Skip to content

Driving in America vs. Driving in the UK

Driving in America and the UK is massively different. Yes, it is essentially the same. We both use these things called roads and metal boxes with wheels called cars to get from A to B. But I swear, the rest of it is like night and day. 

Most significantly Americans (are lazy) like the convenience of automatic cars while manual cars still dominate the scene in the UK and the rest of Europe. Who knows, maybe after Brexit the UK will give in and switch to driving on the right and buy automatic cars to solidify the special relationship… 

So what is it that makes driving in the US so fundamentally different from driving in the UK? 

How long have you got?

Automatic vs. Manual

When I was learning to drive in the UK, changing gears was the bane of my life.

I’d constantly put my car into 4th gear rather than 2nd and put the clutch in too early or too late. Stalling at roundabouts was something I came to accept. So much that “sorry car” is probably one of my most used phrases. 

But then I got better and didn’t do that *as much*. 

Yet now that I’m driving in America, I’m using an automatic car. SO NO MORE GEAR CHANGING, YAY. But all of the blood sweat and tears I put into perfecting my use of gears has gone to waste. (Ok, not blood, I never actaully crashed). 

I should be celebrating. Not having to deal with changing gears is going to change my life. Now I can just sit back and let the car do all the work. And apparently automatic cars are now more efficient than manual. Easy AND practical. Who knew such a thing existed.

Automatic classic car used while driving in America

Straight vs. Windy

I am very nostalgic about the long and winding roads in the UK. Those death traps just don’t seem to exist in the US. Gone are the days of navigating down a road which is only just big enough for one car, hoping no-one attempts to go in the other direction. And then getting that sinking feeling at the inevitable sight of headlights approaching in the distance. Or more likely, the sight of blazing headlights suddenly upon you as you turn a sharp, concealed, bend in the road. 

That wouldn’t happen in America. 

The roads in America are these wide, straight things that actually take you directly to where you need to go. You don’t have to navigate around Old Farmer John’s ancient field that’s been there for centuries so they couldn’t get the planning permission to build a more direct road across it. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I do not think we should be building roads across anyone’s land or through old villages that time has forgotten. The difference is America has the SPACE to not need to worry about it. Although, I am pretty sure they would build the road anyways.

Straigh roads while driving in America

Right vs. Left

Speaking of roads, America drives on the wrong side of it. That is all I will say on this subject. I am NOT getting dragged into the whole “we drive on the RIGHT side of the road” discussion (shouting match) any further.

Big vs. Regular Size

America’s unofficial tagline should be “its big, but let’s make it bigger”. Because literally everything is bigger. But that doesn’t always make it better. (People who are snickering, please drag your minds out of the gutter…)

While I have yet to be crushed by a giant car while driving in America, I do prefer the smaller (normal sized) cars that are used in the UK. I’d take a fiat 500 or a VW Golf over a HUGE pick up truck any day of the week. Smaller cars are so much easier to park, you never need to worry about the road being too narrow and they are so easy to maneuver. 

But, what I need to remember is that the US has more space so they CAN make bigger roads and bigger parking spaces for bigger cars. In the UK we are still operating on glorified dirt tracks that were originally laid out for horses and carts. There is literally not enough space to make big cars practical. 

But that doesn’t stop the occasional Brit with an inflated ego and money from buying a big car. You will occasionally see one idiot cruising down a country lane in their huge 4×4, ready to crush any Ford KA which stands in its way. 

The difference being in America, is that the idiot would be the person in the slow accelerating Ford KA (which isn’t even sold in America, it’s so small). 

Fiat miniature

The Rules vs. the "Rules"

So this has been mentioned before when I looked at British Habits – Brits like the rules. And on a good day, they tend to follow them. When driving in the UK, you can be sure that most people will indicate when they are turning, leave a sufficient distance between the car in front and themselves and not use the over taking lane as another lane and just driiiiive. 

While driving in America, I have found that Americans do not often do these things. 

At least, not in Maryland. 

Infact, the distance between you and the car in front in Maryland is supposed to be 4-5 seconds. In the UK its just 2. If I do leave 4-5 seconds between me and the car in front in Maryland, SOMEONE DRIVES INTO THE SPACE. EXCUSE ME, WHAT??? FOLLOW THE RULES!

Even with speeding, the way the rules are “followed” is different when driving in America. In the UK, I got sent on a speeding awareness course for going 3 miles over the limit. In the US I have been advised I can generally go 9 over the limit and get by. And it seems to be working. Everyone else does it too. But I have no idea where it came from or who agreed to it.

Driving in America vs driving In the UK

So, who does driving better??

I think we can all agree that driving in America vs. Britain is pretty different.

But which is better? It’s hard to say.

My inital driving expereicne in America was pretty traumatic and you can read all all about that tragedy here. But the ease and convenience of driving in America JUST gives it the edge for me, despite the lack of rule following. Granted this may not be the case across the US, but I am going off my personal experience. I am reasonable – I’m willing to reassess at a later date.

What do you think?

Are there any other places you’ve driven that are a little crazy? (Rhodes in Greece for instance. was my first experience of international driving and let’s just say I am amazed we left with our lives).

Let me know in the comments below!


  1. Kathleen Kiehn Kathleen Kiehn

    Hi, When you come to Colorado you will find that in the Mountains the roads aren’t straight especially off the beaten path. Try Independence pass or Red Mountain if you what some excitement on the road. Trail Ridge can be bit scary too, but they’ve improved it over the years so it’s not as bad as it was when I was a kid back before time began. The Mountains are high and the drops are a long way down. So have David take you for a ride. If you think the US is big when you’re on the East Coast wait till you come West. Take Care. Cousin Kathee

    • Ellen Ellen

      Oh, I’m sure those roads are scray! I’ll keep those in mind for next time we visit and there’s time to go for a drive 🙂
      Haha, I can’t even comprehend how vast the US is… That will definitely take some time to adjust to!

  2. Grant Grant

    So interesting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: