Driving around London

HOW CAN I DRIVE AROUND LONDON FREELY?

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  • Post last modified:February 18, 2024
  • Reading time:9 mins read

Whether it’s your first time driving in London or you haven’t done it for a while and want a refresh, there are several things you’ll need to consider that differ from other parts of the UK. There are increased charges and emissions legislation to be aware of and even some different driving laws that can land the unaware with a fine, so it’s worth getting to grips with these differences long before you set off on your trip.
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to answer all your questions, offer expert tips, and instill complete confidence before you start driving in London.

Driving around London


Charges And Low Emissions Zones
The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure you’ve paid any necessary charges to avoid getting a fine. Specific charges and tolls apply throughout the capital and on routes into the city.
Congestion Charge
Many road users will have to pay the congestion charge fee before heading into the Central London zone. This covers areas from Marylebone across to Shoreditch and down to Elephant and Castle and Victoria. Operating (charging) times are Monday to Friday from 07:00 until 18:00. There is no charge on weekends, public holidays, or between 18:00 and 07:00 on weekdays.
T-Charge
You’ll also need to check your car’s Euro emissions standard to see if you’re liable to pay the T-charge, which came into effect last October as part of the government’s air quality plan. The charge has been put in place to reduce the number of higher polluting cars traveling in the capital’s congestion charge zone.
Any vehicle that doesn’t meet the minimum Euro 4 emissions standards has to pay an additional fee on top of the congestion charge. This is taken when you pay the Congestion Charge. Fully electric vehicles and some energy-efficient hybrids are exempt from the bills entirely.
The amount payable will increase when the T-charge zone was changed into an Ultra-Low Emission Zone in April 2019. Eventually, the London ultra-low emission zone will cover a broader region than the current Congestion Charge zone. Remember, you’ll also have to pay on your way into London if you decide to use the Dartford Crossing on the M25 or the M6 toll road.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
London is home to some of the UK’s busiest routes and junctions. Make sure you’re prepared to tackle potentially stressful situations by brushing up on the rules around on-street parking, road marking meanings, and bus lanes.

  • Yellow Box Junctions
    It may be frustrating sitting at a junction and getting nowhere but don’t be tempted to pull out unless you can see your exit is clear.
    Drivers can be issued Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) for finding themselves in the yellow hatched box at junctions. If you end up blocking the path of another vehicle, you could also pose a danger to yourself, other motorists, and other road users. Only move forwards when the way ahead of you is clear, and it is safe to do so. Don’t let other drivers pressure you into driving into the yellow hatched area before you are ready. Tackling the capital’s busy junctions can be nerve-racking so take your time.
  • Bus Lanes
    Unsurprisingly there are a lot of bus lanes running throughout the city center and surrounding areas. Make sure you’re aware of their operational hours – these are indicated before and along the route by a blue sign. Operational hours are not the same across London, and different bus lane operation times vary.
    If you’re caught driving in a bus lane while it’s in operation, you could receive a PCN. Don’t be fooled by other vehicles using the lanes. Motorcyclists, London taxis, and mopeds are also permitted to use specific lanes during operational hours.
  • Red Routes
    You must not stop on designated red routes. These are marked by either double red lines or a blue circular sign with a red cross. Double red lines operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
    You’ll also see some roads with single red lines. You may be allowed to stop on these at certain times of day for a certain amount of time. On all these routes, any stopping places will be indicated. You’re likely to receive a PCN if you’re caught breaking the rules.
  • Parking
    Finding a parking space in London is likely to be a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re new to the area. As detailed above, specific markings along the roads signal that parking is either permitted or prohibited.
    In addition to red routes, you can’t park on double yellow lines at any time. Single yellow lines signal vehicles can park there at certain times and on certain days. The control hours are displayed on large signs as you enter each controlled parking zone (CPZ). There will be additional signage if any areas vary from the CPZ. Remember, you can park within certain areas designated by dashed white lines as long as you abide by any corresponding ‘Pay and Display’ signs. However, you may not park here if these bays are for resident permit holders.
    Similar dashed red line bays also appear along red routes and can be used at certain times of the day, such as early in the morning and late at night. Always check the signs around the bays, as these times can vary significantly across the capital. Never park on zigzag lines in any circumstances – this is an offense, and you may face a fine. Do not assume you can park for free if there are no lines at all. Always check lamp posts and signs in the area to ensure you’ve paid if necessary or to ensure you don’t overstay the time limit. Some London boroughs, such as Westminster and Islington, have introduced parking surcharges for owners of diesel vehicles. Always check when you park to see if this is the case. Also, in London, it is illegal to park on the pavement.


TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME LONDON DRIVERS
Driving in the capital for the first time doesn’t need to be scary. All you need to do is take the time to prepare beforehand and follow these tips.

  • Plan Your Route
    Navigating London’s roads for the first time can be intimidating enough without the added worry of not knowing where you’re going. Always do your homework before setting off and plan the best route possible.
    Remember, in a busy city, and the most direct route may not always be the quickest. Avoid busy junctions at peak times, or you could be delayed for a considerable amount of time. If you have a Sat Nav – use it safely. Most models will let you know in advance if there are significant delays on your route and offer an alternative. Don’t be tempted to over-rely on your Sat-Nav as routes may change without your sat-nav updating quickly enough – Always obey road signs.
  • Stay Calm
    Knowing exactly where you are going will also help you to stay calm. Try to relax and have confidence in your ability to navigate congested roads – even if it’s your first time driving through the capital.
  • Be Aware
    Driving in busy cities can present hazards you may not be used to – such as commuting cyclists, busy bus lanes, and taxis pulling in and out of lanes to pick up passengers.
  • Avoid Rush Hour
    It may seem obvious, but avoiding driving during peak periods will help make tackling London’s roads for the first time a little less nerve-racking.
  • Minimize Distractions
    If you’re not used to driving in such conditions, we advise minimizing any distractions. It’s essential to turn down the radio or to make sure your phone is turned off, so you can give the road your full attention at all times.