Driving in the UK and the USA
If your son or daughter is going away for university, whether it's for the whole course or for a year abroad, you probably have a lot of questions you want answered:
- Where are they staying?
- What is the neighborhood like?
- How are they going to get around?
It's the last one that we're here to help you with, driving at university.
Whether you live in the UK or the USA, we have some advice on hiring a car abroad, how the rules of the road differ and what they can expect when they get there. Even if they're not planning on driving when they go, you might want to hire a car to see the sights if you visit.
Driving in the USA
To hire a car in the USA, most rental companies will require you to have held a full UK driving license for at least one year and be a minimum age of 21.
Although an International Driving Permit (IDP) isn't required, it is a good idea to apply for one. An IDP translates data in your driving license into 10 other languages; making it easy to interpret. It can also be used as ID for entry into clubs and bars, where the entry age is 21. It's a good alternative to using a passport, which you don't want to risk losing.
Most American cars are automatic, so keep this in mind. It's also a good idea to buy a copy of the American Highway Code, which you can buy for the specific state your child is visiting. Driving regulations vary from state to state, and this includes the drink-drive limit and speed limits.
Highways are also a lot bigger and busier than UK motorways, with more lanes and, often, bigger cars. To ensure you and your child are prepared for these roads, make sure you both do your homework first. Understanding lane positioning is crucial and, although the volume of traffic can be daunting, if you know the rules of the road, you will be confident in tackling them.
Most importantly, remember Americans drive on the right! The majority of people will be aware of this, but it is easy to slip back into the driving style that you're used to. Driving abroad takes complete concentration, especially at busy intersections.
Driving in the UK
Depending on where your child is going to study in the UK, there may be little need to hire a car. As the UK is a lot smaller than the USA, exploring may be easier - and cheaper - via public transport. The majority of universities in Britain are in busy cities where transport links are strong. The cities are also, often, densely populated meaning parking can be difficult and expensive.
If you would like to hire a car, however, you can do so on an American license and you are able to drive in the UK for up to 12 months. Bear in mind that most cars in the UK are manual and automatics can be expensive to rent. You, or your child, depending on who is planning to drive in the UK, may want to consider taking a few manual driving lessons before you go.
Unlike in the USA, British driving regulations are the same for every county. The national speed limit is 60mph, and on roads in towns and cities the speed limit is 30mph, unless otherwise signposted.
In the UK, they drive on the left and, unlike in America, you will find roundabouts in every town. Remember to give way to traffic on your right and study the UK Highway Code to gain confidence in road positioning and signals.
Driving in another country can be a challenge. If it's a challenge that you or your child is going to undertake, be sure to know the rules of the road. Once you do, you'll be exploring in no time. Just make sure that they spend as much time studying as they do going on road trips!
Isabelle Guarella of miDrive.com; a UK-based company matching learner drivers with driving instructors in their area.