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I have a European license and would like to rent a car in the UK for a trip to the countryside. The only thing that worries me is driving on the left — it seems that one would need quite a bit of effort to reeducate and there's a much higher risk of ending up in an accident.

Are there any statistics showing the likelihood of mainland Europeans crashing in the UK? Or is it just a minor nuisance that wouldn't cause any trouble?

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I don't find it a problem (going the other way around) - being sat on the other side of the car makes it seem natural to me. Others find it very confusing. I guess insurers may have some stats. – CMaster Feb 16 at 23:02
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I know many people who do this, from both native formats, without problem. I have done it once, and hated it. I even rented an automatic so I wouldn't have to change gears with the other hand. But why bother with just cars? I have personal knowledge of an incident where an American pedestrian in London looked the wrong way (sidewalk signs notwithstanding) and was fatally injured. – Andrew Lazarus Feb 16 at 23:05
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@AndrewLazarus I much prefer a manual car - hitting my hand against the door when I go to change gear is a good reminder that I'm driving on the other side of the road! – Gagravarr Feb 16 at 23:31
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The biggest problem I (as an American) experienced while driving in the UK was roundabouts, they are quite rare in the USA (but are slowly becoming more common) -- The hardest part was figuring out which lane to be in to make my exit. Driving on the "wrong" side of the road (and car) wasn't too hard to get used to, I picked up my car in a busy London suburb and was pretty used to that side of the road after 15 minutes. One big thing that helped was to have my passenger act as navigator, so I only had to concentrate on driving. – Johnny Feb 17 at 5:08
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So far seeing lots of answer, very little on the stats actualyl asked for. – CMaster Feb 17 at 9:39
up vote 15 down vote accepted

Are there any statistics showing the likelihood of mainland Europeans crashing in the UK?

(my emphasis)

No, not that I can easily find,

Rural Scotland

The Scottish government publish the following:

Tourist activity does significantly boost road accident numbers in the rural tourist areas of Scotland and visitor drivers, including foreign drivers, are involved in a measurably greater number of accidents in the case study areas.

  • Half of the drivers involved in accidents in Scotland were within 5km of their home address and fewer than 2% were more than 240 km from it. However in the police areas of Grampian, which includes Aberdeenshire and Northern which contains Highland, fewer of the accidents involved drivers who were close to their homes.
  • The involvement of tourists compared with locals in road accidents is probably not excessive in relation to their numbers and the increased mileage they probably drive.
  • The exposure data for foreign drivers is not adequate to establish whether they are at greater risk of an accident than local drivers.
  • The majority of accidents caused by foreign drivers arose from the drivers’ unfamiliarity with driving on the left hand side of the road.
  • The accidents caused by UK visitor drivers may reflect their lack of driving and overtaking experience on rural single carriageway roads, since the crashes in which they were judged to be at fault involved losing control, the negotiation of bends and collision with pedestrians or animals.
  • Local drivers who had caused an accident were most likely to have lost control or to have been driving too fast.

Tourist Road Accidents in Rural Scotland

Note the second point there.

It may be important to distinguish between "tourists", "foreign drivers" and "UK visitor drivers" - It isn't immediately obvious if the authors include Welsh, English and Northern Irish tourists in "foreign drivers". The fourth bullet point suggests not.

It is also worth noting that driving on rural roads in Scotland is very different from driving through London in the rush hour.

The report draws this useful conclusion:

The data revealed that foreign drivers appear to have difficulty remembering which side of the carriageway to drive on. This may occur when no other traffic is around or when they come to the end of a single track road and rejoin a two lane single carriageway, or at view points and resting places

So, drill yourself to pay extra attention in those situations :-)


UK in general

There are some other UK statistics that might be used to produce some measure of the additional risk - if other data could also be found.


For foreign truck-drivers, the accident rates on motorways are eight times higher.

A third of accidents involving foreign lorries happen on motorways – nearly eight times higher than the national average rate for the UK's 70 mph highways – with experts blaming drivers unfamiliar with UK highways, driving on the 'opposite' side of the road and often blind-sided.

Daily Mail


For foreign drivers in general, there were 18,865 accidents in the UK in 2006 giving rise to insurance claims.

Insurance claims involving foreign EU drivers in the UK have grown every year from 2001 to 2006 according to data from the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB). Since 2001, collisions involving EU drivers have risen by 61.4% from 11,685 to 18,865.

AutoCar quoting Motor Insurer's Bureau


Unfortunately these figures are insufficient to work out the increased likelihood of foreign drivers having an accident in the UK - I think I would need to find numbers of drivers (and/or road-miles traveled) for each group)

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+1 for actually attempting to answer the question that was asked instead of providing anecdotes – DCShannon Feb 19 at 0:06

Most of the time driving on the 'wrong side' isn't a problem; if there is traffic around you have enough clues to remind you (assuming you are not the sort of driver who goes the wrong way along a motorway; apparently there are enough of these in Germany to have a special word, Geisterfahrer), and if there's no traffic, you won't hit anything even if you are on the wrong side for a few minutes. The tricky part, I understand, is when you start off, perhaps after stopping for petrol; it's easy to do what you are used to.

