I'm planning on renting a car in the UK for my trip through London, York, Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland.

Having driven in Mumbai, India, I understand there must be things I should keep in mind, while driving in the UK.

I just read about an autonomous car being "accused" of incorrectly overtaking a cyclist.These are some rules that don't really exist in my home country.

What are some rules that one must keep in mind while driving both, in the city and the country?

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    Critical one - there are no jaywalking laws here, so people cross the road everywhere as long as it looks safe. So keep your eyes out ;). There is also great article on trip advisor about it: tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g186216-c9626/…
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 14:08
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    You could do a lot worse than to read the Highway Code.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 14:13
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    Ah yes, I've seen (and heard) the traffic in Mumbai. Three big ones. (1) Respect lane markings, and don't just drive anywhere on the road that you feel like. (2) Signal and check behind before changing lanes or overtaking. (3) Only honk in an emergency. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 5:11
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    One more to add to @DavidWallace's list of contrasts with Indian traffic: At night, use dipped headlights by defult, main beams only if there's no-one in front of you (going in either direction) and no streetlighting. Overtaking cyclists can be wrong in a number of ways: too close (including for your speed), where overtaking isn't allowed (unless they're doing <10mph), otherwise dangerously (e.g. pulling in too soon). While enforcement is rare, it's increasing. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 9:18
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    If you don't know the basic traffic rules, you should not rent a car even if technically you're allowed to. You can get in real problems, including getting into prison.
    – user45851
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 11:00

9 Answers 9


The Government makes available the abbreviated "rules of the road", which is a collection of all the rules and regulations that various laws enforce on users of the public highway (pedestrians, cyclists, motorists etc) - this is called the "Highway Code", and its the best source of rules you must keep in mind.

You can read the online version here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code

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    Are the rules in the UK followed more strictly than in Mumbai? That could be important information. Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 17:42
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    @TannerSwett the Highway Code should cover that, but in a nut shell: uh, hell yeah!
    – user29788
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 17:43
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    @TannerSwett Expect much more strict traffic enforcement in any western country than you're used to in India. Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 21:13
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    @LorenPechtel Not necessarily. Several European countries allow the police to collect fines on the spot from foreign drivers - it's all official and you get a proper receipt for the money paid. If you don't have cash on you, they will even accompany you to the nearest cash point.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 22:06
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    @LorenPechtel Aleks is dead right, what you wrote isn't even close to true. French police are famous for doing this, and they're not the only ones. Anyone relying on what you wrote and behaving as if a trip to the cashpoint is a bribe being collected is likely to end up arrested.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 7:30

I have been driving in Delhi and area just last month; the major differences that will get you in accidents immediately if you don't consider them all the time are:

  1. when you want to change lanes or turn, it is your responsibility to check to your left/right if someone is there or tries to pass. In India, people trust that whoever pulls up next to them honks - that will not happen! (all the trucks in India even have 'Blow horn' written on them...).
    Always check before changing lanes. This might be difficult to get used to, but you must remember it all the time.

  2. respect lane markings, don't just 'float over' into another lane; they are mandatory. Crossing a line means you need to use your turn signal, check your mirrors and look over your respective shoulder, and only if there is nobody there, you can change lanes.

  3. don't stop or drive just anywhere you would like to; people will not expect it, and might not react right.

  4. speed limits are a bit higher, and people drive faster, because they all trust you follow those rules; especially #1. Don't expect people to pay continuously as much attention as is normal (and required) in India. They will often be slightly distracted or inattentive, expecting that everything flows smoothly.

There are many more smaller things, but all of them are not as critical; worst case you get a ticket.
Train yourself for 1., it is what really will get you in an accident.

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    Point 4 is absolutely crucial: other drivers expect you to follow the rules and will not anticipate you getting in their way. If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time then another driver may only notice when they run into you - or at any rate, too late to take evasive action.
    – Tom W
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 9:38
  • Point 1. Technically, checking the left is not mandatory as it is not legal to overtake on the left in the UK, unlike the US where you can overtake either side.
    – gchq
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 1:11

Here's a very brief list of points of importance. The critical question is: do you hold a driving licence which is valid in Great Britain?

