Driving in Ireland and in Northern Ireland
If you are planning to drive in Northern Ireland, READ THIS PAGE, no matter where you are coming from!
Adjustments you have to make
- British drivers are best placed to drive in Northern Ireland, because they also drive on the left side. However, some laws are different so even if you are British, read on.
- Drivers from continental Europe will have to adjust to driving on the left side as well as using miles instead of kilometers.
- American drivers will have to adjust to driving on the left side, and driving in (sometimes) very small roads. I have met many an American driver who found it a challenge to drive in Northern Ireland They quickly get used to it, though, and thoroughly enjoy it.
- Remember, in Northern Ireland it is prohibited to talk to your mobile/cell phone while driving. You will get a hefty penalty and 3 points on your driving license.
- Motorways are limited to the immediate vicinity of Belfast. They are marked by the letter M followed by a numeral. E.g. M2.
- “A” roads are next in size and connect most of the main cities. Some A roads like the A1 going south from Belfast to Banbridge, Newry and joining the M1 in the Republic, or the A8 going from Belfast to Larne are mostly dual carriageways and fairly efficient. Other A roads are smaller and more given to congestion. If you are planning trips to/from Enniskillen or Londonderry, be prepared for slow progress at times.
- Beyond the M and A roads there is a multitude of smaller roads that connect everything to everywhere. Often very scenic, they are also very narrow and not always well signposted.
- Farm traffic is common and can slow things substantially. If you live a fast paced life you might find it frustrating. But chill out! You are on holiday and when in N. Ireland do as the N. Irish do! Do not honk, do not get upset, wait patiently and wave politely when the road clears. This way you will make good friends quickly.
- Motorways: 70 mph or 112 kph, unless otherwise indicated.
- Most A roads outside urban areas: 60 mph or 96 kph, unless otherwise indicated.
- Urban areas: 30 mph or 48 kph unless otherwise indicated.
So, wherever you come from, read on!
Maps and Navigation
If you are tech savvy, ensure you have a good satellite navigation system. Emphasis on the word “good” because until recently N. Ireland was not well mapped out in satellite navigation systems, sometimes leading to confusing directions. I understand things have rapidly improved.
If you get lost, don’t be embarrassed to ask for directions. The people are very friendly and they will happily help you out. In fact, while asking for directions we met a gentleman who got into his car and led us all the way to the place we wanted to go!
With or without a satellite navigation system, it is wise to have a good old-fashioned road map. It is inexpensive and widely available. You can buy it from any Gas Station/Garage/Petrol station, any big supermarket or Newsagent and even online.
Roundabouts are (most of the time) a handy piece of road design aimed at facilitating the flow of traffic. My South African friend calls them circles. Very popular in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, they are less common in other countries.
Who has priority on a roundabout?
The one who is going around the roundabout has priority over the one who is entering, unless otherwise indicated (e.g. by traffic lights). If you are in a roundabout and realize at the last moment that you need to take the left exit and you are on the inside lane, do not swerve, cause you might cause an accident. Since the roundabout is in the shape of the circle, just follow it around one more time and this time position yourself better for a timely and smooth exit.
Occasionally you will see armed police or even the army on the road stopping cars and checking people. Don’t panic (unless you have reason to!!).
This was normal during the Troubles, less so. In the five years we came across maybe ten or so roadblocks. Just stop when they ask you to and show some ID. They are usually very polite and might even give you directions to avoid traffic if there is any bottleneck.
The law in Northern Ireland is very strict about seatbelt safety. Please read our Seatbelt laws article.
Drunk drivingIt is a serious offense in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to drive under the influence of alcohol. Do read about drink driving in Northern Ireland here.
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