Driving in the UK 101
Updated: Feb 8
If you are American citizen with a US State driving license, then on entry, you can use your driving license to drive for one year in the U.K.
There are certain countries categorised as "designated countries". These countries have exchange agreements with the UK which state that after their one year is up, the driver can simply exchange their license for a British one (plus a small fee). They do not have to take a driving test.
Unfortunately, the USA is NOT a designated country. To find out if your country is, visit here.
After your one year runs out, you will need to apply for a UK license. To start this process you must first apply for a provisional license before you even begin lessons. I will cost between 34-43 GBP.
STEP ONE: Theory
Before you start driving, or just as you begin lessons, you should start studying the UK's driving theory (written test).
DVSA publishes an official book which covers everything you need to know for the written test. The official Theory Test guide can be found here. It is available for purchase from most bookshops too.
In addition, we bought a separate book, also put out by DVSA, called Highway Codes. HERE is a free PDF version of the book. Highway Codes is a much smaller book that specifically outlines all of the UK highway signs. You may want to buy this in conjunction with the Theory Test book, but not instead of!
The "written test" will be taken on a computer at a specified test centre near you. There are two parts to the test, a multiple choice section, and a timed hazard perception section where situations will pop up on the screen and you must identify if they are a hazard or not. This website offers more information on the Hazard Perception section of the test.
It is well worth practicing the hazard tests beforehand to get an idea of what is expected.
Once you feel ready, you can book your test via the official page HERE. As of 2018 it costs 23 GBP. The pass mark for the multiple choice section is 43/50. The pass mark for the hazard perception section is 44/75.
Once you pass certificate is valid for 2 years. In this time you MUST take and pass your road test, otherwise, you will have to take the theory test again.
For mock/practice tests, here are some links:
STEP TWO: Lessons
In all honesty, if you are financially able to, it is best for this step to coincide with Step 1 (studying for theory). Depending on your driving experience you will need anywhere from 5-30, one-hour lessons. I have taken 13 so far, my partner having driven a lot in India, took only 8.
Private lessons with a qualified driving instructor costs between 20-30 pounds/ hour lesson.
Most teachers offer a discount if you buy a package of 10, so it is worth asking.
It is not mandatory that you learn from a driving instructor, but since it is a the left side of the road and I am new to manual gears, I have more "piece of mind" knowing that my instructor has his a set of brakes on his side of the car should something go wrong! In addition, the UK has LOTS of roundabouts and getting comfortable with the protocol takes some time.
There are many driving schools but the teachers can be hit or miss. I found my teacher by using the government's registered driving instructor directory. If you feel you don't need an instructor then you can practice in a personal car, with an experienced driver (over 21 and been driving in the UK for 3+ years) in the passenger seat, but you will need to make sure the car is fitted with the specific license displays for a "learner driver".
Once you start feeling confident, you will want to book your road test. The queue, especially in student towns, can be quite long (1-2 months). CLICK TO BOOK YOUR TEST It will cost between 62-75 GBP.
STEP THREE: Driving test
It is recommended to use the car you have been practicing with for your road test.
If you have been taking formal lessons then you will want to use your instructor's car. You will have to make sure their car is free on the day of your test and you will have to pay them for the hour. If you choose to use your own/family car, you will have to make sure it is fitted with the correct mirrors.
Take the test in the town or area you have been practicing. If you are living and taking driving lessons in Coventry but will move to Manchester shortly, book the test and take it BEFORE you move. Familiarity with the roads is key to passing your test.
There are three parts to the test:
Show and Tell (about different parts of the car)
Driving Maneuvers (parallel parking, reversing around a corner etc)
A section where you take the lead. The driver will tell you directions and you must follow them. There is talk that in the latest tests they are asking you to operate a SAT-NAV and follow it's directions.