Scotland is a pretty large country with a small population. It has the lowest population density in the UK, and of the 5.3 million people living here, over 4 million people live in cities. As a result, rural Scotland is a wild and remote place.
While there are large roads that connect key areas across the country, they tend to connect the cities and towns. But if you venture north or find yourself exploring the highlands, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself driving on a single track road. In fact, in the far north, even the main roads aren’t wide enough for two cars.
With the rise in popularity of the North Coast 500 route around the north coast of Scotland, these roads are getting busier and busier, and many of the drivers using them are less experienced than the locals. While driving on single track roads is nothing to be afraid of, it is an unusual driving experience and there are some official rules to follow, as well as general etiquette that will make your roadtrip easier, safer and more enjoyable.
In this article, we’ll outline everything you need to know about how to drive on single track roads in Scotland, so that you’re well prepared for your next road-trip!
A single track road is a two-way road that is only wide enough for one vehicle. Because cars can travel in both directions, single track roads have regular ‘passing places’ to allow cars to overtake a car travelling the same direction, or pass a car travelling in the opposite direction. These passing places are typically spaces about 100-400 metres apart, depending on the road.
Legally, you are permitted to drive at 60mph (97km/h) on most single track roads. If the speed limit is lower, this is shown on a street sign. However, single track roads tend to be found in the more remote parts of Scotland, and as such they are usually narrow with tight, winding turns. Typically, they have more uneven road-surface and due to their location, can be subjected to some particularly adverse weather conditions. That means you’ll probably be safer driving below the speed limit on most single track roads.
It is also worth noting that the drink-drive limit in Scotland is very strict. Just one glass of wine or beer is likely to put you over the limit. Although single track roads are in remote areas, and many of the pubs and bars are extremely remote, the law still applies. If you have to drive, we’d recommend not drinking at all.
Passing places are easy to spot and are clearly marked with a white, diamond-shaped sign labelled with the words ‘Passing Place’.
The Highway Code outlines two basic rules for using passing places on single track roads. These are covered under Rule 155 & 156.
Rule 155 states that “If you see a vehicle coming towards you, or the driver behind wants to overtake, pull into a passing place on your left, or wait opposite a passing place on your right.”
Rule 156 is even more basic; “Do not park in passing places”.
However, while the rules are important to know, there’s also some etiquette that will ensure you avoid any trouble.
Firstly, the golden rule is to use passing places wherever possible. Don’t be tempted to pull onto the verge, as this can cause damage to the road and to the surrounding landscape.
As a general rule, the person with a passing place nearest to them should give way to oncoming traffic. In the UK, we drive on the left hand side of the road. Therefore, you should only pull into a passing place that is on your left hand side. If an oncoming vehicle needs to pass, and there is no passing place on your left, you should wait on the road, adjacent to a passing place on the right hand side. The oncoming car can then pull into the passing place, and pass your vehicle safely.
Passing places are usually long enough for more than one vehicle, so try and pull forward to allow any cars behind you to tuck in and allow oncoming cars to pass too.
Although many single track roads cut through some of the most stunning landscapes Scotland has to offer, resist the temptation to park in a passing place. They are essential to the road working as it should, and there are usually legal parking places at the best viewpoints, amenities and at the start of most major hiking routes.
The Highway code specifies that you should give way to vehicles that are travelling uphill wherever possible.
Besides that, it’s down to common sense.
If you are the only car driving in your direction, but two cars are coming towards you, it’s easier for you to stop and let them pass.
Equally, if the oncoming vehicle is towing a caravan or trailer, it is easier for you to pull in or reverse to allow them to pass.
Sometimes, you’ll find that you spot a car in the distance, and neither of you are beside a passing place and you both keep driving. It can help to indicate, to show that you intend to pull over at the next passing place, or flash your lights to the oncoming driver to let them know you intend to let them pass.
Occasionally, you’ll find yourself at a standoff, with both cars unwilling or unable to pull over. In this case, you may have to reverse to the nearest passing place.
Yes, but only if the car in front of you is willing to pull over and let you pass.
Many single track roads show police warnings that ask drivers to be considerate and allow overtaking, but there is no specific law stating this.
However, there’s nothing worse than having another car hard on your tail, so allow other cars to pass and, hopefully, they will do the same for you.
Firstly, get comfortable reversing. You will certainly have to reverse to find a passing place at some point, and when you do, you’ll be on a narrow, winding road. Make sure you can reverse safely.
Also look out for road signs and gates. Many single track roads suffer the worst of the Scottish weather, and may be liable to icing or snow during the winter months. Often, these roads will be closed completely during particularly bad storms. If you are driving a large or heavy vehicle, you might find that they are unsuitable for some roads. This is usually clearly marked on a road sign.
Finally, pay attention. Sure, the scenery is amazing, and there aren’t many cars sharing the road, but it’s very common to turn a corner and find a flock of sheep or a herd of Highland cows standing in the middle of the road. They don’t obey the highway code, and they won’t reverse, so drive safely. If you’re stuck behind them, you’ll just have to be patient and hope they move out of your way!
And now that you can confidently drive Scotlands single track roads, why not head up to one of the most spectacular - the Bealach Na Bà.