8 Common Mistakes Americans driving in Scotland make and how to avoid them

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Embarking on a road trip through Scotland is a dream come true for many American travelers.

Picture-perfect landscapes, enchanting castles, and the allure of the Highlands beckon you to explore every nook and cranny of this remarkable country. However, amidst the excitement, it’s crucial to acknowledge that driving in Scotland can present some unexpected challenges!

While the left-hand driving and unfamiliar road signs may seem like minor obstacles, they can quickly turn into frustrating or even dangerous situations if not approached with caution. So, before you set off on your Scottish driving adventure, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with the common mistakes that Americans often make on these winding roads.

In this article, we’ll shed light on these blunders and provide insights on how to avoid them, ensuring a smoother and more enjoyable journey through Scotland’s mesmerizing landscapes.

By learning from the experiences of those who have gone before you, you can navigate Scotland’s roads like a seasoned local, all while avoiding the pitfalls that can turn your trip into a series of unfortunate events.

Got a cup of tea ready? Then let’s go!

Looking for a rental car for you Scotland trip? DiscoverCars compares what’s around from the local rental companies.

americans driving in scotland

Mistakes American’s make when driving in Scotland

1. Driving on the wrong side of the road

Driving on the wrong side of the road is perhaps the most common and initially jarring mistake Americans make when driving in Scotland. It sounds like it’s something so obvious, but can really easily be done!

Accustomed to driving on the right-hand side in the United States, it takes a conscious effort to switch gears—both figuratively and literally—when navigating the left-side roads of Scotland. The reflexes honed over years of driving on the right can easily lead to momentary lapses in concentration, resulting in accidental veering onto the right side of the road.

This mistake is particularly prevalent on smaller and quieter country roads, where muscle memory can momentarily take control and there are no other cars around to immediately remind you.

The lack of familiarity with the road layout and signs can also cause momentary hesitation, increasing the likelihood of drifting onto the right side. It’s crucial for American drivers to stay alert, focus on their lane positioning, and consciously remind themselves to keep left throughout their journey.

While much of Scotland can be small country roads, it’s not always and if you’re driving in the Central Belt it can busy between Glasgow and Edinburgh! Renting a car from Inverness can help, but you’ll still find busy roads!

With practice, driving on the left will become second nature but it can require some dedication and conscious thoughts!

2. Ignoring roundabouts and how to drive round them

Roundabouts, a staple feature of Scottish roadways, often prove to be a perplexing puzzle for American drivers.

Accustomed to the conventional four-way intersections or traffic lights back home, navigating roundabouts can be a daunting task.

One common mistake is failing to yield correctly when entering a roundabout. Americans might approach a roundabout as they would a stop sign, causing confusion and potential disruptions to the flow of traffic.

Always give way to traffic already on the roundabout and coming from the right hand side.

Another challenge lies in choosing the correct lane within the roundabout. American drivers may inadvertently find themselves in the wrong lane, leading to abrupt lane changes or missed exits. This can at least cause frustration to yourself and others and accidents at worst.

Although simplistic, a good rule is this: The left hand lane is generally for taking the first exit (left) and also going straight on. The right lane is for when you’re going right.

Sometimes there will be signs indicating which lane to take (on a sign on the side of the road or directly on the lane). Always look out for them.

3. Misinterpreting Road Signs

Misinterpreting road signs is another common mistake that American drivers often encounter when navigating the roads of Scotland.

Road signs in Scotland can differ significantly from those in the United States in terms of design, symbols, and meanings, leading to potential confusion. Americans may find themselves grappling with unfamiliar signs, unsure of their implications and how to respond appropriately.

One source of confusion lies in the differences in colors and shapes used on Scottish road signs.

For example, a triangular warning sign in the United States typically indicates yield, while in Scotland, it signifies a warning or cautionary message. Similarly, the use of blue signs on motorways can cause misinterpretation, as Americans are accustomed to associating blue signs with services and rest areas rather than indicating primary routes.

To avoid these misinterpretations, it is essential for American drivers to educate themselves on the specific meanings of Scottish road signs before hitting the road.

Familiarizing oneself with the common signs, their shapes, colors, and accompanying symbols will go a long way in preventing confusion and ensuring safe navigation!

Remember you might also see signage in Gaelic in some of the Highlands and Islands – don’t worry, there’ll always be an English translation next to it!

road sign in scotland
Speed limit sign as you enter a village – note the gaelic version of the village name in green!

4. Ignoring the speed limits!

Speeding and not adhering to speed limits is a mistake that American drivers must be mindful of when exploring the roads of Scotland. Compared to the United States, speed limits in Scotland are generally lower and can vary depending on the type of road and the surrounding conditions.

It is crucial for American drivers to be aware of and respect these speed limits to ensure their safety, the safety of others on the road, and to avoid potential fines or penalties.

