Driving on the Left

Thoughts from Alanna…

I hated driving lessons.

Even now I can remember getting picked up by my driving instructor with the giant “avoid me!” sign on the roof. It was November. It was Canada. It was a world covered in ice and snow. I’m making it sound a lot more dramatic than it was, but still.

Somehow I survived the lessons and went on to get my licence. Years later, I’m back where I started: learning how to drive with the added twist of driving on the left side of the road.

If you’ve decided to exchange your international licence for a UK one like me, it’s now time to actually drive. If you feel confident, you can get insured right away and begin driving. If you’re terrified and anxious like me, driving lessons are the way to go. There’s tons of driving schools in England and across the UK like A-Class, AA and BSM (British School of Motoring). Because you actually have a licence and are not a learner working towards getting your licence, you can book “refresher” lessons. The aim is to help drivers who have been off the road for awhile get back into the swing of things, but it’s also great for international drivers.

I know how to drive, but doing it on the left-hand side of the road? With the wheel on the right side of the car? Roundabouts??

I booked a 2-hour lesson with BSM which came to £64. Expensive, yes, but if you need it then you need it!

Leading up to my lesson, I borrowed this computer testing “game.” It’s an interactive program where you can take road sign tests, watch videos of actual driving tests, complete hazard training and answer theory questions. It seems silly, but there’s actually a lot of differences between driving in Canada versus in England.

  1. Stop signs are rare. Instead there are markings on the road that indicate when you have to stop and yield to traffic.
  2. Roundabouts are everywhere. You’ll find mini-roundabouts in residential areas instead of a four-way stop and you’ll see figure-eight roundabouts in high traffic areas.
  3. There’s tons of parked cars on streets which means you have to manoeuvre around them, usually with only enough space for one car at a time even when traffic is coming from both ways. Many will park halfway on the curb since the roads are so narrow.
  4. Did I mention you drive on the left-side of the road??
  5. You don’t actually have to come to a complete stop when you’re turning onto a road or entering a roundabout. You just have to wait until the way is clear and yield to the right. Remember: you go clockwise in a roundabout!
  6. Do not turn right on a red light. Or left on a right light. Or anywhere on a red light.
  7. The highway is called the motorway which usually has variable speed limits. These will show on screens above the road and fluctuate. If the way is clear, the speed limit will be higher.
  8. There are “zebra crossings” where pedestrians are able to cross and cars have to yield.
  9. The UK uses miles per hour instead of Canada’s kilometres per hour. Drivers here tend to be a bit more aggressive but their environment forces them to do so. Roads are smaller, faster and there’s way more cars on the road.
  10. Nearly everyone drives manual cars. If your international licence was for an automatic, you can only drive automatics in the UK unless you retake your test in a manual car. Unfortunately, driving lessons in automatics are more expensive because they’re much less common.

After my sweaty, white-knuckled lesson, I feel totally better on the roads. It’s scary having to relearn something that potentially could end ugly, but you are completely capable. You can do anything!