Visiting England—driving advice needed

Wife and I will be flying to London, checking out the museums on foot and by train, then driving a rental car North, to Peak District National Park for a few days of trekking, then a few more in Lake District NP.
Any advice is appreciated, but 2 questions come to mind:
Should I purchase the optional Personal Accident Insurance?
How fast should I drive? In some parts of the world, the speed limit is treated as an absolute maximum, in others, as a mere suggestion, more of a lower limit.

Always get travel insurance.

On motorways, you’ll not want to drive significantly under the speed limit as this can be regarded as causing a hazard. You won’t find a lot of people exceeding the limits - Road speed limits are quite widely enforced by automatic cameras, as well as by police officers in both marked and unmarked cars.
I don’t know what actually happens in terms of fines and actual prosecution for visitors caught speeding. I do know that if you get caught speeding (or committing any other kind of traffic violation), you will find it very difficult to hire a car again if you were to come back for another visit.

When renting a car buy all the extras. Country roads in the UK can be very narrow indeed and it’s very easy to get a scrape. I would also have a good think about whether or not hiring a car is actually a good idea - trains and taxis may be a better idea.

(I am assuming you are traveling from the US. If not, never mind) Not one of your questions, but when my wife and I did a similar trip I found out that reserving the car through Avis in the US was far cheaper than any option I looked at for making the reservation through a UK agency, Avis or otherwise. Same applied when I later rented a car in Germany.

Regarding the PAI, I would check with your current auto insurance and credit card company. Between the two I was covered as well as I would be renting a car in the US.

Regarding speed limits, I pretty much went with the traffic flow on busier routes. Country lanes were not problem, the speed limits defaulted to 60MPH which was most time faster than my comfort level on a one and a half lane wide road.

Moderator Action

Since this is seeking advice, let’s move it to our advice and opinion forum.

Moving thread from GQ to IMHO.

Speed limits are treated as such for all roads outside of the motorway system - you won’t generally see people doing 40+ in a 30 zone, for example, and that would be seen as pretty irresponsible driving IME. Out on the motorway it’s a bit different with 70 being more of a base. As mangetout says you definitely don’t want to be driving much below this - bimbling along at 50 in a car would be hazardously slow.

The roads are pretty congested in the UK so you won’t have a problem just driving the community speed - it’s only on the M6 toward the Lakes that you’ll start to see the open road.

There’s a lot of camera enforcement of speeding on all types of roads [fixed cameras on minor roads, often mobile vans on motorway bridges, and a lot of average speed zones on the M6 at the moment], so be aware of that.

Don’t pass on the inside here (‘undertaking’), and don’t drive in the outside or middle lane of the motorway if there’s no call for it. This is tangentially related to our reverence for queuing - it boils our piss to see bad drivers just sat in the middle lane of an empty motorway. This is antithetical to the US system, where it’s a consitutional right to drive in whatever lane you feel like.

I would definitely get some sort of accident insurance - some of the country roads in the Lakes and Peak are really narrow and they’re often walled or hedged either side. I don’t know where you’re coming from (US?) but larger countries don’t tend to have this squished arrangement, so it’s easy to have a bump just because you’re used to more space.

Have a great time - both the Peak and the Lakes are fantastic places.

Done it twice. Bought insurance both times. Got the smallest car with an automatic transmission I could get. Wrong side of things wasn’t too bad stay on your toes and you’ll be okay. Did three days in the Lake District. Drove a scenic loop there, was nice but only one car wide in many places. At least I thought so, the locals thought it was two cars wide. I usually pulled over and stopped while they went by in the other direction.

my 2 cents:
(prolly worth less)

Tip 1
They drive on the wrong side of the road, Try to remember:)
Tip 2
Europe (and Britain) is in the height of their love affair with roundabouts. The Brits go round the roundabouts the wrong way. Try to remember:)

Tip 3
Practice driving stick. Do not rely on the rental agency to provide the car they promise.

Tip 4
Examine insurance coverage from your CC and all other policies you have, try not to be insured for the same thing more than twice:)

Tip 5
They drive on the wrong side of the road, try to remember (especially when crossing the road while walking: look right, left, right instead of the mirrored procedure you mother taught you)

On motorways generally stick to at least 60mph+ if traffic allows, but more importantly, keep left unless you’re overtaking. Don’t overtake on the left, we really don’t expect it and some people won’t think to check.

