8 top tips for driving in Scotland

Scotland is great to explore in a car, or even a camper van or motor home. But our roads may be a bit different from the ones you are used to even if you live in the UK. Here are my top tips for driving safely on our single track roads – especially if you are used to driving on the other side of the road. 

 

How to use passing places

There are two basic things to remember:

Passing places are not laybys – they are part of the carriageway 

and

Use them to keep traffic moving safely

When two people who know the road well approach each other, they’ll arrive at the passing place at the same time so neither has to stop. It’s one of the fine arts of the Highlands, and seems to be a dying skill!

1 – Know how to use passing places

  • Stop on the left
    If the passing place is on your left, indicate left and pull into it. If the passing place is on your right, stop opposite, and flash your lights to tell the oncoming vehicle you are ready for them.  Remember – pass driver-to-driver, and if neighbours meet they will wind down their windows and talk to each other. My driver-side window broke once, and it really damaged my social life! Always stop and wait on the left - never cross to the right
  • Always ALWAYS raise a hand to say thank you
    I am a patient woman, but I really hate not being thanked when I stop in a passing place.
  • Don’t park in a passing place
    You would not park in the carriageway, and that’s what a passing place is. It isn’t a layby. Don’t park in one, and never EVER park up a campervan or motorhome to sleep in one overnight.

Never park in a passing place or sleep in one overnight.

2 – Don’t let convoys build up

  • Let people overtake you
    Use the passing places and parking laybys to let people go past. They may be a midwife or doctor on call. Or going to work at the restaurant you’ve booked for your lunch.   The roads are tricky to drive when you don’t know where the potholes are or which corners have an adverse camber, but the people who live here can drive them quickly and safely, and have busy lives. It is arrogant and unkind to hold people up, and it can be dangerous. Don’t be that person.

Pull into the passing place to let people overtake

  • Don’t drive in a convoy
    Most passing places are only long enough for two vehicles, thee at a pinch. If you are in a convoy of four or more vehicles, the last ones will have to reverse all the way to the previous passing place. And hope that you don’t meet a convoy coming the other way.  This is the other reason to let faster drivers go past.

Don't let a convoy build up, and don't drive in a convy

  • Don’t stop too soon
    On roads with good visibility and several passing places, don’t stop too soon. You think you are being patient and helpful, but you can create a convoy when the people behind you catch up.

Don't stop too soon - that's how queues build up

3 – Stay on the tarmac

  • The verges can be very soft
    If you get stuck and your wheels start to spin, then you may well need help getting out. Even the most robust grass verges will get soft after rain.
  • Beware of the hidden ditch!
    Long grass can hide deep drainage ditches. I missed a doctor’s appointment because a man in a hired campervan reversed his rear passenger-side wheel into a ditch.
  • Don’t destroy the machair or dunes
    You think it’s “just grass”, but it may have nesting birds; it will certainly have wildflowers like orchids. The machair on the west coast and in the Western Isles is one of the rarest and most vulnerable habitats in Europe, made of shell-sand and full of wildflowers. Don’t drive on it. Just don’t.

Stay on the tarmac - don't drive or park on the verge

4 – Be able to reverse

  • Practice reversing! Can you reverse your vehicle for quarter of a mile? Up a hill? Round a corner? With a drop on one side? In the dark?
    To be fair, I would struggle with that in larger vehicles, which is why I limit myself to a car, and am grateful for the long, light summer evenings. But you WILL have to reverse. And it may be up hills and round corners, on very narrow roads, or ones pitted with potholes. Practice if you are in a vehicle larger than the one you drive at home.
  • Remember motorcyclists can’t reverse
    You may be bigger than they are, but you will be the one who has to back up.

Be able to reverse!

5 – If you usually drive on the right – hire the right vehicle

  • It’s safer!
    If you usually drive on the other side of the road, sitting in the right hand front seat will be a constant subtle reminder to drive on the left.
  • Get one with automatic gears
    You have to specify this because the default option will probably be a manual. If you have an automatic, then you won’t need to worry about being in the correct gear and using your left hand to change gear

6 – Get your passengers to help you

  • If you are not used to driving on the left, tell your passengers to shout “Drive on the LEFT! Drive on the LEFT! Drive on the LEFT!” at every junction or roundabout.
    This way they won’t distract you with chatter when you need to concentrate, and the reminder can be really helpful to you.

Get your passengers to shout out "Drive on the Left" at junctions

  • Get them to shout out the speed limits and warning signs too!
    It is fun for kids. It keeps adults invested in the safety of the journey, and it frees you up to concentrate driving safely.

Get your passengers to shout "Drive on the Left" at junctions

7 – Do your homework

  • Set yourself up for success! Our road signs and rules of the road may be different from where you normally drive.
    Read our Highway Code and watch videos before you come, and get your passengers to do this too, then they can shout them out when they see them. Make it a game.

8 – Have a safe and lovely time, and enjoy your holiday!


About Me

BenMy name is Ben, and I first saw single track roads when my dad was drove us all to the Isle of Skye, way back in the day. I married a Scot, and have driven on Scottish roads from Gretna Green to Unst!

These days I live just off the North Coast 500 route, and I welcome guests to our holiday cottage next to a lighthouse. They almost all arrive by car and we want them to get here safely, so this is why I wrote these driving tips!

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