In order to lawfully drive a motor vehicle on a public road in England, Scotland or Wales (i.e. Great Britain), you will need:

  1. A driving licence that is valid in Great Britain.
  2. Motor vehicle insurance valid in Great Britain.
  3. An entry visa valid for Great Britain.

If you have passed your driving test in a country outside both the UK and the countries of the European Economic Area (EEA), you can only drive any small vehicle (e.g. a car or motorcycle) which is listed on a full and valid driving licence issued to you by your own government (i.e. only a type of vehicle you are allowed to drive in your own country), but NO vehicle if you only possess a provisional licence instead of a full one, and only for a period not exceeding 12 months from the date you entered Great Britain.

Bear in mind that if your driving licence is only valid for a vehicle with automatic transmission, you will only be able to hire that type of car. Don't make the mistake of hiring a car with a manual gearbox in that situation (quite a common mistake, seemingly).

If you fly into an airport in the UK, and hire a car there, the car hire firm will help you arrange UK motor vehicle insurance (and should normally lease you a car already fully taxed and MOT'd). But any such insurance will be invalid if you do not possess a full, valid driving licence for the vehicle hired to you - something which would render you liable to arrest and prosecution.

It is essential to bring with you, into the UK, your full driving licence issued to you by the government in your country of origin. You will need it to hire a car here. If it is not in English, even if it is valid you might still encounter difficulties (in the event of a road accident a UK policeman will probably not be able to read it), so a translation of it could be helpful.

The UK's Highway Code merely sets out the rules of the road. It tells you in what circumstances you will be liable to criminal penalties, and for financial loss caused to other road users in civil law (i.e. if you have an accident because you have not complied with the rules in the Highway Code).

There are quite a lot of circumstances in which a driver can incur criminal prosecution without having an accident. For example, driving on the wrong side of the road (something any policeman would certainly notice).

Motor insurance is a compulsory legal requirement, and its intention is to meet any civil claim made against you in court by another road user, so will normally only need to be claimed on by you in the event of your having a road traffic accident / collision.

The Highway Code is only part of the story: road signs on the highway verge are very common in the UK, especially speed limit signs. Bear in mind that these are all in miles per hour, and that most distances will be posted in yards or miles.

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    Also, if you do not have insurance for the vehicle you're driving, the police can immediately impound it. A car hire company is not going to like that. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 11:58
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    A hire car comes with insurance. The hire company won't hand over the keys until they have seen the license and accepted it is valid. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 9:37
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    Given the OP asks about conversion from India, I think you should mention "Do not use your horn". You should essentially never use your horn. I can't remember the last time I used my horn in the UK. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 9:39
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    @MartinBonner: very good point! From my UK experience, I’d say horns are only ever used as a response to someone doing something actively dangerous — e.g. pulling out at low speed into the path of fast-moving traffic.
    – PLL
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:43
  • Confused as to why you start talking about GB but then switch to talking about the UK? Why not UK from the start? Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 11:54

Having spent some time driving on Scotland especially I will say the number one thing you should follow is to only drive in the correct lane on the highway when you are passing someone.
As Americans we have a tendency to drive in the "fast" lane on the highway because it seems to be open and we basically stay there for as long as we can. In Scotland people actually only use the fast lane for passing, and one they have passed the car they go straight back into the left lane.

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    In the UK it is actually an offence to stay in an overtaking lane when the inside lane is clear. You can be fined for it (although as a foreigner you will probably just get a warning)
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 9:11
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    I believe this applies to all non-US-countries.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 11:05
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    @gerrit Many countries, especially in Europe, but definitely not all! Related: Overtaking regulations when driving in Europe Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 15:19
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    Speak for your state! Many states in the US have laws similar to Europe, where the fast lane is limited by law to passing only. Your state may not have this, but laws vary wildly throughout the States.
    – user428517
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 17:37
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    @sgroves And it's unfortunately underenforced. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 18:39

Not knowing Indian traffic rules, important things are: Drive on the left side of the road. Speed limits are in miles per hour, not kilometre per hour. Cars on a roundabout have the right of way ahead of cars trying to enter a roundabout. If you think that having a bigger car gives you the right of way, then you are wrong and should rent the tiniest car possible. And there is absolutely no excuse for driving into bicycles or pedestrians.

