Driving On The Left
Every American knows that, if you rent a car in Scotland, you will need to drive on the left side of the road. The real problems come when you try to get onto the highway in the first place. The exits from rental car lots may be the most dangerous places for American drivers in all of the UK. As a driver new to this left-side-of-the-road thing, it is not enough to think through where you should be going. You also need to be aware of where those other cars are coming from. You need to change your driving habits, like that one about looking to the left first for oncoming traffic. You need to look to the right and not the left as you enter an intersection. That’s where they will be coming from.
Another feature of driving in Scotland that is unusual for most Americans is the roundabout. Roundabouts turn out to be an efficient and even clever way of allowing cars from different directions to pass safely through an intersection with the least disruption.
Roundabouts come in all sizes. The typical one is a two-lain road laid out as a large circle, perhaps 40 yards across, with streets entering/exiting it from four different directions. You might come across small or mini-roundabouts that are nothing more than white 8-foot circles painted in the middle of a city intersection. They get very large, too, including double circles, each bringing together multiple roads, connected by a feeder road between the circles.
No matter what their size, two simple rules must always be followed. First, as you enter a roundabout, yield the right-of-way to any traffic that is already in the roundabout. This is relatively easy as long as you remember that those in the roundabout will be coming from your right. Second, if you are in the roundabout, accept without hesitation the right-of-way over cars that are entering. Here is where cautious drivers make mistakes. Nothing exasperates local drivers more than a foreigner in a roundabout who slows down to allow another car to enter.
Remembering Where Most of Your Car Is
The other thing that American drivers need to get accustomed to is their location as the driver in the car relative to the car. Unlike at home, most of the mass of the car in out on your left, not your right. I have been told that car rental agents in the UK, when checking a car in from a rental to a foreigner, go first to the left front of the car looking for scratches, dents, bent wheel rims and missing hubcaps.
Scotland, like all of Europe, uses the typical international traffic sign system that features diagrams and numbers and avoids words. Fortunately, most Americans are familiar with this system or can figure out the meaning of any signs that they don't know. A few exceptions to this might include the following:
1. When you arrive at an intersection, the pavement markings that cross the road in front of your car include:
Of special interest in this group is the triangle at the left. For Scots it indicates that one is approaching an intersection at which one must be prepared to yield the right-of-way. For Americans, it has an additional meaning. If, while turning into a crossroad at an intersection you encounter one of these triangles in your lane, blunt end first with the point reaching out in front and away from you, its time to panic. This ISN’T your lane. Get into the lane to the left, NOW!
2. As you drive down the road, the pavement markings that follow you include:
3. Some road signs that may be unfamiliar to you include:
Concerning the sign at the left above about the National Speed Limit, it is good to know that, if a speed limit is not posted, the following applies: For cars, the speed limit in town is 30 MPH. Outside of town on two-lane roads (single carriage-ways) it is 60 MPH and on divided roads (dual carriage-ways) it is 70 mph. Scottish police are serious about speed limits and make extensive use of speed cameras, photos from which might appear with an accompanying citation in your mailbox when you return from your golfing trip.
Drinking and Driving
The only thing Scottish police are more concerned about than speeding is drunk driving. If they suspect you are driving after drinking they will take you in to the station. No questions: into the pokey you will go. It is that simple.
Rather than ruin what would otherwise be a wonderfully memorable golfing trip in the Highlands and Islands, just make it a point to not get behind the wheel after you drink alcohol.