I strongly recommend having a front-seat passenger, who can issue a suitable reminder ('Eeek!') when you forget; with that, you should be fine

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Ha! to 'Eeek!' Hilarious! – Armstrongest Feb 17 at 0:20
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+1; I think for most people, it's not the road, it's absentmindedly getting onto the road that gets you. On Ko Samui, in Thailand, there are even road signs reminding everyone to please drive on the left. In a car, you won't soon forget that you're sitting on the opposite side, but on a scooter, you have no such feedback (especially in a hilly place where you can't see traffic around bends, at dusk, after a couple of drinks). – choster Feb 17 at 2:44
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I'm from the US and worked on a physics collaboration where the detector system was in Japan. The consistent rule was collaborators didn't get into accidents unless and until they spent several contiguous months in country, whereupon they would usually have a minor accident brought on by being too comfortable about driving. If you were only there for a few weeks at a time driving was a time of intense concentration. The danger came when you started to relax. – dmckee Feb 17 at 3:03
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+1 for "The tricky part, I understand, is when you start off". Hearsay evidence - I remember being told that many accidents around Calais (where car ferries arrive in England from Europe) tended to happen after continental drivers had stopped for lunch, and re-started in a relaxed frame of mind. – Francis Norton Feb 17 at 12:53
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@FrancisNorton I guess you mean Dover? Calais is the other side of the channel. – CMaster Feb 17 at 13:45

Your biggest immediate concerns will be hitting the curb on roundabouts and other matters of judgement. As someone with a North American license, I have driven in the UK several times. I found it initially hard to judge distance.

You have to watch out on the country roads that have no lines and definitely stick to the larger roads at first.

it is a minor nuisance, but from personal experience, you will need a day or two of being careful and then a day or two after you're accustomed to it to make sure you don't fall into old habits.

The number one cause of accidents is distracted driving, and this will count doubly so when you're driving on the opposite side of the road. Make sure you keep distractions away from you and be careful around the round-a-bouts.

You'll be fine and it's not as big of a deal as it seems, even driving a manual transmission. The foot pedals are still in the same place, so it will only be your hands that have to adjust.

You may trigger the windshield wipers a few times when indicating, though.... but hey that happens to the best of us in any car on any side of the road!

According to this link, 25,000 are killed each year when driving in another country. That doesn't mean it's only driving on the other side, though. Lots of things contribute to that number. http://www.advanceddrivers.com/info_80002.htm

Tips specific to UK and Ireland for foreigners including a great tip of getting an L sticker: https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/driving-in-great-britain-and-ireland

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A great tip, but ... an L plate indicates a learner, who has not passed the driving test and therefore must be accompanied by a qualified driver. I doubt that it is illegal to drive with L Plates when you have a full license, but you might be stopped by police if driving alone (a very slim chance & no action taken once you explain). There is, however, a P plate which means "I just recently passed my test, so you might want to take care around me". Try that instead. See insurethebox.com/young-drivers-insurance/… – Mawg Feb 17 at 8:05
    
If you're a bit on edge from driving on the wrong side of the road, you're less likely to be distracted. Busy roads can be tricky in a different driving culture regardless of the sde of the road, and airport car rentals can spit you out on dual carriageways with no normal roads to get used to. – Chris H Feb 17 at 9:04
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@Mawg - It is not illegal to drive a car with L Plates when you are not a learner. Do you think driving instructors take the L Plates off when driving from one lesson to another? You would not get stopped by the police for it. BUT I do believe it is illegal to drive on a motorway (any road known as M#) with L Plates on, as learner drivers are not allowed on motorways. So, in that respect, a P Plate may be a better idea. – AndyT Feb 17 at 9:16
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@AndyT: the Highway code says "Plates should be removed or covered when not being driven by a learner (except on driving school vehicles). " (Annex 3). So you're right, it is not an offence to drive with L-Plates when you're not a learner, but it's not recommended. For foreign drivers: "should" provisions in the highway code vary in severity from, "this is what we advise you, but it's just our opinion", to "you most likely will be held responsible for any accident if you ignore this", and the text doesn't say where each one falls. Only "must" provisions are offences to violate. – Steve Jessop Feb 19 at 0:54
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@GroundZero - Some cars have the indicators on the left of the steering wheel, some on the right. I've driven different cars (all registered in the UK) and found it switched, even with cars from the same manufacturer! It's a hazard applicable to driving an unfamiliar car, I'm not sure whether its any more likely to be a problem with a left-hand drive as opposed to a right-hand drive. – AndyT Feb 19 at 9:13

There are no statistics for the nationality of drivers involved in accidents in the UK. I am pretty certain collecting this information would be against UK law if not European law as it could lead to discrimination.

The UK government collects the statistics for vehicle type, driver age, driver gender, road type, severity and accident type. You can see the latest statistics on their official site.

The roads in the UK are the second safest in Europe, you should be fine as long as you drive carefully.

Personally, as a Brit who has driven in Europe the biggest issues I came across was continually smacking my left hand on the driver door for first 10 minutes as I tried to change gear until I mentally flipped the car round. Driving in southern Spain is quite scary as you tend to come across less diligent Brits on the wrong side of the road coming towards you.