Most important: You must be aware that all your experiences and driving instincts are wrong. Therefore you drive with outmost care. You do NOT rely on anyone else behaving in the way you expect, but YOU are responsible for avoiding any trouble by driving carefully.

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    +1 for "you are responsible for avoiding any trouble by driving carefully". This, by the way, includes other driving idiots that do not obey the law.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 22:07
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    Indians already drive on the left. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 5:09
  • "And there is absolutely no excuse for driving into bicycles or pedestrians." What if someone runs into the road?
    – Tom Bowen
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 10:04
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    @DavidWallace Most of the time. Frequently they drive on what ever side is convenient.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 17:58
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    Also, do not drive the wrong way on one way streets. Not even on the shoulder.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 17:59

My friend,

  1. Don't use the horn at all, unless very necessary.

  2. At least indicate two seconds before you change the lane, also check before changing lanes for any traffic.

  3. Follow speed limits, and look for road signs.

  4. Give way to merging traffic.

  5. Be careful on round-about, any traffic coming from your right has right. You should wait for them to pass then move.

  6. Don't stay on the fast lane (right most) forever, once the left lane is empty just come back in it.

  7. If you are going to park on side of road, make sure you indicate. The guy behind you has no idea you are going to apply the brakes. The indicator will indicate. The same is true when you start your journey again, indicate that you are going to jump on the road.

  8. You know vehicles have seat belts too :) Use them.

  9. Follow road markings, dotted lines mean you can change lanes, one single solid line means you cannot change lanes, however you can turn right. Double solid lines mean you cannot change lanes and you cannot turn right. One more: if you see a marking to turn right on the road, you must turn right, don't keep on going straight, please.

  10. Give other drivers benefit of doubt and give yourself extra couple of seconds to react. Keep a safe distance from traffic around you.

Have a safe journey.

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    About speed limits. Although it's illegal to break them, it is very common for people to "push" them on 2-lane roads in bright and dry conditions. If you drive at exactly 50 on a road with a 50 limit or at exactly 60 (national speed limit) on an "unrestricted" road, you may immensely irritate the queue that will build up behind you. My reluctant advice would be to watch what others do and "go with the flow" if it's clear that everyone else goes at 60 on a 50 road. The police very rarely ticket people doing this, but watch out for automatic speed cameras (painted bright yellow).
    – nigel222
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 15:01
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    2: I don't think 2 seconds a sensible minimum indication time (even if it is frequently used) - the more notice you can give of your intentions the better. 4: Merging traffic (e.g. on a slip road) is obliged to give way to traffic on the major road. 9: You may turn right on double white lines (see highway code rule 129)
    – Dezza
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 12:50

There are a number of informal "rules" adopted by drivers in major cities where traffic densities make abiding by the Highway Code difficult or impractical. to give some examples:

  1. There are many residential streets that were originally wide enough for a lane of cars in each direction, these may even have a white line down the middle of the road. However these days there will be so many parked cars that there is now only a single lane to be shared by cars moving in each direction. This requires drivers travelling in different directions to negotiate how to pass. In practice this means that each driver must look ahead carefully for potential passing places and be aware of how many vehicles are following then look at the oncoming traffic and judge whether to proceed or pause and allow the oncoming car(s) to pass. A decision to pause is often communicated by flashing ones headlights.(One also says "thankyou" by flashing lights when in close proximity.) This use of flashing headlights does not conform to the highway code but seems to be widely used.

  2. Right turns at traffic lights are tricky when a stream of oncoming traffic keeps flowing. It is very common for a few cars waiting to turn right to pass after their light has turned red. Take special care at traffic lights both when going straight on and when turning right. When going straight be wary of pushing past the light as it is changing, over-eager people waiting to turn right can be a hazard. If you are turning right be very wary of people running the light and going straight on.

