Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in the United Kingdom, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
UK penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are stiff and often result in prison sentences. In contrast to U.S. and continental European traffic, which moves on the right side of the road, UK traffic moves on the left. Visitors uncomfortable with or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left side of the road may wish to use the United Kingdom’s extensive bus, rail, and air transport networks. Roads in the United Kingdom are generally excellent but are narrow and often congested in urban areas. If you plan to drive while in the United Kingdom, you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code, available for purchase at most UK bookstores.
It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle in the UK while you are using a hand-held cell phone or similar device, including a Personal Data Assistant (PDA) that incorporates a cell phone. Hands-free phones may be used. Use of cell phones and hand-held communication devices while driving can lead to a substantial fine, and in the event of an accident, could result in a jail sentence.
The maximum speed limit on highways/motorways in the United Kingdom is 70 mph. Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line. It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder unless it is an emergency. In such cases, you should activate your hazard lights, get out of your vehicle, and go onto an embankment for safety.
Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with “SOS” printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along the motorway. White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along the motorway point in the direction of the nearest call box. Emergency call boxes dial directly to a motorway center. It is best to use these phones rather than a personal cell phone, because motorway center personnel will immediately know the location of a call received from an emergency call box.
Roadside towing services may cost approximately £150 (approximately $240). However, membership fees of automotive associations such as the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) or AA (Automobile Association) often include free roadside towing service.
Travelers intending to rent cars in the United Kingdom should make sure they are adequately insured. U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the United States, and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents. Authorities impose a congestion charge on all cars entering much of central London Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Information on the congestion charge can be found on the Transport for London website.
Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive. Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found on the Transport for London website. Information about the status of National Rail Services can be found on the National Rail Enquiries website. Information on bus and train services in Northern Ireland can be found on the Translink website. Information on bus and train services in Scotland can be found on the Traveline Scotland website. Many U.S. citizen pedestrians are injured, some fatally, every year in the United Kingdom because they forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction than in the United States. You should exercise extra care when crossing streets; remember to remain alert and look both ways before stepping into the street.
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