Posted by: Elder and Sister Hambelton | December 11, 2011

UK Driving

THE DAY finally arrived. We could no longer be chauffeured around by Elder Grahm. The day of reckoning had come; we met our car –a small, smart looking four-seater, diesel -powered urban car, with the steering wheel on the RIGHT side. Yes, for driving on the LEFT side of the road (yes you read that correctly, you are positioned on the right hand side of the vehicle to drive on the left-hand side of the road). I had watched with mounting anxiety as we had ridden around first England and then Edinburgh using this unfamiliar scheme (that’s British for pattern). Now it was our turn to drive. Ah, but staying on the correct side of the road – that being the unfamiliar Left side, was actually the easy part, at least relative to the terrifying details.

Now many of you reading this may have successfully driven this way, but for others this may be mildly entertaining to visualize Elder Hambelton coping with unlearning EVERYTHING he ever knew about driving!

To start with the UK does not have intersections – they have round-abouts. Round-abouts are an ingenious way to save stop signs and lights, while confusing the blazes out of drivers. You enter a round-about always going clockwise, i.e. to the left, yielding to any drivers coming from the right, you then drive in a circle picking up new cars at each exit until (while dodging other cars) you try to figure out which exit is the one you want and smoothly exit off the round-about without an accident. NO ONE ever gets it right every time. You either keep circling or you drive off in some other direction without a clue until you get to the next round-about so you can do it all again or exit to some other new adventure. Lady GPS recalculates a lot in the UK.

Street signs are conveniently placed, not on poles on the corners of the streets –but on the sides of buildings, on stone fences, or on walls a quarter block from the intersection/round-abouts. Finding a street sign is a game the Brits apparently like to play. Americans visitors mostly lose.

Oh there is the street sign . . .

Not content to hide street signs, they place traffic lights at interesting and not altogether consistent locations with a new set of conventions. They have yellow lights prior to both green and red lights. The yellow light thus can warn you that the traffic is about to stop, or it can signal you to “Get on your mark and GO.” This does put a stop to the American practice of running red lights- the other direction has a count-down to blast off at the moment the lights changes or before, but sheesh it can be confusing. Many of the lights are “L” shaped with a vertical and horizontal light display, which you interpret differently depending on what lane you are in! By the way, you are not allowed to think about this for longer than 3.5 seconds at which time you are expected to move, stop, turn or puke, which ever seems appropriate.

Which light to watch, each is for a different lane or function . . .

And the GPS says something altogether different

Roads are very narrow in many parts of Scotland, so it is permissible to park on the side of the road, in the road, or attempt U-turns at any point. It is also important to NOT drive in the bus lane which just happens to be the only lane much of the time!!??

Try passing 2 cars on this street

You can parallel on either side of the road in either direction or make a u-turn

But that is just some of the complexity of the outside of the car; inside the car it gets worse.

Given all the unfamiliar things you have to watch for outside of the car you would hope, that the inside of the car would work like you are used to, but alas it is not to be. As you doge cars and buses and lane changes in round-abouts, it is frequently necessary to consult your mirrors to determine where other cars behind you and beside you are. So where the heck did they hide the mirrors? You instinctively look up to the right to see the rear view mirror- nope not there-since you are in the right most position- peering up and right yields a splendid view of the door.  The left mirror, really useful for lane changes, is not just to your left – it is clear across the car- you have to search for it – really – where is that dang mirror. The right mirror on the other hand has snuck up on your side and is practically in your lap. Look where you are accustomed to finding it and you are gazing at the front end (called the bonnet, if you will) of the car next to you. Come on! How can I cope with the traffic pattern out there if I can’t even find my mirrors!!

Thank heavens I drive an automatic, the dang gear shifter is on the wrong side, the signal lever is reversed, the instrument panel is all backwards, and I can’t even unbuckle the seat belt because they put the release lever on the OTHER side.

I have parked – actually stopped completely at some store that is not our destination because I am done, just done-can’t cope any more, and need a rest. We have enjoyed some nice shopping we did not plan on doing just so I can breathe again.

With all these and plenty of other issues, I think they should have one additional accessory for my car – a brown paper bag. I could breathe into it at stoplights or barf into it when I needed. Now how convenient would that be! Just put it on the right side okay?



  1. Ben…I could not stop laughing while reading this….only too familiar to me. You describe it perfectly. Look forward to hearing from you whenever you need a familar face thats not asleep when you are awake 🙂 Keep in touch!

  2. Our son served his mission in Ireland…and he told us the faster you go, the smaller your car becomes, and you fit inbetween parked cars better. He lived, so maybe it is true?

  3. I’m laughing so hard I could puke! Great post and stay safe!

  4. I too had a good laugh before church today reading your blog but sooo enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing. We love keeping up with you.

