American Driving in England: an Open Apology to UK Drivers

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As a study abroad student, you never think you’ll be an American driving in England. It’s not even remotely on your list of things to worry or care about, and you happily spend your semester darting in and out of traffic because you forgot to look the right way. Even after I had lived in the UK for awhile, I was adamant that you would never catch me driving here.

…of course, as life would have it, we eventually found a great flat in a perfect location that required me to drive to the train station and suddenly my worst fear had come true.

lookright
I’m not a nervous driver in America, and I grew up in Florida where you can get your license when you’re basically just out of the womb, so I’d been driving for years. I knew how to operate a car and that green meant go and not to turn the radio up too loud so you don’t get distracted and die in a fiery wreck (thanks, mom).

But driving in the UK as an American? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? IS THIS A JOKE?. Not only are you driving on the other side of the road, but have you seen UK roads? I can hardly fit myself through some of these single track roads after a big breakfast, much less while driving a giant hunk of metal. And I’m not alone in my feelings.

The UK was also laid out far before cars were invented, which means that many roads feel like a cross between a rollercoaster and a narrow escape from certain death. And do not even get me started on the more complicated roundabouts. Why do bad things happen to good people?

Themagicroundaboutswindon

The Magic Roundabout, Swindon

I decided to stick with driving an automatic, despite the fact that the vast majority of Brits drive manual cars. I wasn’t prepared to learn a manual and learn to drive on the other side at the same time, though plenty of people make the switch successfully.

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The first step was to buy a used car because I couldn’t practice without one. Once that was sorted, I enlisted the help of my boyfriend who had been driving here for almost a decade. Unfortunately, while I love him and am very thankful for his risking his life to teach me, I was too much of a nervous wreck for it to go smoothly. Our conversations in the car usually went something like this:

Me: “Oh my god, oh my god. I’m so nervous.”
Him: “You’re doing fine. Just don’t get so far to the left.”
Me: “STOP SHOUTING AT ME!”
Him: “I’m not shouting at you. OH MY GOD, WHY ARE YOU DRIVING ME INTO A BUSH?!”
Me, almost crying: “I CAN’T DO THIS, MAKE IT STOP, MAKE IT STOP!”
Him: “PULL OVER, I’M DRIVING!”
Me, now actually crying: “I HATE THIS. I’M MOVING BACK TO AMERICA!”

Eventually I learned to be less of a lunatic and got the hang of it, though I drove slower than any self-respecting grandma and was often passed by walkers.

After about six months of driving on my own, it was time to prepare to take the UK Driving test, as you can only drive up to one year on an American license. That nerve-wracking story and my top tips for foreigners learning to drive in the UK continues soon.

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matt

3 years ago

Go out driving with some British mates and leave Nervous Nelly to the pubs. Screaming and tearful reduction to a quivering puddle of nerves never helps anyone and it’s definitely not helping you!

Thanks for the laugh. (Can you imagine American drivers and that roundabout? They can’t do simple ones here…)

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

Thankfully (for everyone on the road), I’m a much better driver now and the screaming days are over!

Americans really have no clue about roundabouts. I once saw a woman at a (rare) roundabout in America drive straight over the middle….!

matt

3 years ago

Thankfully indeed! I like roundabouts, personally; and I don’t think they should get the blame because mere driving mortals (most Americans) are perplexed by them.

Girl, Independent

3 years ago

Thanks for the giggle. I think even I’d panic at that Swindon roundabout. And I managed to drive in New York City!

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

That’s impressive! I would be so afraid to drive in NYC! My driving instructor said that his friend in Swindon used to teach his students to pretend to not hear their examiner’s instructions on the Swindon roundabout and just keep taking the first left to get themselves off of it because they all seemed to fail there, haha! I can see why!

Bulldog Travels

3 years ago

Having just arrived back from two weeks in Ireland I feel your pain. It takes a few days to get used to driving on the left and a few days when you return to get used to driving on the right!

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

I haven’t been back to America since learning to drive in the UK and I’m definitely nervous about driving on the right again! I can never win. Hope you had a lovely time in Ireland!

Bulldog Travels

3 years ago

I sure did. Mostly, it was fine. I just had a hard time when I ran in to the round-a-bouts. We don’t have many here so it isn’t a problem but my instinct was to enter on the left for sure! 🙂

ldr13

3 years ago

This is gonna be me soon. My man let me drive his standard car in a field and that was all sorts of nope. Luckily his car is dying at the moment and he says he’ll get an automatic next. I’m terrified to start driving here as a passenger I constantly brace myself and close my eyes as we narrowly miss sideswiping other cars.

I thought that if you get your license exchanged before the year mark you don’t need to take a driving test. That’s what a canadian told me recently and I looked on the government website and it seemed like the case… do you know if that’s true? I really dont want to take a test!

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

I think you’ve lucked out! I looked up the list of designated countries who could switch their license without a test and Canada is on it, so you’re right. Wooo! You can only get an automatic license with that, though, apparently, and would have to take the test to get a license that could qualify you to drive a manual.

I STILL get freaked out when my boyfriend is driving! When I drive here, I go probably a few miles under the speed limit when passing cars that close, but he’s so confident we just whip past them and I ALWAYS think we will crash! So maybe that feeling never goes away!!!

ldr13

3 years ago

Thank goodness! I was scared there for a few minutes… from what I know of tests in England so far, they are bruuutal (I’ve taken the QTS english and math test this year and failed the math one miserably).

Not having to do a driving test is one less thing to worry about! I don’t plan on trying to drive a manual on the roads here for a long time, so that works for me 🙂

ldr13

3 years ago

Also I don’t think I will ever be going to swindon… good lord!

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