Behind the wheel in the UK

Driving in England or Scotland? It's easy: just rent a car, get a map book, and keep left.

Well, many drivers choose to do it that way, learning as they go, but you can save time, not to mention a few anxious moments, by being prepared.

Renting the right car matters. A large car may be appealing and necessary for four people, but for two, a smaller four-door saloon (sedan) is best. The walls common along the byways can take the paint off the vehicle's right side or damage a tire if you give the oncoming tour bus too much of the center.

Judging just how near the curb is can be disconcerting until you've become used to the leftness.

Some drivers feel that a standard-shift car can help; the right-hand driving position and left-hand gear-changing allow you to relate to the different environment more quickly.

But others believe that automatic transmission (more expensive in Britain) can reduce the complexity of coping with city traffic.

An American driver's license is the only permit you'll need.

Initially, using the rearview and sideview mirrors properly isn't so obvious. You'll want to think hard about judging where the cars behind should appear and how they intend to go around you.

British road signs are easy to read, logical, consistent, marked in miles, and best of all, in English. Small blue arrows at each intersection, pointing down at the part of road you should follow, help in reinforcing the keep-left concern.

At roundabouts (traffic circles), you need to be sure of your route. They are all preceded by large color signs with clear graphics showing your entrance point at the bottom and all the exits from it, marked by their route numbers and the names of main destinations Stop or pause at the entrance to the roundabout, yielding to traffic from the right. Ease in to the appropriate lane for your destination and proceed to your exit.

Once you've picked up the rhythm of driving in Britain, you can think about the speed limits. Figure on averaging 60 to 70 mph on motorways, 45 to 55 on A roads, 30 to 40 on B roads, and much slower on the byways, where you'll be stopping often and walking the countryside you came to see.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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