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Driving in London is slow, expensive, and best avoided – but if it really is the only way that you can get from A to B then be wary of the rules.
You can buy a copy of the Highway Code at AA shops, RAC shops and Tourist Information Centres. Be aware that all passengers must wear seatbelts, and all motorcycle riders must wear helmets.
Foreign driving licences are typically valid for up to 12 months in Britain – but you must make sure that your insurance covers foreign travel. Driving without adequate insurance in the UK is a criminal offence.
London was the world’s first big city to introduce a congestion charge, with the aim of reducing busy traffic in the center.
The first zone covered everything east of Park Lane, south of Euston Road and west of Commercial Street, but was later extended into Kensington and Chelsea. The next Mayor decided to reduce the size back down again, and it is likely to bounce back and forth for many years to come.
An up-to-date map of the congestion zone as it is right now, can be found at tfl.gov.uk.
The way to tell that you are entering the congestion charge zone is by the street signs and painted circles in the road. If you pass a large white ‘C’ inside a red circle, then you have crossed into the “pay zone”. It doesn’t matter how long you spend inside the zone – once the traffic cams have snapped your number plate you will be liable to pay a fee.
You are supposed to pay before midnight on the same day, although it is acceptable to pay the next day too (but you will be charged an extra fee on top). If you wait even longer than that, then you will be liable to pay a hefty fine (as much as £100+, depending on how long you leave it).
The congestion charge is only in force between 7 AM and 6 PM Monday to Friday, and you can pay at newsagents, petrol stations and any shop showing the white C symbol. You can also register to pay online by telephoning 0845 900 1234, or by visiting their website at tfl.gov.uk.
The current prices can be found at tfl.gov.uk/congestioncharging.
Make sure that you pay attention to any car parking restrictions in place, as the costs can be extortionate if your car gets clamped. You could be looking at as much as £200–300 to get it released.
If the worst happens and you find that your car has been towed away with no information on where it has been towed to, then try ringing the Tracing Section at 0207 747 4747.
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The three main breakdown services in London are as follows. All of them offer 24-hour breakdown services.
AA:Tel 0870 550 0600, or 0800 887 766, or visit theaa.co.uk
RAC:Tel 0844 891 3111, or visit rac.co.uk
Environmental Transport Association:Tel 0800 212 810, or 0800 073 7283, or visit eta.co.uk
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