We have written this comprehensive guide – ‘Driving in Ireland Tips and Essential Knowledge‘ for foreign tourists, particularly those from the US that plan on exploring Ireland by car.
In this guide, we set out the main features of driving in Ireland, with specific regard to driving in Dublin, driving in Ireland with a US license, roundabouts, speed limits, drinking and driving, seat belts and parking charges.
Skip to the section you desire using the navigation below:
1. What Are Ireland’s Roads Like?
2. Which Side of the Road Should I Drive On?
3. Driving in Ireland With a US License (also CA and EU)
4. Driving Age Limit
5. Driving in Dublin, Ireland
6. Bringing Your Own Car or Using a Hire/Rental Car?
Driving in Ireland Essential Knowledge
Driving in Ireland Tips
10. Toll Roads
11. Speed Limits in Ireland
13. Roundabouts and Traffic Lights
14. Fuel or Gas
15. Drinking and Driving
16. Penalties For Traffic Offences
17. Seat Belts and Restraints
18. Parking in Ireland
General Information about Driving in Ireland
The Republic of Ireland is a country of astonishing diversity.
Dublin, for example, is a modern European capital with a bustling business district, unparalleled culture in its museums and galleries and amazing restaurants, bars and shopping.
Outside of the major cities, however, there is lush countryside, hauntingly beautiful mountains and a coastline of wild and rugged natural beauty.
This means that the ideal way to explore Ireland is by car.
Driving in any country involves familiarising oneself with local motoring customs to ensure the motorist’s safety and compliance with laws and regulations.
1. What Are Ireland’s Roads Like?
Ireland boasts some of the safest roads in the developed world.
Visitors can be assured of a trouble-free vacation exploring the country’s delights if he or she drives carefully and in tune with the countries speed limits.
You should remain vigilant about local speed limits, avoid drinking and driving, remember to use seat belts when driving and be prepared for parking restrictions and parking charges as well as the idiosyncrasies of the roads and road signs.
With these things in mind, you will enjoy motoring in some of Europe’s – and the world’s most enchanting scenery.
Exactly the same as the UK, vehicles drive on the left side of the road in Ireland.
All overtaking must be done on the right, so no “undertaking” or passing on the left is allowed on roads with more than one lane such as dual-carriageways.
Unless you bring your own car from (say) mainland Europe, all hire cars will be right-hand-drive and have either manual transmission (stick-shift) or automatic.
You should choose which suits you best. Generally, as the driver, sitting on the right of the car leads to a natural position of driving on the left side of the road.
However, you should take extra care at junctions and avoid straying to the right side of a new road when you join it.
On a lighter note, when getting into a stationary car, it is easy to forget which side to get into.
This can be embarrassing, but not as dangerous as driving on the wrong side of the road!
If you are an American driving in Ireland and hold a US, Canadian or EU driving licence then you are able to drive and rent a vehicle on your current licence without further documentation in both North and South Ireland.
The legal age to drive in Ireland is 17.
There are some age and other restrictions on renting cars in Ireland – you must be 21+ to rent a car and if you are under 25 then you will be subject to an insurance surcharge.
Dublin is a small city and all the sights are within walking distance anyway. Public transport such as buses, trams and taxis will serve you much better. In fact this is the same for any city in Ireland.
Incase you are still considering it, bear in mind that parking spaces are at a premium and the traffic is slower than in New York City.
Owing to its remote geographic position, most visitors to Ireland will choose to use a hire car.
Doing so should ensure that you have all the required documentation for the vehicle.
Hiring a car should provide other benefits, including breakdown cover, basic maps of the area and, optionally, a sat nav to help find your way around.
Whenever you are driving, you should carry the following documentation with you:
• Valid driving licence
• Vehicle title document/registration certificate or vehicle rental agreement
• Valid insurance documentation
• Valid Certificate of Roadworthiness
Some of these will be specific to you and/or your own car, whereas some will be provided for you if using a rental.
A few key advantages of renting a car as opposed to bringing your own is that things such as a breakdown warning triangle, fire extinguisher, high-visibility vest and spare bulb kit are usually provided by the car hire company.
We have also published a comprehensive guide to renting a car in Ireland, which will help you organise a suitable vehicle for your trip.
