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Essential tips for driving in the UK

The United Kingdom is not just one country, but four — England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland — which means there is plenty to see and do if you’re visiting from overseas. Many travelers in the UK plan to hire a car so they can see more of what the nation has to offer, from dramatic mountain peaks and rugged coastline to quintessential English rolling hills, and the fascinating history of medieval castles and ancient sites.

However, if you’re accustomed to driving in the US, then you’ll find driving in the UK to be quite a different experience. It’s not just that you’ll be driving on the other side of the road, but also that road signs, speed limits, and basic road etiquette are all quite different from the US.

Read on for some tips on renting and driving cars in the UK and how to obey the rules of the road so that you get along well with other motorists on roads in the UK.

Renting a car in the UK

Hiring a rental car in the UK is fairly straightforward. As far as documentation goes, all you will need to provide the car hire company is your driver’s license and passport. Fortunately, it’s not essential to have an International Driving Permit like it is in some other European countries.

Keep in mind that if you’re used to driving automatic cars, then you’ll likely need to pay more for your rental vehicle — most cars in the UK have manual transmission and car hire companies tend to offer more manual cars than automatic ones.

Though it may be tempting in order to save rental costs, it’s not a good idea to hire a manual car unless you are already accustomed to driving a stick shift vehicle. You don’t want to be practicing changing gears on a roundabout while also deciphering road signs and remembering to drive on the left side of the road. It’s best for American drivers to rent a car with automatic transmission.

Car rental insurance in the UK

You will definitely need car rental insurance if you rent a car in the UK. You can either get this through the car rental company, or in some cases via your credit card company (your existing car insurance from home will typically not cover your car rental overseas). You will be offered insurance through your car rental company, but most charge quite a lot for insurance and may not protect you as comprehensively as you’d like.

A travel insurance policy including rental vehicle damage coverage provides protection if the vehicle you’re renting in the UK is damaged in a collision, or as a result of vandalism, fire, hail, windstorms, or floods. You’ll want to make sure your travel insurance policy also covers you for events like emergency medical care, medical evacuation, baggage loss and delay, trip interruption protection, and trip delay.

Rules of the road when driving in the UK

You may be surprised to find how different driving in the UK is from driving in the United States. For one thing, while you will still find traffic lights and stop signs, roads in the UK feature the more efficient roundabout system at most junctions and intersections, which can certainly take some getting used to.

Make sure you approach the roundabout in the correct lane: the left hand lane if you’re taking the first exit, the middle lane if you’re going straight on, and the right hand lane if you’re going farther than 180 degrees round the roundabout. When joining a roundabout, make sure you always yield to the cars coming from your right hand side. And finally, use your signal when you are about to exit the roundabout.

Most UK roads are fairly clearly sign-posted. However, you’ll often see a plain white circular sign with a black stripe running across it horizontally. This is the UK national speed limit sign, which means the road you are on is governed by the national speed limit. That translates to 60 mph for single carriageways, which tend to be rural or country roads with no center divider; and 70 mph for dual carriageways or motorways.
If you do not memorize these national speed limits, then you may find yourself at a loss when you see these fairly nondescript white signs and wonder what the speed limit is. If a road is not governed by a national speed limit, then you’ll typically see road speed limits on white circular signs with red circles around them, with the speed limit in the center. Keep an eye out for speed cameras, which are common on motorways and dual carriageways or any roads with variable speed limits.

Remember if you’re driving in London, you’ll likely need to pay a congestion charge for entering central London. This price can add up quickly, which is why many visitors to London rely on public transport. Renting cars in London can be more trouble than it’s worth unless you are planning to take trips outside the city.

Safety tips for driving in the UK

If you’re going to be undertaking a fair amount of driving on your trip to the UK, it’s a good idea to purchase a copy of the highway code, available at most service stations and petrol stations, so you can familiarize yourself with the different road signs and markings, and the UK rules of the road.

Another thing that can be very difficult for American drivers in the UK is navigating the frequently narrow roads and small car parks. It’s common to have to stop and wait for vehicles coming from the other direction to pass before you can proceed. Furthermore, roads lined with parked cars on either side often do not have enough room for two cars to pass each other at the same time. Be patient and don’t force your way through if there isn’t enough room. This can be a common cause of collisions for inexperienced drivers in the UK.

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Pre-Existing Medical Condition means an illness, disease, or other condition during the 180 day period immediately prior to the date Your coverage is effective :
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Travel Protection Benefits Limits
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Travel Medical Insurance

Some benefits are subject to an excess (aka, the deductible, or what you have to pay before we pay), as stated in the Policy Schedule, and are per Policy Period.

Benefits Limits
Trip Interruption 2,000
Emergency Medical Expenses, Evacuation and Repatriation of Mortal Remains 10,000,000 (excess 250)
Hospital Benefit 25 per day, maximum 100
Personal Accident up to 5,000
Baggage Loss or Delay up to 2,000 (excess 250 or 50)
Personal Money and Passport, limited to 250 in respect of cash 500 (excess 250) *** Limited to 250 in respect of cash
Personal Liability 500,000
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Business Extension up to 1,000 (excess 100)
Winter Sports (Ski Equipment) up to 750 (excess 50 or 100)
Personal Accident up to 250,000
Baggage up to 10,000

Travel Medical Insurance

Some benefits are subject to an excess (aka, the deductible, or what you have to pay before we pay), as stated in the Policy Schedule, and are per Policy Period.

Benefits Limits
Cancellation up to $20,000
Trip Interruption $1,000
Medical and Emergency Expenses $5,000,000 (deductible $250)
Hospital Benefit $25 per day, maximum $100
Personal Accident up to $50,000
Baggage $2,000 (deductible $250)
Personal Money and Passport, limited to $250 in respect of cash $500 (deductible $250)
Personal Liability $500,000
Optional Benefits Limits
Business Extension up to $1,000 (deductible $100)
Winter Sports (Ski Equipment) up to $750 (deductible $50 or $100)

Travel Medical Insurance

Some benefits are subject to an excess (aka, the deductible, or what you have to pay before we pay), as stated in the Policy Schedule, and are per Policy Period.

Benefits Limits
Cancellation and Curtailment 5,000
Emergency Medical Expenses, Evacuation and Repatriation of Mortal Remains 10,000,000 (excess 250 or 50)
Hospital Benefit 25 per day, maximum 100
Personal Accident up to 250,000
Baggage Loss or Delay up to 5,000 (excess 250 or 50)
Personal Money and Passport, limited to 250 in respect of cash 500 (excess 250 or 50)
Personal Liability 500,000
Travel Delay 500
Optional Benefits Limits
Business Extension up to 1,000 (excess 100)
Winter Sports (Ski Equipment) up to 750 (excess 50 or 100)