Plan ahead when driving into unfamiliar cities and town

Blog post posted on 05/10/22 |

Driving into an unfamiliar city or even town can be stressful. Here’s IAM RoadSmart’s Head of Driving & Riding Standards, Richard Gladman, with some helpful pointers as part of his Safer Driving series.

I worked in London for 30-odd years, but I moved out to Yorkshire and since then it’s changed so much: speed limits, road layouts, buildings. Everything.

So, if you’re planning to visit London, or any big city or town you haven’t been to before, or not in a while, take a look at where you are going beforehand and plan your route. When I was policing in London I used to carry an A-to-Z in my bike panniers. Today, people rely on their sat nav, but it’s not perfect and might not notify you of traffic restriction zones between certain hours, for instance. Even if you think you know a city or town well, if you haven’t been there for a while, things may have changed.

For example, many local councils in towns and cities have put in 20 mph limits and you’ve really got to be at the top of your game to look for those speed limits, as well as bus lanes with cameras. If you wander into a bus lane with a camera, you will receive an enforcement notice. Even stopping in the wrong place to get your bearings will get you an enforcement notice for parking because they've got cameras everywhere now.

Beware camera enforcement

One of our members was visiting his late father's house on a red route in Reading. To get out of his father's driveway, he had to reverse onto the red route and then wait for a space in the traffic to pull across the road and drive away. He received a red enforcement notice for doing this. He appealed the notice and Reading Council revoked it, but were quite stroppy, saying “on this occasion we'll believe you, but in future it doesn't stop us enforcing this”. But as he’s pointed out, he must wait until it's safe to move off after reversing, which could cost him another enforcement notice.

And that’s the trouble with camera enforcement; it has no discretion at all. You don't have the opportunity to explain what you were doing to a camera as you would to a police officer. This is why it’s important to find out as much as you can about where you are travelling to before you set off. Google Street View is great and can help flag any obvious issues, such as one-way streets, red routes, or bus lanes, which can operate 24-hours a day on some roads.

Don’t panic

When you are driving into a city you’re not familiar with, remember: it’s better to miss your turning and keep going to find somewhere to turn around safely than it is to make a dangerous manoeuvre. One-way systems are the classic - you can always go round again to make sure you're in the right lane. Similarly with roundabouts, if you realise you're in the wrong lane, either take the wrong exit, or if it's safe you can signal and go all the way round and come back to your correct exit. If it's a big roundabout, you won’t look out of place - people won't realise you're going round again.

But, be careful of U-turns. In London, for instance, U-turn cameras seem to have sprung up everywhere. We’ve had members who have received enforcement notices, who claim they weren’t actually doing U-turns but had reversed into a sideroad and then turned right out of it…but the cameras still says ‘U-turn’.

The city never sleeps

Cities and larger towns tend to be much busier, both in terms of traffic and pedestrians, even late at night. The pace of urban driving can seem much faster than in rural areas even though the average speeds are lower, so be aware of the different demeanour of many city drivers and expect the unexpected.

Even on fairly main roads in cities, traffic will join from side roads where cars are parked close to the junction. It’s going to be tight for them to see, so they’re going to do what we call ‘peep and creep’, where essentially you put the front of your car in danger to edge forward to check when the road is clear to pull out.

Pedestrians and cyclists

Finally, changes to the Highway Code mean pedestrians and cyclists have right of way over cars in many instances. Of course, in a city or busy town there will be more of both, putting the onus firmly drivers to look out for them. Plus, be aware that in busy city traffic, cyclists and bikers might filter down either side of your vehicle – which is entirely legal, so you need to give them space to operate.

If you’d like more information about how IAM RoadSmart can help you to improve your driving, go to for more information.