Driving in Scotland: Essential Tips for a Safe Journey

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When planning a trip to Scotland, the freedom of exploring its rugged landscapes, historic castles, and picturesque villages by car is an appealing prospect. Driving in this part of the United Kingdom offers a unique way to experience the country’s natural beauty at your own pace.

However, before getting behind the wheel, it’s important to understand the essentials of driving in Scotland to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey, especially for those of use who are not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road.

driving in scotland

Scotland has well-maintained roads and in most areas it’s very easy to drive around, even if the roads are narrow or quite windy in places. You’ll do fine if you’re properly prepared, which includes reminding yourself to drive on the left and get into the car on the right. It can be embarrassing to try to get in on the left. I’ve done it a few times.

» If you’re visiting Scotland, check out our 7-day itinerary that covers the west of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, or this week-long itinerary to the east. You’ll also love visiting Edinburgh.

Preparation for Your Journey

Before setting off on your Scottish adventure, it’s essential to understand car rental procedures, familiarize yourself with local driving laws, adapt to driving on the left side, and meticulously plan your itinerary for a smooth experience.

You can use your US driver’s license to rent a car in Scotland for up to one calendar year. You’ll need to have insurance, as it’s legally required to drive in Scotland.

Car Rental Insights

car rental sign

When renting a car in Scotland, ensure you have a valid driver’s license and a credit card for the deposit. International visitors may need an international driving permit, so check before you travel. Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is often included, but it’s wise to confirm this and consider additional insurance options for peace of mind.

  • Age Requirement: Must be at least 21 years old.
  • License: A valid driving license held for a minimum of 1 year.
  • Credit Cards: Mandatory for the security deposit.

Where to Rent From

We always rent through Discover Cars online because we know what we’re getting and we’ve done it so many times now that we know it’s safe and practical. You can go onto their website and search for the location and car you need and they’ll give you the best deal for what you’re looking for. There are no hidden costs, and their service is available 24/7 if you run into any problems.

Understanding Scottish Driving Laws

Scotland’s driving laws mandate that speed limits should be strictly adhered to, with 20mph in built-up areas and 60mph on single carriageways. On dual carriageways and motorways, the limit is 70mph. Speeds are in miles per hour, and seat belts are compulsory for all passengers.

  • Speed limits: 20mph, 60mph, 70mph (depending on road types).
  • Seat belts: Required for all occupants.

Driving on the Left

In Scotland, like the rest of the UK, you’ll drive on the left side of the road. This will affect everything from overtaking to navigating roundabouts. Ensure your comfort with this arrangement, particularly if you’re used to driving on the right.

  • Overtaking: Done on the right side.
  • Roundabouts: Give way to the right and move in a clockwise direction.

Planning Your Itinerary

Leverage maps and navigation apps to outline your journey, accounting for possible rural single-track roads and areas where GPS may be unreliable. Check for construction or road closures, and always have a physical map as a backup.

  • Navigation: Use a reliable GPS and carry a physical map.
  • Road Conditions: Check in advance for your planned routes.

Navigating Scotland’s Roads

Fife Scotland

When driving in Scotland, familiarize yourself with motorway regulations and the nuances of single-track rural roads for a smooth journey.

Motorway Mastery

Motorways in Scotland are denoted by an ‘M’ (e.g., M8, M74), connecting major cities and facilitating high-speed travel. They typically have multiple lanes in each direction, and the main rules to remember include:

  • Speed Limits: The maximum speed is usually 70 mph unless indicated otherwise by road signs.
  • Lanes: Stay in the left-hand lane unless overtaking. After overtaking, return to the left lane when it is safe to do so.
  • Roundabouts: Often found at junctions, they require you to give way to traffic from the right and signal properly to indicate your exit.