I feel I should warn you that the country roads in the UK are the least safe with the majority of accidents occurring on them. This is due to the narrowness, the high hedges and the speed. The speed limit on most country roads is 60 mph (roughly 100kph).

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I don't think any statistical data can be "against the law" (only the interpretation of such data may be). In US which has a significant share of black population there's even separate decease stats (and drugs) for black and white people, because they're different. Also, "driver gender" is already as discriminatory as it gets. – Dmitry Grigoryev Feb 18 at 11:06
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I'm pretty sure that the information is collected, because the accident report is going to record everyone's driving license details including nationality. It just doesn't seem to be compiled and published. I suppose someone could try an FOI request. – Steve Jessop Feb 19 at 1:09

I've been to the UK several times with my German car, and I have also rented cars in left-driving countries.

If you've got an automatic transmission rental, you're pretty good on the technology side. The hardest part really is to remember to go to the right hand side of the car instead of the left when getting into the driver seat. You will make that mistake frequently.

In terms of driving, there really is no big difference as long as your car is the right way around. With the rental, you will sit in the middle of the street, which makes things a lot easier, especially when turning right, which crosses the other side of the road. I'm mentioning that because it is what I found hardest with the wrong way around German car, as you're sitting on the outside now, which is great if you are lost and have to ask for the way, but very inconvenient if you have a large guy next to you who is constantly blocking the view when you try to look around before turning right.

Hitting the curb has been given as a concern already, but I believe that this is not going to happen a lot if you've never driven on the left with a wrong way around car. First time in the right car, you will pretty soon figure it out. Only if you were used to sit at the edge of the road instead of the middle will you instinctively drift to the side because you are trying to align the right hand part of your body with the right curb instead of the left hand side of your body with the nearest left line on the road.

One thing where you need to take care is parking. It's allowed to park against the direction of traffic in the UK, which is convenient (especially with a continental car, reverse parking is so much easier the regular way), but if you're in a tiny town and there are no other cars around in the morning when you get started, you will at some point find yourself face to face with another car. In my case it was a taxi, in Newport, Wales.

Probably the best tip I ever got is to go to a bookstore and buy a The Highway Code book, which is kind of like a driving school reference. It has the official rules, including neat diagrams. It's only 2.50 GBP, so I would definitely get one and keep it in the car at all times. You can find an online copy here.

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And as a suggestion out of personal experience: If you are from a country that is close to the UK, don't rent a car. Drive there yourself. You will feel better with your own car, you don't have to give it back without scratches, everyone will be forgiving if you are slow, scared and make mistakes, and you can buy as much tea and Walkers crisps as you want to take back! :) – simbabque Feb 17 at 8:19
    
It's technically not allowed to park against the direction of traffic overnight: "You MUST NOT park on a road at night facing against the direction of the traffic flow unless in a recognised parking space" (rule 248 of the Highway Code). I've never known it enforced, though. – gsnedders Feb 18 at 19:01
    
@gsned in mine from 2004 says that in 222. Apparently we did that wrong. Oops. :-D – simbabque Feb 18 at 20:26
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Most British drivers don't know it, and certainly in heavily parked areas it's the expected, common thing to do. As I said, I've never known it be enforced, despite technically being law. – gsnedders Feb 18 at 21:32
    
Just looked out my window (it's night here in Oxford). I can see four parked cars, one of which is facing against traffic. That one is parked almost entirely on the pavement. I promise you it will not be ticketed. You might have worse luck in a rural area, though: fewer people about in general, but a car parked against traffic in pitch darkness might actually be treated as a hazard, whereas this car I can see is well streetlit. Hence parking lights. – Steve Jessop Feb 19 at 1:06

I am a Brit who lives in Germany and often returns to the UK with my German car. It's normally not much of a problem. When I have made mistakes it has been when exiting one-way systems where you haven't had oncoming traffic for a while. Another tricky situation can be single-track or unmarked roads with little traffic.

Whether it's more dangerous or not is difficult to say. I think you are naturally a bit more concentrated than normal so you'll be taking more care. Checking your mirrors when overtaking takes a bit of practice too.

Generally, I find it easier to drive a local UK car - but that is what I learnt on anyway so I might be biased.

Also be careful when you return to your normal environment. It may take a day or two to readjust!

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I agree to the last part especially. Driving back from England in my German car always was weird, especially the part of the Autobahn that has a 4% downhill sign. Those seem hilarious after visiting England where they have signs saying "1:8" and you are looking down the nose of your car as if you're in a roller coaster. Oh, and small roundabouts in Germany become super freaky at night. Sometimes I got very confused about the rural roads between villages at night, too, and drifted towards the left. – simbabque Feb 17 at 15:59
    
I agree on the 'be careful when back home' I nearly got hit on a dual carriage town road very near my grandmother, which I had crossed all my life, because I only looked the wrong way. Luckily the car could stop, I had not seen him till I heard the brakes near me. – Willeke Feb 17 at 16:39
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@simbabque Those warnings are primarily for HGVs, which can go out of control even on a 4% downhill. – Michael Hampton Feb 17 at 18:45

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