Advice for Driving in the UK and Ireland

roundabout sign
I can talk about this now, driving a rental car in the UK. I’ll start by saying Tom is a very good driver. And I am a very good navigator. I can read a map, have a good sense of direction, and am good at planning routes, scenic or otherwise. But things are different here in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland, and I’m not just talking about driving on the left. For both driver and passenger, I offer these true stories and tidbits of advice.

When renting a car in Ireland, DO accept the insurance coverage. Even your fancy-pants credit card probably won’t cover it.

Drive left and keep left. But not too far left. Hedges don’t do damage, but stone walls might.

On a one-lane road, be aware of the protocol when meeting another vehicle. If it’s a truck, do whatever they tell you to. If you’ve just passed an area where you can pull slightly off the road, back up to it. Cars going downhill have the right-of-way. Otherwise, just gun it.

There’s no rule against rounding the roundabout a few times until you figure out which way you want to go. But caution, navigators: the driver might get impatient and take off in some unknown direction. (If the driver made a lucky guess and you’re on the right track, you lose your voice of authority. If the driver is wrong, it’s your fault.)

It takes a while to know if you are on the right road or not. Don’t count on signs to confirm your last turn. They aren’t there.

If there are signs, they are hidden behind tree branches or low under the hedges. But that’s OK, you’ll notice them when you have to turn around and retrace your steps.

Signs generally don’t provide the information you are looking for. You want a road number and instead it’s called by a name. You want a name, and it’s a number (with additional numbers in parentheses). Road numbers, especially in Ireland, have just been added or changed. Locals disagree on the names of the roads. Street names change every few blocks. And worst of all, roundabout signs will name some dinky little towns that aren’t even on your map as headings for the road to somewhere else.

In the Republic of Ireland, distances are in kilometers. Cross over into Northern Ireland, and all of a sudden, you're in miles. Your odometer is probably in one or the other, not both; the speedometer, oh, who cares?

Get a better map.

Do not rely on Google mapping alone, but thank your lucky stars for it.

Remember your phone will lose its data plan when you cross the borders between the Republic and Northern Ireland and your phone service changes. So in other words, memorize the directions, because your mapping will drop off.

For navigators: use the right–and I mean ‘correct’–words when giving directions. Agree on the vocabulary in advance. Three o’clock at the roundabout means a right turn (after circling from the left). It does not mean the 3rd off-road, because that might by eleven o’clock.

Understand that once you enter the roundabout, you immediately lose your sense of twelve o’clock.

For drivers: When the navigator says “Stay Centered,” it means you are about to drive into a wall or off a cliff or under a semi. Move over! (But don’t change lanes. If I meant change lanes I would have said ‘change lanes.’)

Once you’ve established the rules of engagement, keep talking to a minimum. The Driver needs to concentrate. The Navigator may want to enjoy the moments between navigational points, but saying ‘”Oh, wow!’ for example, can make the Driver jumpy, potentially resulting in hard braking, swerving, or catapulting.

For Drivers: When you hear instructions from The Navigator, acknowledge. If you don’t, the Navigator is likely to repeat the instruction and keep talking, trying to clarify the orders. Then the Driver might say, “Shut up!” and then the Navigator might say, “Fuck you!”

Corollary: During the ensuing silence, it is always a good idea to take in the scenery. However, learn from this Navigator. Do not say, “Holy cow, did you see that?” as I did. Even if the cows were performing the holy act, as they were, the driver doesn’t want to know.

As a wise man once said, never go to bed angry.

Interested in reading more about driving a rental car in a foreign country? Tom lived to tell the tale about driving in Romania.

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10 thoughts on “Advice for Driving in the UK and Ireland”

  1. This is the BEST!
    Perhaps because we have driven in IRELAND; and to refresh our memories, the city fathers of Jacksonville have installed two roundabouts in our neighborhood to “gentle” traffic. They have had to replace the center planting of palm trees three times so far.

    • Not sure plantings in the middle of a roundabout is a good idea. For lots of reasons, visibility being one of them. Then again, hitting a tree is probably better than another car. To their credit, both England and Ireland mark the approach lanes fairly well, and once you learn how to do it, it’s not as bad as it seems. BTW, when Kris was telling me to change lanes all the time, she didn’t have the advantage of looking in the rear view mirror to see why it was impossible at the moment.

  2. Haha, as an American who has been driving in the UK for several years, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! I was driving someone’s pickup truck the other day in Xela, Guatemala and encountered some roundabouts with multiple stop signs for the drivers on the roundabout!

    • Thanks, Mark. That’s a great idea for getting a new driver to be aware of what’s going on, and understanding maps and directions. I used to make my kids tell me the route they were taking from A to B before they drove away. When does said son reach driving or permit age?

      The main navigational oddities where I come from (Minnesota) are frontage roads, not roundabouts.

  3. Oh My… What a hoot!! My hubby and I drove around Ireland last Fall….. I just read this to him and we both had a great laugh at the memories! Driving in Ireland is an experience in itself.. But really the only way to truly explore that amazing country! We had such a phenomenal trip!
    I have just discovered your blog and Love Love it!!

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