    Happy Birthday Ben.

    Merry Christmas to both of you.

    Love ya, Cindy & Garry Coombs

  5. I too had a good laugh reading your blog before church today. Thanks for sharing. We soooo enjoy it.

    Happy Birthday Ben.

    Merry Christmas too.

    Love ya, Cindy & Garry Coombs

  6. I have the utmost confidence in you. It will come. I did love reading your post. No GPS when we were there. The A to Z (zed) street directory was essential. Thanks for the good laugh.

  7. Thanks for sharing. Really enjoyed this blog.

    Happy Birthday Ben.

    Merry Christmas to you both.

    Love, Cindy & Garry Coombs

  8. Perhaps the brown bag will be necessary because it is not over, just about the time you think you got it all figured out you will drive out of a parking lot or something and end up on the wrong side of the road as you past habits take over again. It will change in time and you will learn to like it all execpt for the finding the signs. But just like you do at home, the signs won’t matter anymore once you have travelled to and from the same places. We certainly want you to know how much we admire your willingness to serve and wish you the best.

    Keith & Mary Ann

  9. Yea, we finally got your blog. We chuckled a bunch, but know how disturbing trying to drive differently is. Hang in there, you’ll soon be buzzing around, knowing just where you want to go. You sound like you are doing great, we are so proud of you, but we are missing you too. Keep up the good work and stay in touch :).

  10. Brian said when he drove in the UK, he just drove. I asked about the L-shaped lights and traffic signs and he said he kind of remembered them–he didn’t bother trying to figure them out, he just drove. So, there’s that technique. Good luck!!

  11. I am glad it is you and not me doing the driving. I would have had an accident by now. Good luck.

  12. Thanks Ben! I guess we should not be enjoying your struggles! We feel the pain! But we did have a good laugh! The one thing that was shocking to us when we got home was how wide our streets are here! It is amazing how narrow they are!!!! We will pray for!!!

  13. I remember my driving experiences in Wales on my mission there so I know of what you speak!! It will come naturally soon! love hearing of your experiences. by the way, my kitchen light burned out…what do I do without YOU? love, Betty

  14. See, now when you come home- visiting us and driving in Seattle won’t seem so crazy!
    Best post, I loved every bit.
    love you lots,

  15. Merry Christmas!!! Jim and I laughed and laughed reading your blog. Sure hope we don’t get a foreign mission we will leave that to foreigners. Just when you think the driving rules are in your head you’ll be heading back home!! I remember driving in San Antonio aft we arrived and getting lost on the freeways (they make a loop so how could I get lost?) and I had to learn traffic flow one day just went home frustrated drivers cut in and out of traffice and I was sure my car would be wreaked but did better the nest day!!!
    We know you’ll be great missionaries and the people in Scotland will be very blessed that your there.
    Just don’t have an accident!!

  16. Wow, you pretty much described the same experience Karen and I had when we visited Edinburgh in 2008. I am a confident driver and have driven in every US state and most major cities and it all counted for zip once I got behind the wheel of our rental car.

    Our experience was “enhanced” by renting a car with a manual transmission, leaving the airport in a monsoon type downpour and being totally at the mercy of a schizophrenic GPS. We were not more than 2 miles from the airport when in the midst of navigating what seemed like the 12th roundabout already I decided it was not worth us dying and headed back to the airport to return the car but Karen talked me into keeping it for a day to see if it got any better. It never did, but we ended up keeping it anyway and put almost 1000 kilometers on it by the end of the week.

    Oh, that mirror way over on the left side of the car you mentioned… Ours died a violent death in an unfortunate altercation with a garbage can as I hugged the left side of this impossibly narrow road while a full size (ok, UK sized) semi-truck came barreling at us from the other direction. Oh the memories….

    Thanks for the great story, we can truly empathize. It get’s better quickly 🙂

    Stay safe, Merry Christmas!!
    Paul and Karen Atwood

    BTW – Ada County will help you feel right at home when you come back to Meridian by building a roundabout you can drive through every time you go from home to the church at the Eagle and Amity intersection.

  17. Wowee! Not like good ol’ Boise now is it?! (Quite possibly a lot like SLC though!!) Glad to hear you are adapting to the right brain driving…should be fun to master! Just remember not to do as one of my kids used to do when they got a wee bit confused…close your eyes while doing the roundabout!! Talk about shock! Being a passenger with that child almost killed me!

    Love you two!

    Rich @ Laralee

  18. Ben and Pattie, what fun to read. I had adam help me get you on line for me. I am here because carloyn had to have back surgery again and she is down for 6-8 weeks. I read some of your report to them and we all had a good laugh. But be safe! We wait for more.

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