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Don't Panic! Tips for Driving in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland

Intrepid visitors from other countries may wish to hire a vehicle while visiting Scotland so they can explore the country in more depth and at their own pace. But whether it’s keeping on the left, negotiating narrow roads or dealing with incompetent or dangerous fellow drivers, exploring Scotland by car requires more than just common sense.

Each year there are dozens of road traffic accidents and countless hours of frustration for locals caused by visitors failing to comply with laws or etiquette, so the decision to hire a car in Scotland shouldn’t be taken lightly. With our easy tips, you can be prepared to take the wheel if you hire a car for your visit to Scotland.

Stay on the left

This might seem obvious but each year many unavoidable accidents occur in the Highlands & Islands because foreign drivers drift into the wrong lane. Maintain constant vigilance to make certain you are in the left lane- failure to do so can be deadly.

Be considerate

Locals have to get to work, hospital and school and their schedules need to be kept. If you are holding up traffic, please pull over to allow them to get on their way. Holding up traffic can be very dangerous because frustrated drivers might be tempted to take risks to overtake you. A good rule of thumb- if there are more than two cars queued behind you for a few miles, pull over at the next available passing place and allow them to overtake. You can be fined for driving too slowly as well as driving too fast.

Be patient

You may get caught in a long line of traffic. It can be very frustrating, but taking risks is also very dangerous. Rather than risk passing a slow driver on winding roads, pull over to stretch your legs and take time to relax. And if you do pass when it’s safe to do so, check that a motorcycle is not cutting in behind you because many are bad about sneaking up on you at highly unsafe speeds.

Allow extra time for your journey.

Online maps assume you will be able to drive at the speed limit. Roads in Scotland can be narrow, winding and filled with a variety of traffic in all types of weather, so expect and account for possible delays. We find that on two land roads in the Highlands, it is difficult to drive more than 40-50mph due to slow drivers and tailbacks, and sometimes will be forced to drive as slowly as 20-30mph.

Drive defensively

You may be an excellent driver, but a combination of busy tourist season, narrow winding roads, motorbikes, trucks and bad drivers can make for a frustrating time, so you should be vigilant and drive defensively.

Take it easy on single-track roads

The etiquette for single-track roads is for the driver nearest a passing place to stop or reverse and allow the oncoming car to proceed. Technically if both cars are equal distance from a passing place, the car going uphill has the right of way. If you are driving slowly, use passing places to allow those behind you to overtake. If you come across livestock in the road, you should stop until they move.

Oncoming traffic in the middle of the road- don’t panic

On two lane roads, especially on or under bridges, you may see a sign that says “Oncoming traffic in middle of road.” Don’t panic- but do slow down and look for oncoming traffic. If one lane has priority right of way, it will be indicated on the sign. Be prepared to stop or slow enough to allow one car at a time to proceed.

Find the UK’s Highway Code, road safety and vehicle rules here.


Make your Highland visit easier with our self drive itinerary, with all the directions, stops, attractions and comfort breaks all planned for you by expert locals. And if you visit Oban, the best thing to do to start is with a walking tour by our STGA guide, Michelle. Get in touch today!


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