I recently received some free driving time to test out a fancy new car sharing scheme in London called DriveNow, and realised that I haven’t actually driven myself around London, ever.
There was that one time I drove back from Glastonbury and only made it as far into London as Maida Vale before I was booted out of the drivers seat by my boyfriend and friends after a near death roundabout experience. Oops. All other car rentals I’ve taken on the navigator position.
Now, all of a sudden, here I was sitting on the side of Essex Road in a brand new BMW 1 series car that someone had entrusted upon me, trying to work out how the hell to start the damn thing, let alone drive it. A casual 20 minutes later, I managed to actually put the gearbox into drive (I literally had to do a Google search to find out how to do this, sigh) and thus began my first proper driving experience in London. Here’s what I learned.
1) Navigating London in a car is much different to navigating on foot
After almost 3 years in London, I don’t actually know any roads in this city. I don’t know names, I don’t know how to get from A to B and I certainly don’t know how to drive myself home, let alone somewhere else. I can tell you every bus route and tube line combination to get you most places, I can even pretty accurately guesstimate your Uber fare, but put me in a car and I genuinely have no idea where I’m going. Thank God for GPS (which took another 5 minutes to work out how to use, and I fluked it, double sigh).
2) No one pays attention to road lines or lanes
There are no real lines on central London roads, just squiggly drawings. I want to make clear that squiggly drawings are not lines. This means that at no point can you sit back and relax – when driving in London you need to be On. Your. Game. Oncoming traffic will go in your lane on a regular basis and you just need to quickly learn the width of the car you’re driving. All I’m saying is I’m glad I was a pretty excellent driver back home 😉
3) Your brain will hurt from staying so alert
Between pedestrian crossings, buses, cyclists, parked cars, ambulances and oncoming traffic, driving in London means you need to be bloody alert. The first 10 minutes of driving had me narrowly avoiding several collisions with all of the above. My best tip is to drive at your own pace and don’t let the honking, angry, bully car behind you pressure you into driving faster or overtaking unless you’re comfortable with it. Lesson learned.
4) Techy cars aren’t my friend
Not sure if you’ve already picked up on this vibe from my passive comments above, but the techiest thing about the last car that I owned in Australia was an electric sunroof, and I was pretty impressed by it. One end of a button opened it, the other end closed it again. You could also stop it half way – it was pretty special. Cars these days are way too techy. I literally didn’t know how to start this car and when I did, it genuinely took 20 minutes of weird beeping sounds and several panicked Google searches to work out how to even put the car into reverse or drive. There was a button for everything, I felt like I was in the cockpit of an A380.
5) Driving BMW’s and Mini’s is much more fun than any other car
Once you do actually work out how to drive the world’s techiest cars, they’re pretty awesome. Driving in a damn cool car is really fun and so much better than buying an older, shittier, second-hand version. Actually, that’s one of the things I like most about Drive Now, all the cars are either BMW 1 Series, MINI Countryman or MINI convertibles (!!), all of which are amazing and make driving in London that little bit more fun.
Some more practical driving advice and FAQs
Don’t have a UK licence? Are you even allowed to drive in the UK on your foreign drivers licence?
To find out whether you’re legally allowed to drive in the UK on your foreign drivers licence, or to learn how to swap your foreign licence over to a UK drivers licence (spoiler, it’s really easy), check out this blog post.
DriveNow in London
Photo credit: DriveNow
DriveNow is a car sharing network in London, with most cars parked around North-East areas of the city – Islington, Hackney, Haringey and Waltham Forest. You can register online for £29, they send you a card which works as a key to unlock their cars, and you can use the DriveNow app to reserve cars which are parked all around London.
The best thing about it is you don’t need to return the car to a specific spot or within a certain time frame. You can just jump in, drive to where you need to go, park it wherever you find parking and you’re done.
I use it to drive myself home when I’m out quite late and haven’t been drinking (scaringly not that often), as it tends to be cheaper than getting an Uber and it’s actually really liberating!
Well I think that just about covers the basics. Have you ever driven in London or used a car sharing service? What have been your experiences?