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Driving in the UK for new arrivals from the USA

I'm not *just* about Open Source - I do get involved in other things. As this is my first weekend post here, I'll give you a read of what I've just written ... to help sort out some issues with driving in the UK that people moving here from the USA were having.

1-2-3-4- drive in the UK!

1. If you come from the USA to the UK and hold a full driving license (and not just a learner's permit) from the USA, you'll be legally allowed to drive in the UK for up to 1 year from your date of entering the country (visitor / student) or becoming a resident (if settling). (There are more restrictive exceptions if you want to drive a bus or a truck). See
http://www.dvla.gov.uk/drivers/drvingb.htm

2. If you want to drive beyond 1 year and you hold a driving license from the USA, you'll need to
a) Obtain a provisional license (a learner's permit). Apply on form D1 which you can get from the post office.
http://www.dvla.gov.uk/drivers/applydl.htm
then
b) Take a hazard test, a theory test and a practical test and pass all three
before you're allowed to legally drive on the UK roads once your year is up.

3. UK citizens who are driving for the first time have to be accompanied by a mature driver with some experience while driving on a provisional license, but holders of full USA licenses do not need to be accompanied during their first year even if they also have a provisional license in preparation for their UK tests.

4. When you've passed the practical test, which is the last of the three, you'll send in your paperwork and get a full driving license which is what a lot of job applications ask for. Most employers would accept copies of the papers if you've passed your test and sent off for the full license and it hasn't arrived, and I think most would accept your USA license if you're in the process of getting a full UK one - what they want is someone who they can ask to drive.

Other notes

Note that drivers with European and certain other driving licenses can exchange them for British ones without taking a test, but this concession does NOT apply to USA licenses.

There is a legal requirement to be insured up to a certain level when driving in the UK, and most insurance policies cover named drivers for particular vehicles. If you're joining someone in the UK and going to be using their vehicle, they will need to add you to the insurance. Sometimes, this may mean that they will have to change to another insurance company as some won't insure certain classes of drivers - e.g. drivers who have not held a full UK license for x years.

All of the above is written to the best of my knowledge, but I may be out of date / incorrect on some issues and you should check with the relevant web sites or authorities. I have also provided just the "bare bones" of answers and simplified in some areas.

Obtaining a provisional license is NOT just as easy as sending off a form. You need a photo signed by a person of some repute in the UK who is not a relative and who has known you for two years, for example. We don't have identity cards in the UK, and the driver's license is often used as an alternative - so the issuing authority takes great care to avoid identity theft.

Personal comments and suggestions

Roads in the UK are narrower, parking spaces smaller and traffic faster. The UK test is much harder to pass and (I understand) has a higher failure rate than USA driving exams.

Rules of the road are different to the USA, and you should study these and get plenty of practice before your test with a stick shift (if you're going to want to drive one - a test taken on an automatic is good only for driving automatics), driving on the left, and negotiating roundabouts, etc. It's worth paying a professional for lessons even if you've driven for years and think you know it all.

The UK has an excellent public transport system in many places and although you might think you need a car / need to drive, this may NOT be the case. I would not want to own a car in central London or Bristol, for example, and could do very well by train / bus. Except for my job, I routinely use public transport when visiting London and Oxford, and try to do so when flying out of Heathrow or Gatwick because parking costs there are crazy.

((Updated, 23rd September 2004))
(written 2004-08-07, updated 2012-11-04)

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