The Unix Nerd's Domain
Driving in The Highlands of Scotland
The roads in the Highlands are like few others in the world. They pass through some remote and beautiful scenery but they do need a little special care. Incidentally, get your petrol in major towns as it can be a lot more expensive in remote areas.
A typical single track road near Inverness.
The biggest problem you will face on main roads is overtaking. There are almost no dual carriageways in the Highlands and to progress at a reasonable pace you are going to have to overtake slow moving trucks. In the summer the major tourist routes can get reasonably busy, the best solution to this is to use the more scenic minor roads and relax.
When overtaking on holiday remember that your car is heavier than normal due to all that luggage and passengers and you won't be able to accelerate as fast as normal. Don't let frustration force you to overtake if you are in any doubt as to the safety of the manouvre or you don't have a clear view. Just move back and relax until you come to a straight. Equally if you do have a chance to overtake you should take it to avoid delaying those behind you.
Minor roads in the Highlands can be very narrow and are prone to blind summits and dips. Every corner may conceal a huge articulated lorry bearing down upon you. Just because a road is narrow it doesn't mean it isn't going to be carrying large goods vehicles. Beware of slow moving tractors especially.
Where the terrain permits try to look a few corners ahead to see if they is any oncoming traffic. Forewarned is forearmed. On blind corners always take the outside line and be prepared to make way or even stop to let large vehicles pass.
Highland roads can twist and turn unpredictably and corners can change radius or camber half way through, keep your wits about you. If you want to look at the scenery then stop for a while and enjoy it, keep your attention on the road when driving
Single track roads have one very simple rule, whoever can let the other pass easiest gives way. If you are nearer a passing place than the opposing traffic then you move into it and wait, even if you have to reverse. Busses and lorries always have right of way in practice. Be courteous.
You shouldn't use roadside passing places to stop and have a picnic! Blocking a passing place can cause hinderance to other drivers and is also illegal.
Also, beware of wet cattle grids and old wooden bridges. You have very little grip on these hazards and should always cross them in a straight line. If you try to steer whilst crossing you will loose grip from the front wheels and then the back resulting in an interesting situation.
Unforunately the Northern Constabulary are less enlightened than many southern forces where speeding is concerned. Heavy fines will be incurred and speeds over 100 mph will almost certainly result in a ban, luckily such speeds aren't possible in many places. There are currently no fixed speed traps in the Highlands but the Police do have the normal inaccurate hand held radars. Possesion of a radar detector used to be illegal but this was recently overturned in court. Don't expect any leniancy from the Police if you use one and get caught speeding though! An alert eyeball anyway is often more use anyway. If you want to drive quickly do it carefully and be vigilant. Many drivers will flash their headlights at oncoming cars to warn of speedtraps ahead.
A Highland speed trap at road works.
Beware of three thin black wires laid out across the road. This is a speed trap connected by radio to a hidden Police car. This setup was reportedly tested on the Cromarty Bridge in 1996. It must have worked well because it's now in major use all over the A9!
Fixed installations of three piezo-electric strips one metre apart are buried across one carriageway. They show up as three small ridges in the road and aren't hard to spot once you know what to look for. There is a small box about two feet high by the side of the road. An unmarked vehicle, often a dirty small white van, connects to this. The vehicle has a video camera and two Policemen inside. It is not used on dual carriageways yet. All traps are in 60mph zones on long straights. Several Scottish forces now use these.
Known locations on the A9:
The major weapon in the war against speeding tourists is the unmarked traffic car. These are normally large fairly new Saab, Vauxhall or Ford saloons, Inverness Police have several Volvo 850s. They can often be spotted by virtue of their twin rear view mirrors, lack of personal touches such as stickers and luggage and two occupants. Beware of recent model large saloon cars parked in laybys. They love to sit in the laybys around Daviot on the A9.
Another new one is a white van parked at the side of the road with the side window open and a laser gun pointed down the road. This can get traffic in both directions.
Aberdeenshire Police favour mobile Gatsos. They hide them behind wheelie bins in farm entrances on the A96 and immediately after bridges. The single carriageway near Inveriurie is a bad area for these.
While the courts and the society in general have an upalling attitude towards motorists the Police themselves are generally alright. Be polite, honest and courteous and you won't make things worse. Don't try and be clever it doesn't work, the Police aren't responsible for the laws they enforce after all and they don't have an easy job.
Safe driving can best be practiced by keeping a good distance from the vehicle in front and having a break when you're tired. This is much more important than the enforcement of some arbitrary speed limit. Always slow down when going over blind summits and round blind corners. Sheep and deer on the road can be a problem in some areas. Beware of deer on the road at night in valley bottoms.
In the Highlands you will often be far from emergency services. I drive a lot on isolated roads and have been the first on the scene at three bad accidents, one fatal. While the law in Scotland doesn't require the carriage of the following items I wouldn't drive without them.
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