Other than that, well, you’ll see some of the roads in the national parks; technically the limit on most of 'em is 60, which would be basically suicide. Under is fine unless you’re going crazy slow, upper limits are enforced. If locals are driving right up your arse, pull over and let them pass if you can; some drive crazy fast on back lanes. Brake for sheep, on some back roads in the parks they’re free to wander, including sitting in the road…

Dunno about ‘personal accident insurance’, what’s it supposed to cover, and does it duplicate any other insurance? This shows* you what services you would be able to access without fees, and what you would be liable for. Make sure you’re covered for the stuff you need to be covered for, but don’t pay extra for emergency room treatment or ambulance transport, because the NHS doesn’t try to recover costs for them off anyone.

*poorly, it’s the official website, the one all the other official websites point you to, but it’s pretty uninformative.

I live by the peaks, beautiful place.

Don’t trust satnav route if you’re not keen on driving on twisty up & down rural roads.

Turn signal lever is on the right, wiper lever on the left. While in New Zealand, I signaled many a turn by turning on the windshield wipers.

When I got a ticket driving around Colchester a couple of years ago–not for speeding, but for wandering into a bus zone–Enterprise charged it to the credit card I used for the rental and mailed the ticket and the street-camera photo to my address in the US with an explanatory letter. 35 quid.

If you can manage a stick shift, you will save money - automatics are more expensive.

Fuel is expensive. With a trip like yours, a diesel is the best option. Allow £15/20 per 100 miles.

Rental companies have extortionate charges for satnavs (GPS). Buy a used one before you leave with Europe maps already loaded. This gives you a chance to get familiar with it and you can easily sell it on after.

Have a scan through the Highway Code; take notice of sign conventions and parking rules.

On motorways, all trucks will be doing around 56mph (they are limited). Give them room, especially if they don’t have UK style number plates as that may mean the driver is on the left side with limited visibility.

Compared to the USA, Britain is small and crowded; it can take you a lot longer than you might expect to make a journey.

Yes, you should buy accident insurance, if someone scrapes the car in a parking place, you will be glad of it.

Driving in London is a nightmare. I suggest that you take a train to Birmingham International (Not Birmingham City) and hire a car there. This gets you well clear of the congestion around London (and the car may well be cheaper). Budget Car Rental for example (others are available) will rent you a car there for return to Heathrow if that’s what you want.

These two points are very important.

Question re shifting: Is the shift lever on the left in both standard and automatic transmission cars?

If you get a standard transmission, you are expected to shift gears with your *left *hand? :eek: On top of everything else you have to remember.

I would never attempt to drive a car in England. I have enough trouble with left and right here. They have excellent public transportation, don’t they?

Gear shifts are always in the middle of the car.

Public transport is fairly good in urban areas, but almost non-existent in places like the Peak District.

Naturally, they would be. :smack: So you do have to shift with your left hand. Not good.

Which is why I rented an automatic - didn’t want to be learning how to both shift and drive on the left at the same time. Repeating what I said earlier, I found that reserving the car through the AVIS US web site ended up being quite a lot cheaper - I just checked, $550 for 11 days, automatic, unlimited mileage, picking up in Plymouth and dropping off in Edinburgh (in 2013). I did have a discount code.

If you do take a train away from London, don’t go too far - I thought spending the first couple of days in a remote area like Cornwall would be a good way to get acclimated to driving on the left. I spent two days playing chicken with cars approaching me at full speed on narrow roads with hedgerows on both sides…

I drove a stick in Ireland, 20 years ago. The pattern of the gears is identical to what you find in the US (i.e., 1st gear is upper left, 2nd is lower left, etc.), but what I quickly discovered is that my muscle memory about shifting was that, say, 2nd gear wasn’t “down and to the left,” it was “down and towards me.” I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally tried to shift from 3rd to 2nd (while trying for 4th) while accelerating on the motorway. :eek:

At that time, renting a car with an automatic transmission was substantially more expensive; I have no idea if the difference in cost is as large today.

We would regard having to shift with the right as equally unnatural. As it’s probably impossible to hire a stick shift car in the US, we didn’t bump up against this problem when we went there, though opening the wrong door to get in remained a problem.

Alternatively, if you have an Android phone I recommend downloading the CoPilot app with UK and Ireland maps {£13.99}. I’ve used it for years and it’s taken me all round the UK and the continent faultlessly.

It even manages really really well around the Peak District’s tracks and lanes.

I hope you enjoy the Peak District National Park; I live here (waves at Delicious)!