Driving in Wales

Winding road at Great Orme, North Wales
Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Driving in Wales is very similar to driving anywhere else in the United Kingdom. When it comes to laws, speed limits, general rules of the road, and the dreaded driving on the left, Wales is much the same as England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. There are national rules, natural emergency procedures, national speed limits, and so on. But Wales is a mostly rural country with lots of winding, single-lane roads and farm vehicles so there are some differences you need to know.

Driving Documentation Requirements

Whether you are renting a car or bringing your own vehicle across from Europe or Ireland, these are the legal requirements for the documents you should be carrying with you when you drive. We’ve also included two that are optional but highly recommended.

  • Your own valid passport
  • A valid driver’s license; you can drive a car in Wales and anywhere else in Britain on most licenses for up to 12 months. To double check, use this handy UK government online test.
  • Accident and breakdown coverage. If you are planning to drive your own car, and have comprehensive insurance, this may be provided on your policy. But check first whether your breakdown cover applies in the U.K. or can be added. If you are renting, the car rental company usually offers this cover.
  • A motor insurance certificate showing your level of cover and its expiration date. If you take insurance from the rental agency, this will be provided. You must have, at a minimum, third-party coverage.
  • A Green Insurance Card. This isn’t compulsory, but it provides all the information you need to provide to police and other drivers in the event of an accident. Ask your insurance company for one.
  • An International Driver’s Permit or IDP. If your license is in English, you don’t need this. An IDP is not a substitute for a driving license; it is simply a way for speakers of other languages to understand your license. But in these days of heightened security, it’s not a bad idea to have one. They are easy to obtain.

Optional Equipment

While not required in the U.K., emergency equipment required in Europe is recommended if you will be driving in some of Wales’ more isolated areas.

  • Reflective warning triangle
  • Reflective yellow plastic vest or jacket
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Spare bulbs for headlights and brake lights

Rules of the Road

As elsewhere in the U.K., drivers in Wales drive on the left side of the road. Almost all the differences between driving in Wales and driving in the U.S. arise from that. These are the key differences:

  • At intersections without markings and traffic circles (called roundabouts in Wales), drivers entering from the right have priority. 
  • When entering a larger road from a smaller road, drivers on the larger road have priority.
  • On motorways and multi-lane, two-way roads, the leftmost lane is the slow line, the right lane is the passing lane. When making a right turn, especially from one country road into another, be aware that motorbikes and cyclists may be passing you on the right.
  • Turning (in any direction) when lights are red is never allowed.
  • Wales adheres to the U.K. national speed limits in most cases: 70 mph on motorways and dual carriageways (highways divided by a central island); 60 mph on single carriageways (two way roads without a central island or physical barrier); 30 mph in built-up areas (ones with street lights). In those areas, the speed limit is always 30mph or less unless otherwise indicated by signs.
  • Local speed limits: Some communities set local speed limits that are lower than the national limits. Limits of 20 mph in residential areas and around schools are common. 
  • Tolls: There are no toll roads or toll bridges in Wales. The tolls on the bridges across the River Severn ended in 2018. Amazingly, there had been a toll to cross between southwest Wales and southwest England for more than 800 years. Tolls for the Cleddau Bridge in Pembrokeshire ended in 2019.
  • Seatbelts are the law, and you can be fined as much as 440 pounds if you or your passengers aren’t wearing them.
  • Texting and using a cell phone is illegal while driving. Hands-free phones are technically allowed but police may pull you over if they believe you are distracted.

In Case of an Emergency

On a motorway, dial 999, the U.K. police emergency number. The European number 112 still works but will not take you directly to a U.K. emergency operator. If you don’t have a charged mobile phone, there are emergency phones in orange boxes on the edge of the breakdown lanes throughout the U.K. motorway network. They are located about a mile apart and are free to use. Whatever you do, don’t cross the motorway to find one. If you aren’t on motorway, call the emergency breakdown service your car rental company has provided. 

Smart Motorways

Smart motorways are roads where the breakdown lane can be used to ease traffic. They were controversially introduced in parts of the U.K., but not in Wales. The only Smart Motorway feature you may come across are variable speed lanes on motorways. They are indicated by digital signs above each lane, showing when the usual motorway speed limit of 70 mph is suspended.

Animals on the Road 

Sheep: In parts of Wales, notably the Brecon Beacons and sparsely populated areas in west Wales, sheep graze on unfenced land. And there are more sheep than people in Wales. If you come across a flock of sheep occupying the road, there’s not much you can do except wait until they move on or are moved on by a farmer. Sometimes if you get out of your car, they may amble off, but it’s more likely they’ll simply move to another part of the road.

Deer: In woodland areas you may come across herds of deer crossing together, especially in the spring. Whatever you do, don’t get out of your car. They are unpredictable wild animals. They won’t linger on the road the way that sheep might.

Horses: If you come across riders, singly or in groups, slow down to the horses speed until you can safely and slowly pass them. Wales is full of narrow, single lane roads so be wary going around bends for horses, or even cows, in the road.

Driving With Children 

Children younger than 12 must be buckled into an approved child seat in the back seat of the car, unless there is no sitting room for them. Children under 12 can sit in the front passenger seat if there is no other option, but they must be strapped into a front-facing child seat, securely held to maximize the distance between the airbag and the child. 

SatNavs vs. Maps: Even if you bring, or hire a GPS or Satellite Navigation device, it’s a good idea to have a road atlas or map for Wales. In this part of the U.K., SatNav and GPS coverage is notoriously unreliable.

Weather Hazards: Wales is wet and windy. From time to time, the Prince of Wales Severn Bridge (on the M4 motorway), which is long and high, is closed to traffic because of high winds. When that happens, you may be able to cross a bit further northeast on the Severn Bridge (M48). If weather closes both bridges you’ll have to detour northward toward Gloucester and cross into Wales on the A40.

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