Read the rules of the road before you start your adventure.
Driving on the left
In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, motorists drive on the left side of the road. Just remember to occasionally check your position in traffic, especially in the countryside where roads are often narrow and winding. For travellers used to driving on the right, we recommend booking an automatic transmission car, not a manual, to make it easier.
Your rental car
Your self-drive adventure starts with picking up your rental car. Begin on an informed foot by carefully reviewing the rental contract and inspecting your vehicle for existing scratches and damage before leaving the lot. Also, familiarise yourself with the insurance options available and ask the rental agent any questions you may have.
Note that you will need to present your credit card for insurance when collecting your rental car.
Repairs and breakdowns
You are responsible for changing a flat tire and getting it repaired, so make sure to have an intact spare tire at all times. If your windshield wipers stop working possibly from insects or dirt, you can stop at a gas station and ask the service staff to clean them for you. In case of a major breakdown, contact your car rental agent first, but please notify us as well.
There are no toll roads or pay-bridges in Scotland, since the Scottish Government abolished tolls in 2008. Save your coins for parking meters or cups of coffee instead!
There are many roundabouts in the UK. The rules for these are simple: give way to all vehicles coming from your right, and always turn left on entering a roundabout.
Petrol (gas) stations
Make sure to check which type of fuel your car requires (usually on the cover of the gas cap) before filling the tank. In rural areas you should keep a close eye on your fuel levels, since there can be long distances between stations in the Highlands, islands and other remote areas.
In urban areas you will often find self-service stations, open 24 hours. These locations only accept credit cards with a PIN number. If you do not have a card with a PIN, you might be able to pay inside at the service desk or buy a pre-paid gas card to use at the pump. In general, gas is cheaper on the mainland than on the isles.
Parking in Edinburgh (or Glasgow)
Few hotels in central Edinburgh (or Glasgow) offer overnight parking for their guests. However, you can find metered parking in many downtown areas, and meter fees typically range from about £2.40 per hour to £4.00 per hour. Most are free after 6:30 PM on weekdays and all day on Sundays.
Most meters require coins. If you have a smartphone or tablet and don’t have loose change, you can pay to park with the RingGo app. Please note that you will need internet access in order to purchase a session. The RingGo app also makes it easy to find your nearest parking place and to extend your stay. Keep in mind that parking fines are high in the city centre.
Road safety & drink driving laws in Scotland
Here are a few other rules to keep in mind for a safe and happy road trip in Scotland:
- All passengers must wear safety belts.
- Children under 12 (shorter than 135cm / 4 ft.5 in), must be in a child seat. If you need one, contact your travel consultant.
- Pull over to make any calls, as it is illegal to use a cell phone while driving, except with a headset, hands-free set, or in-car Bluetooth.
- Drinking and driving laws are strict, and the legal blood alcohol is 50 mg in 100 ml of blood. The Scottish Government advises it is best not to drink any amount of alcohol when planning to drive.
If you wish to visit multiple whisky distilleries on your Scotland trip, we suggest booking a guided tour package.
Scottish speed limits
In the UK, speed limits are posted as miles per hour (mph):
- Urban areas: general speed limit is 20 or 30 mph (48 km/hr)
- Single carriageways: 60 mph (97 km/hr)
- Motorways and dual carriageways: 70 mph (113 km/hr)
Common road hazards
Rural roads can be narrow and winding, particularly in the more remote areas, and some bridges are only wide enough for one car at a time. In this case, the car closest to the bridge gets the right of way for crossing. Also, proceed with extra caution when approaching blind summits and corners, or hidden dips, as there may be oncoming traffic or animals on the road.
Please familiarise yourself with UK road signs so you are aware of potential hazards.
Single track roads
In many parts of the Scottish Highlands, it is common to find single-track (one lane) roads. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, or the driver behind wants to overtake, pull into one of the passing places on your left.
Many passing places are marked by either black and white poles at the roadside, or special square signs, but some passing places are not marked. If the passing place is on the right and you reach it first, stop on the left side of the road opposite the passing place. Also, always give way to vehicles coming uphill when possible. If necessary, reverse until you reach a passing place to let the other vehicle pass.
In Scotland it’s customary to give a friendly “thanks” wave if another car has reversed or waited for you to pass.
Free-roaming sheep and other wildlife are frequently spotted near roadsides and often wander onto the roads. If you notice sheep near the road, slow down, and if they are on the road, honk the horn.
In the Highlands, if you are driving before sunrise or after sunset, then the Scottish red deer is also a consideration. With no natural predators, these beautiful native animals have undergone a bit of a population explosion in recent years. Follow this advice for ultimate safety:
- If you see deer warning road signs, lower your speed and stay vigilant, especially in wooded areas
- Glowing eyes by the roadside typically indicate that a herd of deer is nearby--exercise the same caution as if you had seen a road sign
- Keep your headlights on full beam when you can, but dip them if you see deer, to lower the risk of them "freezing in the headlights"
- Stay calm and prepare yourself to stop if you spot deer on the road, as suddenly swerving on rural routes could be a hazard to you and other drivers
- Call the police on 999 to report an accident if your car (or another vehicle) collides with a deer. They can contact someone to help the injured deer, provide a report for insurance purposes, and prevent further collision risks.
- If you must stop for any reason, stop somewhere safe and use your hazard lights to warn other road users
We highly recommend checking on the weather and road conditions prior to embarking on a long drive. For up-to-date information about roads and driving conditions in Scotland visit Traffic Scotland .
Ready for adventure? Explore our self-drive tours of Scotland.