Scotland’s speed limits are in miles per hour, so just like in the USA. Here’s a general guide to what to look for:

  • In towns, villages and built up areas it’s generally 30mph unless indicated otherwise.
  • Sometimes near schools you’ll need to go down to 20mph
  • Single lane roads in the countryside will normally be ‘national speed limit’ which means 60mph for cars. Winding roads might still warrant a slower speed especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area.
  • On a motorway or a dual carriageway the national speed limit is 70 mph

5. Getting too close on narrow roads

Underestimating narrow roads is a common mistake that American drivers may encounter while exploring the countryside of Scotland.

Unlike the wide and spacious roads often found in the United States, Scotland’s rural areas are dotted with narrow and winding lanes that can be a surprise for those unaccustomed to such road conditions.

One challenge is misjudging the width of the road, especially when encountering oncoming traffic and being used to driving on the other side of the road.

American drivers may unintentionally drift too close to the centerline or brush against kerbs, stone walls, or parked vehicles due to the narrower width. It’s essential to exercise caution, maintain an appropriate speed, and always be prepared to yield or give way when encountering approaching vehicles.

My husband works for a recovery company at the moment and rescues many people who aren’t used to the narrow roads and damage their cars!

passing places road sign in scotland
You may be warned that the road is very narrow and only has passing places

6. Parking in Passing Places

Another aspect to consider is the presence of passing places. These designated areas along narrow roads allow vehicles traveling in opposite directions to safely pass each other.

One of the big mistakes people (and not just American’s) make is parking in them which is a big No No!

When on a narrow, one lane road with passing places, be prepared to stop or yield when necessary. You can also communicate with other drivers through hand signals or flashing headlights to coordinate passing manoeuvres and give thanks.

7. Not slowing down in bad weather

Bad weather will happen in Scotland – it just does!

Driving in bad weather conditions can present significant challenges for any drivers in Scotland. The country’s unpredictable weather, including rain, fog, snow, and strong winds, can create hazardous driving conditions that require extra caution and adaptability behind the wheel.

One common mistake is underestimating the impact of rain on road surfaces. Scotland is known for its frequent rainfall, which can lead to slippery roads and reduced traction. Drivers should adjust their speed and increase the distance behind other cars to allow for safe braking.

It’s essential to activate windshield wipers and ensure proper functioning of headlights for better visibility. Failure to do so can compromise your ability to see the road clearly and be seen by other drivers, putting you and others at risk.

Fog is another weather condition that American drivers may encounter in Scotland. Dense fog can significantly impair visibility, making it crucial to reduce speed and use fog lights or low-beam headlights to enhance visibility without causing glare. It’s essential to exercise caution, keep a safe distance from other vehicles, and be prepared to stop if visibility becomes dangerously low.

If you’re coming to Scotland in Winter then driving in snowy or icy conditions can be a particularly challenging time if you’re unaccustomed to such weather. Slower speeds, gentle acceleration, and cautious braking are key to maintaining control on slippery surfaces. It’s also advisable to carry essential winter supplies in the vehicle, including an ice scraper, blankets, and a fully charged mobile phone in case of emergencies.

To ensure safety when driving in bad weather conditions you should stay informed about weather forecasts, plan your journey accordingly, and be prepared to adjust your itinerary if necessary. Additionally, maintaining a calm and focused mindset, being patient, and allowing extra time for travel can help alleviate stress and enhance overall safety on the road.

8. Picking the wrong car

Finally, the last mistake that I see Americans driving in Scotland make is picking the wrong kind of car for their trip.

First is choosing manual when it’s not what they are accustomed to. It’s an added worry to work out how to drive a manual car when also coming to terms with a new country’s roads. If you’re used to an automatic, choose an automatic – there’s always plenty from the rental companies.

Second is choosing something too big. Cars are much smaller in Scotland than American’s are used to. That means roads are narrower, car parking spaces are smaller and if you choose a bigger car that can make life difficult!

While not going super small (you still want to fit your luggage in), definitely try and keep to perhaps a Compact size.

I hope this article has opened your eyes to the potential problems you might have when driving on Scotland’s roads. It’s not all bad though and so many people come here and have no problems at all – they did their research beforehand!

Good luck with your trip to Scotland and drive safe when you get here!

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland Travel FAQ 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Do I need insurance for traveling to Scotland?

YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!

Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.

Do I need a car for visiting Scotland?

YES – If you’re wanting to explore Scotland fully then a car is worthwhile. It will get you to all the best sights and on your own timetable

I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in Scotland

How to book accommodation in Scotland?

For hotels I recommend Booking.com

For apartments and cottages check out VRBO

Will my phone work in Scotland?

Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.

If you need a SIM for use in Scotland I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.

What to pack for Scotland

Keep yourself dry be prepared for any weather is my motto for Scotland! A rain jacket and comfy shoes are a must.

See my post about what to pack for Scotland

Do I need midge spray for Scotland?

YES – if you’re traveling in the summer months to any of the west coast, highlands, islands or lochs it’s recommended.

Locals swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft!

If you’re sticking to the cities or traveling in winter, early spring or late fall then you likely won’t need it.

What’s the best guidebook for Scotland?

I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks

Where to get flights for Scotland

Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to Scotland.

Do I need a visa for Scotland?

Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting Scotland as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.

Photo of author

Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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