Driving vocabulary

Here are some words and phrases you’ll find helpful when driving in an English-speaking country.


In England, you must drive on the left (unless road signs tell you otherwise or if you are overtaking – passing another car). The driver’s seat is on the right hand side of the car, and the passenger’s seat is on the left. The gearstick is to the left of the driver.

Drivers and passengers have to wear a seatbelt, except if they have certain medical conditions, and seatbelts should also be worn in the back seat. If you “drink drive” (drive after drinking alcohol), the penalties can be serious. Most people will advise you not to drink alcohol at all before driving.

Be especially careful to respect the speed limits on the roads. A sign tells you what the maximum speed limit is, and if you break the speed limit, you may get a fine or points on your licence. There are many hidden speed cameras in operation, so watch out!


You should use your indicators to show if you are turning left or right. You should also use your mirrors (wing mirrors on the side of the car) and rearview mirror (to see behind you) before you set off, make a turning, slow down or overtake. Drivers should also turn round to look over their right shoulder so that they can see what is happening in their blind spot – the place behind you that you cannot see – even with mirrors.

Road junctions

At road junctions, check to see that no pedestrians are crossing the road into which you are turning, as they have priority and you will have to wait. If there is a Stop sign at the junction, you must stop your car behind the white line and wait until there is a gap in the traffic. If there is a Give Way sign (also shown as a triangle), you must give priority to traffic on the main road. There are also box junctions, where there are yellow lines painted in a box on the road. You can only go into a box if your exit is clear.

Some junctions are controlled by traffic lights, and here the same rules apply as for traffic lights on other roads. A red light means “stop”, and you can only start moving when the light changes to green. After green, the light changes to amber (orange) and you can only continue if your car has already crossed the line and when stopping could cause an accident.


At roundabouts, you go round in a clockwise direction. You have to give priority to traffic coming from the right. You should get in lane according to which exit you need. (If you are leaving at the first exit, get into the left hand lane; if you are leaving at the middle exits, get in the middle lane(s); and get into the right hand lane if you are leaving at the last exit.) Signal left to leave the roundabout after you have passed the exit previous to yours.

Pedestrian crossings

There are two main types of pedestrian crossings. There are zebra crossings (which are marked by white stripes in the road) and there are pelican crossings, where a red flashing light means you have to stop for pedestrians. You can’t park on either type of crossing, and you should give way to pedestrians.

Motorway driving

There are special rules for driving on motorways. In short, learner drivers (those who haven’t yet passed their driving tests) cannot drive on motorways. The speed limit is higher than on other roads, and there are at least three lanes of traffic. You have to take extra care when overtaking, joining or leaving the motorway. If you break down, you should stay in the hard shoulder (a narrow lane on the left) and wait for assistance.