Single-Track Roads and Passing Places

Single-track roads are narrower roads common in rural areas. They allow traffic in both directions with special considerations:

  • Passing Places: Utilize frequent designated passing places on the left to allow oncoming vehicles to pass or to overtake slower vehicles. If the passing place is on your right, wait opposite so the other vehicle can use it.
  • Courtesy: When encountering a vehicle, the one closest to the passing place should pull in. However, if a driver has difficulty backing up, you may need to reverse to the previous passing place.
  • Speed: Drive slower than posted speed limits to allow for safe negotiation with oncoming traffic.

Scenic Destinations and Routes

Scotland’s scenic drives are a tapestry of stunning vistas and dramatic landscapes. Journeying through these routes, you’ll encounter some of the most extraordinary scenery and destinations the country has to offer.

Exploring the Highlands

scottish highlands
Glencoe, Scottish Highlands

In the Scottish Highlands, you’ll find an array of drives that showcase the country’s rugged beauty. Starting with Glen Coe on the A82, you’re treated to a remarkable journey through an ancient landscape shaped by volcanic activity and glaciers. The route is lined with towering mountains and lush valleys that beckon travelers with their majesty.

The Road to the Isles A830 gives you a cinematic experience from Fort William to Mallaig, passing by silver sands and serene lochs. Arriving at Mallaig, you can take a ferry to the Isle of Skye, famed for its enchanting vistas and dramatic cliffs.

The Famous North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 has garnered acclaim as Scotland’s answer to Route 66. This 500-mile loop around the northernmost Highlands begins and ends at Inverness, sweeping through coastal villages and past scenic beaches.

Embarking on this journey, expect awe-inspiring landscapes, such as the cliff-side roads of Wester Ross on the A832. Here, the views of the coastline serve as a constant companion, revealing a new panorama at every turn.

Driving the Isle of Skye’s Trotternish Peninsula is to witness the very essence of Scottish scenery. Surrounded by a seascape on one side and the Quiraing mountain range on the other, this section of the North Coast 500 is genuinely unmissable for its unique topography and extraordinary views.

As you travel these routes, you’re not merely a spectator but a part of the enduring narrative of Scotland’s natural splendor. Each destination along the way contributes its chapter to your story, with each landscape being more than a view; it’s an experience.

Practical Tips for a Safe Trip

car keys

When you’re planning to drive in Scotland, prioritizing your safety is essential. The Scottish weather can be unpredictable with sudden showers or fog, so check forecasts regularly and be prepared for rapid changes. It’s advisable to carry an emergency kit in your vehicle containing items such as a first-aid kit, warm blankets, and a flashlight.

Police presence is notable on Scottish roads and they are stringent about enforcing speed limits. To avoid fines or accidents, adhere to signposted speed limits and be cautious of speed cameras that are located throughout. Additionally, driving under the influence is strictly prohibited with severe penalties, so always plan a sober return to your accommodation.

Speaking of accommodation, it is prudent to book in advance, especially if you’re exploring rural areas. This will not only guarantee a place to stay but also ensure you have safe parking for your car. Many accommodations offer guest parking, but if you’re staying in a city, research parking options prior to your arrival as some areas may have restricted parking zones.

Lastly, tipping isn’t mandatory in Scotland, but it is welcomed for good service. It’s usual to tip around 10% in restaurants, but there is no obligation to tip for other services such as parking attendants or hotel staff.

Here’s a quick reference to help you stay safe:

  • Check Weather Forecasts: Be prepared for sudden weather changes.
  • Adhere to Speed Limits: Stay within legal limits to avoid fines.
  • Never Drink & Drive: Ensure a safe return to your accommodation.
  • Book Accommodations Early: Secure onsite or known parking areas.
  • Understand Tipping Culture: It’s not obligatory, but a 10% tip in restaurants can show your appreciation for good service.

By following these tips, your trip should be both enjoyable and safe as you take in the beautiful landscapes and cultural offerings of Scotland.

Be Prepared For Travel
Planning is the most important part of any successful trip. Do it the easy way:

🧳 Travel Packing List | ✔️ Why You Need Travel Insurance | ✈️ What to Do Before You Leave Home


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Driving in Scotland: Essential Tips for a Safe Journey

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