British Dopers: what's a layby?

Question inspired by Porcupine Tree song “Heart Attack In a Layby.” Is it the shoulder of a roadway or something more like a “rest area” that we have alongside our interstate highways here in the U.S.?

No it’s not the English ‘shoulder’ (or in England ‘hard shoulder’) it’s just a little paved (in the American sense, i.e. tarmaced) area adjoing the road with enough room for one or two cars to turn into and stop, a bit like a rest area I’d imagine.

Just for purposes of comparison, American “rest areas” generally have a parking lot, rest rooms, vending machines, and, sometimes, an information booth of some sort.

Does a layby have any amenities - picnic table, port-a-pot, etc? If not, then what is its purpose?

No, it’s just a small section of pavement, no amenties.

It’s just a place where someone can park there car if they need to stop for a minute.

Usually not – the layby is found mostly on one-lane roads, to allow cars going one direction to pull over so that cars going the other direction can get by. As MC says, it’s usually just a bit of surfaced area on the side of the road, just big enough for a car or two. You’re not meant to stay there long enough to need any amenities.

We have those as well, but they’re not lay-byes (sp?), they’re called service stations and generally they include fuel, shops, restaurants and other facilities too.

speckfisher: a lay-by generally provides nothing more than an opportunity to stop driving for a short period. You can consult a map, change a wheel or carry out some maintenance check on your car. If you feel a little tired and there isn’t a service station nearby, a lay-by is the next best place to stop for a short rest.

I have seen them with picnic tables, toilets, public phone etc., but often they don’t have anything.

The American term for a layby is a turnout: “A widening in a highway to allow vehicles to pass or park.”

Never ask a Jewish woman, “Can I lay by yer menorah.” This once resulted in a really ugly misunderstanding.

And in Australia a layby is the same as a lay-away in America.

Instead of having to pay for your goods at the time of purchase, your goods are “layed-by” and you pay for them over an agreed period of time in agreed amounts. Once the total amount is paid the goods become yours.


Not really - those are called passing places which should never be used for parking. We have a lot of them in Scotland

What I’m interpreting from the several versions given so far is that “layby” in UK parlance most closely compares with USA “turnout” or (in some instances – as in scenic areas) “overlook” or “pulloff.”

In Australia “layby” = USA “layaway”

To add to the possible interpretations of the UK “layby” is there/are there other terms for what the USA calls:

Runoff ramp – on steep grades for trucks to pull off into if/when brakes fail due to overheating – usually longish pits filled with sand to help trucks stop

Passing lane – one 2-lane roads, a temporary third lane to allow impatient faster-moving traffic to pass the snails (NB: this lane only lasts for less than a mile, utterly defeating its stated purpose)

Shoulder – on freeways and interstates the edge of a multi-lane that is not normally used for main traffic but is wide enough for stalled vehicles to pull of the main road

Runoff ramp – I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that in the UK. If we do have them they’re certainly not called lay-byes.

Passing lane – that would be called a passing lane in the UK if we bothered to call it anything. We do have them.

ShoulderMC Master of Ceremonies has already explained that we call that the hard shoulder.

A lay-by is just a small tarmaced stopping area off the side of a road. What’s the confusion?

quote:Originally posted by cher3
Just for purposes of comparison, American “rest areas” generally have a parking lot, rest rooms, vending machines, and, sometimes, an information booth of some sort.

The rest areas referred to are run by State or local governments.

The service stations everton remarks on sound like private commercial ventures.

Yes that’s right, we don’t have government-run service stations. Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that hardly anywhere in the UK is more than a few tens of miles from a town or built-up area, so the risk of you being stranded in the wilderness without life-saving facilities is practically nil.

Government-run “rest areas” sound a bit socialist to me ;).

This is what a layby looks like:

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The US rest area is pretty much the same as a UK picnic area - some parking spots, some tables, and a toilet. A UK motorway service station is the same as a US truck stop, fuel, food, and sometimes a motel. Both strictly commercial ventures.

A layby is a place one can safely park just off the main carriageway. They are convenient places for cars to stop, perhaps for a brief rest, check the map, make a phone call, wait for help or find a tree that needs watering.

Most laybys are not much more than a widened part of the carriageway marked off by a pecked line. The length of the layby varies considerably, but will generally be longer on busy roads to make pulling out easier.

There are usually no facilities provided at a layby other than, perhaps, a telephone and/or an information notice board.

Some laybys are slightly more elaborate being separated from the main road by a line of trees. Such laybys are often the result of roads being upgraded and straightened - the old curve in the road finding a new life as a layby. Sometimes here may be found people selling inedible burgers from a van etc.

Some laybys are specifically located at places of interest.

Incidentally, carriageways with three lanes are of two types. The first has a centre lane that may be used for overtaking by vehicles going in either direction. These were never very common in the past and are even less common now - the potential dangers being obvious. The second type has two lanes going in one direction and one in the other. These are common on steep hills where the leftmost of two lanes is called the crawler lane and it generally used by heavy vehicles that cannot cliimb a hill at speed.

Run off ramps certainly do exist in the UK although they are not common and I am not sure what we officially call them.

kferr has described them accurately, and MC Master of Ceremonies has given a good diagram.

The laybys that I recal from driving there will have a small curb separating the layby from the roadway with access at the ends. They are wide enough for a vehicle to squeeze by one that is already parked and long enough for 2-4 cars to park. I seem to remember some with chip vans as well. Are these the same animal?

The police ramps on the motorways are also foreign to north americans. They are elevated paved platforms for the police to park and wait for speeders to zoom by. They have extremely short entrance ramps to the motorway…do police ever cause havoc by entering traffic when coming off the ramp?