  3. Be prepared to cede passage to large vehicles, especially buses. Another effect of increased on street parking is that roads that should be comfortably wide enough for a car going one way and a bus going the other to pass are now just a bit narrow. There is an increasing habit of buses simply to occupy the middle of the road (presumably to avoid the risk of hitting parked cars on their side of the road.) Net effect is that you need to find a gap in the parked cars on your side of the road to allow the bus to pass. In principle the bus may be in the wrong, it probably does have space to move over for you, in practice everything goes much more smoothly if you simply get out of the way.

Two other pieces of advice: First, watch for pedestrian (zebra) crossings. Pedestrians do have right of way, you will be expected to stop if someone is waiting to cross. Slow down when you see a crossing ahead.

Second, treat roundabouts with care. The rules for roundabouts are very clear; vehicles on roundabouts have priority and there are well-defined rules for which lane to use at a roundabout. Unfortunately not all road-users remember these rules; it seems to be increasingly common for drivers to ignore mini-roundabouts. So even though you have right-of-way someone may not stop (this happened to my wife, nasty little accident). Net, be hyper-cautious when turning at a roundabout, look at the traffic that should be stopping and check that they seem to be ready to stop.

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    I did not know that vehicles on roudabouts have priority in the UK! (I never drive there) This is not the case in France and other European countries I know where the "priority on the right" is enforced (most of the roundabouts will have a "you do not have priority" yellow triangle for those coming in (effectively making the ones on the roundabout having priority) but there are many other where this is not the case (notably the "Etoile" - the large roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris)
    – WoJ
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 11:26
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    The purpose of a UK mini-roundabout (often just a large white dot painted on the road plus roundabout warning signs plus give-way lines) is to indicate that you absolutely must give way to somebody to your right , himself turning right across your path. If there is no other traffic at a mini-roundabout it is OK to drive across it rather than around it. Large vehicles will often have to do so for lack of road space to do anything else.
    – nigel222
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 14:49
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    More generally be warned that drivers going around a UK roundabout will absolutely assume that they have priority. Shoot out in front of them and there will nost likely be a crash, and you will be liable, and the position of the cars on the road will tell the police all they need to know!
    – nigel222
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 14:51
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    @nigel222 The highway code explicitly says that you should not drive across a mini-roundabout unless your vehicle is so large that you must: All vehicles MUST pass round the central markings except large vehicles which are physically incapable of doing so. In actual practice many of us do drive across the markings, even though we should not.
    – djna
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 20:32
  • @nigel222: And the "MUST" in that highway code quotation means that it is a statutory requirement. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 11:10

I would strongly urge you to re-consider driving in London -- it is an unfriendly and expensive city for drivers, but has top-class public transport. My recommendation would be to use public transport in London, then take a train to York and pick up a hire car there.

However, either way you decide, here are some thoughts for you:

  • If you're planning to drive in London, note that the city has a "Congestion charge". This means that you are required to pay a fee for every day that you drive within the defined zone (the zone covers most of the city). This charge is explicitly intended to cut down the number of vehicles driving in the city at peak times; it is priced high enough to get people who don't have to drive in the city to use public transport instead.

  • Parking in London is difficult and astonishingly expensive. You need to plan ahead and make sure you know what parking facilities are available at your destination and how much it will cost, otherwise you'll be in for a lot of pain. For most destinations in Greater London, parking is inadequate and you should consider public transport as a better option.

  • Beware of Bus lanes. London and most other British towns and cities have a lot of roads and lanes dedicated to buses. You will get steep fines if you drive on them. They are monitored by camera and generate a lot of revenue for towns even from locals; as a visitor, it can be very easy to get caught out.

  • Narrow roads and complex one-way systems. The UK's cities have existed for a very long time; road layouts pre-date the invention of the car, and it shows. Layouts are often a jumbled and confusing mess. Make sure you have a good quality sat-nav, and that its maps are up-to-date.

  • Watch the signs and road markings when approaching a junction, and make sure you are in the correct lane for the direction you want to go before you get to the junction. If you're in the wrong lane, you may find yourself being forced into taking the wrong exit; the traffic flow may not let you move across at the last minute.

