK.
To drive in the UK, you are going to need a few things. You will need your licence, of course, you will also need a car and insurance. Insurance varies depending on the car, the location, the reason you are using it, the age of the driver and the type of insurance. The main kinds are 3rd party, fire and theft and fully comp. 3rd party, fire and theft covers the cost of damage to another person’s property, but not your own car. It also covers your car for damage from fire or if someone steals it. Fully comp does all that but also covers damage to your own car in an accident.
Every year you will need to have your car inspected. This is called an MOT and it will take about an hour and cost you about £60. They are checking for things like tires and breaks, safety aspects of the car and environmental emissions. They don’t check the engine condition or anything like that. Most mechanics can carry out this test so it is pretty easy to do.
Finally you are going to need to pay road tax. This is the fee you pay to the government to use the roads and the costs depends on the car and the fuel it uses. It is pretty complex, but when you buy a car, the government will send you the bill in the post. The standard cost is around £165 per year but it is case by case.
So that is everything you need to get started driving in the UK.
UK roads are a bit weird.
Next up, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Yes…As you probably know, unlike most of the world, us brits drive on the left side of the road and most of the cars are right hand drive. There are not that many countries in the world that do this but there are a few. Japan for example, also drives on the left side.
Now the actual roads in England are a bit weird. We have the motorway, A roads and normal roads, which are sometimes called B roads. There are some pretty weird things that you might find on British roads that I wanted to tell you about.
The first is the dreaded speed camera. From time to time, you will see a big yellow box at the side of the road. This is a speed camera and it is there to try and make sure people stick to the speed limit. If you are going faster than the speed limit, it will flash and take your picture. If this happens, you can expect a fine in the post over the next few days.
Another way they try to get people to stop speeding is the use of speed bumps, or sleeping policemen as they are sometimes called. These are big bumps of concrete in the road that force you to slow down as you pass over them otherwise you are likely to damage your car. They seem to be everywhere on normal roads and some of them are massive and can be very hard to deal with.
We also have a lot of natural speed reducers on the road in the form of potholes. Some of the normal roads in the UK are absolutely shocking with massive holes, crumbling concrete and different levels of concrete on the same road. Basically, the roads are usually repaired really badly after damage or maintenance. It is kind of a meme in the UK that the roads are full of holes and they never seem to get fixed. There was once a vigilante who discovered that if they spray painted obscene doodles around the potholes, the local council repaired them much more quickly.
Other things that you might find strange in the UK are all the weird markings on the road surface. From yellow grids, white zigzag lines and the infamous double yellows, they all tell you important information. The problem is that lots of people don’t really know what they mean. The yellow grid is a box junction and that means you can’t enter the yellow zone, unless your exit is clear. The zigzags mean there is a pedestrian crossing and the double yellow lines mean that you can’t park there.
We also love roundabouts in the UK. Can’t get enough of them. You will see them all over and they are pretty good when everyone knows how to use them correctly. If they don’t it can be chaos. The worst one is called “the magic roundabout” and is in Swindon. Just looking at it gives me a headache. It is basically 5 smaller roundabouts all joined together. I have no idea how people use that thing.
British people also don’t really know how to use the motorways. It should be simple. There are 3 lanes and you use the inside lane, unless you are overtaking something. However, that is not what happens at all. You get people just driving in the middle lane, when there is nothing in the inside lane… what are you doing? get back in the right lane! You get people doing way over the speed limit in the outside line. They are usually driving an audi or BMW and are generally dickheads. You will also get people driving in the hard shoulder, which is supposed to be for emergencies or if your car breaks down.
Finally, rush hour is an absolute nightmare on UK roads. The roads were designed and built when there were way less cars on the roads and they can’t really cope with the actual number of cars driving these days. It’s weird that we call it rush hour because you spend ages not actually moving anywhere. You can spend ages in traffic jams and the record for the longest one was in 1985 and was 40 miles long.
Driving laws even Brits don’t know.
In the UK, we also have some pretty strange laws when it comes to driving, that most drivers don’t even know. Breaking these laws usually ends up in receiving a fine and getting points on your licence. In the UK, if you get 12 points on your licence, you get banned from driving for a couple of years and you will probably need to take your test again. Most of the time, you get fines and points from things like speeding, or dangerous driving, but we have some weird laws that catch people out too.
For example, while researching this podcast, I found out that it is illegal to use your phone to pay for something from your car. Imagine this. You go to McDonalds and you order your food but you want to pay using your phone. This is technically illegal in the UK and you could get fined up to £200 and 6 points on your license! That is crazy!
You can also get pretty big fines for things like having a dirty licence plate. This can cost you up to £1000 in fines and can even cause your car to fail it’s yearly safety inspection. Just for a bit of dirt that would take 2 seconds to clean! That is insane to me.
If you are driving along in winter, there might be puddles of water on the road and maybe a bit of snow on your car… It’s not that uncommon for these things to happen, but it can easily end up causing you to get a fine. Driving with snow on the roof of your car can end up costing you £60 and 3 points and if you drive through a puddle and splash water on pedestrians, you could end up with 3 points and upto £5000 in fines.
Most cars come equipped with a horn to warn people of your presence and the same is true in the UK. However, if you were to honk that horn in frustration at another road user in an aggressive way or while you were not moving in a traffic jam, you could end up with a fine of £1000. If you curse at other drivers or make obscene gestures to other drivers, you can also be fined a grand. Road rage can be a pretty expensive thing!
Finally, and I didn’t know this one, but if you go drinking, it is pretty obvious that you shouldn’t drive. However, if you decided to sleep in your car instead, you are still technically in intoxicated in control of a car, so you could get 10 points and a hefty fine. To me, I am just sleeping there, I am not behind the wheel but apparently, that doesn’t matter. It’s probably better to just call an uber or something instead.
What do you think about Driving in the UK?
So that is all about Driving in the UK. I would love to know what you think about it. Have you ever driven in the UK, what did you think about it? If you haven’t, what would be the biggest difference for you and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions about driving in Britain. You can leave a comment below if you are watching on YouTube or you can send me a message on instagram if you are listening to the audio version. Either way, I would love to hear from you.
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