London: Driving in London

London: Driving in London

Roads in London can be cumbersome to drive on. Many are in a bad state and drivers from other cities may be surprised at how narrow some roads are. There is no simple road system either – London expanded from a series of villages to a huge city with no grid-based system like New York City. Therefore, a GPS system and/or a map is highly recommended.

Visitors should be aware that driving laws in the UK may differ from their home country’s laws:
  • Drivers and all passengers must always fasten their seatbelts.
  • Restraints or car seats are mandatory for kids.
  • Drivers should not stop or park near pedestrian crossings – a zone is marked with zig-zag lines before and after the crossing where it is forbidden to stop.
  • Stay out of bus lanes during the hours displayed on road signs.
  • Certain vehicles and people many not drive on motorways; including provisional driving license holders, motorcycles under 50cc, cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders.
  • You may only overtake another vehicle on the right-hand side of it. You should always drive in the left-hand lane, unless overtaking, if the road is clear.
  • Do not exceed the speed limits. These are clearly signposted, with regular reminders.
  • You must not drive whilst using your mobile phone – this is illegal. Driving while distracted and not in control of your vehicle, is a prosecutable offence.
  • Some roads are signposted as ‘Red Routes’. There must be no stopping at any time. 
  • Drivers must stop at pedestrians crossings – whether they are already crossing, approaching a crossing, or waiting to cross. The pedestrian must finish crossing completely before the driver continues.
  • You cannot turn left or right when a traffic light is red under any circumstances, unless there is a specific arrow lit up in green.
  • Motorcyclists must wear helmets at all times while riding. 
  • Box junctions are yellow crisscrossed boxes drawn onto the ground at crossings. It is illegal to stop in this box. Do not enter unless your exit is clear.
  • Parking can be tricky. If a road has a single yellow line, parking is allowed at certain times of day – a sign will indicate this. Double yellow lines mean no parking at any time. 
Red lines mean no stopping at any time, even to let passengers in and out, in addition to no parking. 

These are merely a few of the country’s driving laws. If you are planning on driving, we advise you fully research them in advance.

The Congestion Charge

congestion charge sign road london
Source: TfL
In 2003, London implemented a traffic reduction method called the Congestion Charge (CC) – this is a toll on drivers who drive into the centre of London. The aim was to reduce congestion in London, removing cars and lorries from the road. The money from this charge funds improvements to the road and public transport system.

How much is the Congestion Charge in London?
The charge is £11.50 per day between the hours of 7:00am and 6:00pm, Monday to Friday. The Congestion Charge area applies to much of central London, and almost all the main attractions in London are inside the charging area. Before reaching an area that is subject to the Congestion Charge, road signs will warn you and indicate how to avoid it well in advance.

You have until midnight to pay the day rate of the CC; you can also pay the next day, when the charge increases to £14. If you fail to pay the charge, you will be fined. If you are in a rental car, the rules also apply to you – fail to pay and you will be fined (£65 to £130).

The Toxicity Charge (T-Charge)

Introduced on 23 October 2017, the Toxicity Charge is an initiative by Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn to penalise the most polluting vehicles in the city.

Most vehicles need to meet minimum emission standards in order to avoid paying the T-Charge. The T-Charge applies to cars, vans, minibuses, buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in central London.

The T-Charge operates between the hours of 7:00am and 6:00pm, Monday to Friday (same as the Congestion Charge) and covers the same area as the Congestion Charge charging zone.

The minimum emissions standards are Euro 4/IV for petrol and diesel vehicles, and Euro 3 for motorised tricycles and quadricycles. Broadly speaking most vehicles manufactured in 2007 or earlier will need to pay the charge. There is a handy eligibility checker here.

The T-Charge uses the same payment systems and websites as the Congestion Charge. The charge is £10 per day per vehicle and is in addition to the Congestion Charge.

Motorcycles, mopeds scooters, taxis and licensed private hire vehicles (PHVs) that are exempt from the Congestion Charge are also exempt from the T-Charge.

Filling Up at Petrol Stations

The place where you get your fuel from – usual petrol or diesel is called a “petrol station” – in the UK. For the Americans, this is where you fill up your car with ‘gas’ – be sure to know which fuel your car takes. Petrol stations are few and far between in central London and therefore queues can be long at each one.

Where can I find a petrol station in central London?
Major petrol stations in central London include:

  • Esso – 115 Maida Vale, London, W9 1UP. Open 24/7.
  • Esso – 393 Edgware Road, London, W2 1BT. Open 24/7.
  • Esso – 77 Park Lane, London, W1K 7HB
  • Shell – 106 Old Brompton Road, London, SW7 3RA
  • BP – 238 Kennington Lane, London, SE11 5RD. Open 24/7
  • Texaco – 212 Kennington Road, London, SE11 6PR


As well as the cost of the car hire, insurance, fuel, the Congestion Charge and T-Charge, there is parking. 

Parking in central London can be challenging, so locating car parks closest to your destination before you arrive can be extremely helpful. Local road signs can often direct you. 

NCP (National Car Parks) operates many car parks within London, as does Q-Park. Parking can be “pay and display” or “phone parking”. In some areas you must pay for your parking in advance. The breaking of parking rules attracts a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) and, in certain areas, your car may be clamped and towed. Parking fines range from £80 to £130 depending on the offence. Some large shopping centres and shops have their own private parking: this may or may not be charged. 

How much does it cost to park in central London?
Parking charges in central London differ on weekdays and weekends. Charges vary but can be up to £1.20 per 15 minutes in central London. Saturday prices are generally cheaper, and on Sundays there is free parking in some areas. Note that it is always forbidden to park on a double yellow line, on a red route line or on the zig zags near pedestrian crossings.

Due to all these costs, public transport is highly recommended as an alternative to driving. 

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