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    Seconded, as a one-time Londoner. Traffic in London is a nightmare for anyone who hasn't got at least a year of London experience. It is very easy to get fined for missing a sign (bus lane, one way, no entry...). It is very high stress (although I'd guess the same of Indisn cities from what I have seen on TV). The tube is cheaper than hiring a car and usually gets you there faster. Buses are slow but ideal for tourists. Go up on the top deck and watch the scenery and people. There's a maximum daily price cap however many trains and buses you use.
    – nigel222
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 15:29
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    Oh, and sat-navs in London will lose satellite lock just when you most need them (because of tall buildings in the way), or tell you to go the wrong way down a one-way road (because it wasn't one-way last year or last month). So finding your way is also a nightmare.
    – nigel222
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 15:33
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    +1 for "just don't drive in London". Though someone who has driven in Mumbai and survived must be awesome, there's no need to plunge into the city when there's a wonderful public transportation system.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 9:41
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    @RedSonja The skills and instincts that let you survive driving in Mumbai will get you either into an accident, arrested, fined, put in prison, or all of the above in London. This works the other way around also - there's a great documentary where a London Black Cab driver (who are massively experienced and competent) went to Mumbai to try to drive a cab and completely melted down into a nervous wreck. Mumbai and London are so completely different that their respective driving skills are almost entirely mutually incompatible.
    – J...
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 14:03

These answers are good for rules but there are unofficial differences in driving styles between India and the UK as well.

In the UK horns are used to indicate your presence but they are used infrequently for that purpose, they are more used to indicate annoyance at other drivers so typically if you hear a horn it is very likely that someone is annoyed at someone else's (possibly yourself) driving.

Also flashing your full-beam headlights is different in the UK than in India. In the UK typically a quick double flash (can also be more than twice but as long as it is intermittent flashes) of full beams indicates that someone is giving you right of way. It can also indicate a thank you if it's dark and the car is traveling in the opposite direction to you.

A flash of full beams from a car traveling in the opposite direction can also indicate either a hazard up ahead for you or police wary for speeders but please be aware that in the latter case it is an offence to warn other drivers of police trying to catch speeding drivers.

A long hold of full beams is much like a horn in that it is used to convey annoyance at a driver in front with normally the subtext of the message being move out of the way.

Hazard Lights normally indicate a hazard ahead but a quick flash of hazard lights can also be used to indicate thanks when someone has given you right of way.

These are not standards given by the Highway Code but are customs that are widely followed in the UK, but mainly horns and full beam headlights are ones to be aware of as I believe in India horns are much more frequent and quick flashes of full beams usually mean that you are not going to give way to another driver.

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    Almost everything in this is basically correct, but only a bit. It's like the difference between learning another language and correctly using idioms - so anyone reading this should listen, but not copy until they're sure of what it means. Horns mean "I am here" - long horn is essentially adding "you idiot" to the end. Flashing headlights whena distance apart can also mean "your headlights are still on". Hazards are often flashed on motorways when the traffic ahead is slowing (and it's not obvious). Flashing e.g. left/right/left/right indicators also means "thank-you" on motorways.
    – Rycochet
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 14:25
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    Note that other European countries use the high-beams differently. In theory, the flash means "I'm here" in both cases, but that can be taken two ways. Some, like the UK, use the high-beam flash to say "I'm here, and I'm staying here, making way for you. Please come on." Others, as we discovered in some narrow alpine roads, use it to mean "I'm here, and I'm coming through: make way!" This subtle difference in meaning can result in delightfully comic encounters beside thousand-foot cliffs. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 17:07
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    One I was not aware of before moving to rural parts. On a dark night you can see un-dipped headlights coming around a bend, quite a long time before that car comes far enough around the bend to dazzle you. If you are already on dipped lights, perhaps because of the last car you passed, a quick flash onto full beam and back to dipped warns the oncoming car that you are there, and have dipped your lights, and expect him to do the same.
    – nigel222
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 14:55
  • Don't flash your lights to thank people - it may dazzle or confuse them (rule 114: you MUST NOT use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders). In fact, headlights flashes should only be used as a warning - if you believe someone is offering you the right of way, proceed with caution, do not assume the road is clear in all directions - check it yourself before pulling out. Here's a link to proper safety tips regarding headlight flashing - drivingtesttips.biz/flashing-headlights.html
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:28

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