Roads in the Republic are classified by a letter (e.g. M for Motorway) followed by a route number. The four classifications are:
• Motorways (e.g. M7)
• National Roads (e.g. N25)
• Regional Roads (e.g. R611)
• Local Roads (e.g. L4202)
Motorway driving is similar to other European counties. Although more motorways are being built in Ireland, much of it is not yet covered by the motorway network.
There are two types of National roads:
• National Primary routes, which are usually “wide two lane” or occasionally dual carriageway
• National Secondary routes, which are primarily single carriageway
Regional roads usually link smaller towns, and these can be more hazardous as you may encounter many larger vehicles such as trucks and buses – particularly near visitor attractions – servicing these towns.
Local roads are almost exclusively single track and may end in a dead end – particularly near coastal areas.
However, these are the roads which will bring the most pleasure to the visitor, as they are often in the most beautiful parts of the country.
Visitors to Ireland will tend to use the Motorway and National road network to travel between major towns and cities.
This will be particularly true in the early stages of your visit, as they are commonly found around the major ports and airports.
The most scenic parts of the island, though, are away from these better roads and are often single-track roads with passing places.
Visitors will tend to be cautious when driving on these rural roads and may not even drive at the speed limit.
Even so, they should be aware that locals, who are far more familiar with these roads, may drive at speeds considerably greater than visitors do.
This can be dangerous if meeting an on-coming local or simply frustrating for locals who are following the more cautious visitor.
In this latter case, you may wish to pull in occasionally to let traffic pass.
This can also be very beneficial for the visitor if you chose a spot with an excellent view of the local scenery.
Therefore, it is expected that most visitors will want to visit these areas and consequently have to drive on the local and unclassified roads.
Although initially this may seem quite daunting, you should not be afraid to do so: as long as you pay attention and take things gently, you will have a safe and thoroughly enjoyable drive on these roads.
Other tips are:
• Don’t try to keep up with the locals.
• Be aware of potential hazards and always expect the unexpected, such as a slow agricultural vehicle or a flock of sheep in the middle of the road.
The National Roads Authority and Dublin City Council mange the toll roads in the Republic of Ireland.
Generally you will pay for the toll at the gate as you drive through (Disabled drivers are exempt from charges).
One exception is the M50 eFlow Barrier-Free System.
This is a barrier-free toll system on the M50 ring road around Dublin. Your vehicle’s licence plate number is photographed and it is your responsibility to pay the toll fee before 8pm the next day, either online, in branded Payzone outlets or by LoCall 1890 501050.
Motorists don’t usually want to fall foul of the law, especially when on holiday since the consequences can ruin the whole experience.
Speed limits in Ireland are in kilometres per hour and can be summarised as:
• Motorway (Blue Signs) – 120 km/h 75 mph;
• National Roads (Green signs) – 100 km/h 62 mph;
• Regional/Local Roads (White Signs) – 80 km/h 50 mph;
• Towns and Cities – 50 km/h 31 mph
You may also find other speed restrictions in specific areas, such as close to a school.
In towns and cities, you will find speed enforcement cameras and also on the national and regional roads.
Local police may also set up temporary mobile speed traps in both urban and rural areas.
If you want to avoid a heavy fine, you should keep within the limits.
These are indicated when entering the restricted area.
Unlike the UK, for example, there is no universal sign to signify the end of a speed limit. Instead, as you leave one speed limit area, the new limit is shown.
Overtaking is only allowed on the right, even on dual carriageways and motorways, where you are not allowed to “undertake” on the left.
Overtaking can be a dangerous manoeuvre and needs to be carried out with care.
This is particularly important if you are driving a right-hand-drive car when you are most familiar with left-hand-drive.
You should allow plenty of time to perform the overtake, and this may mean you need to wait for a suitable straight section of road – something which may be less common in Ireland than in other more open countries such as the US.
You should be aware that others (particularly locals) may be driving at a faster speed than you and wish to overtake you or may be over taking another car when they are on the other side of the road and approaching at a high speed.
Around towns and cities, you will en counter roundabouts and traffic lights.
Although similar to their equivalents in Europe, there may be differences which need to be taken into account.
Indeed, for visitors from the United States, these may be entirely new experiences.
At all roundabouts you must proceed in an anti-clockwise direction and give priority to traffic already on the roundabout.
For roundabouts where there is more than one lane of traffic, you should take care to arrive at the roundabout in the correct lane for the direction you wish to leave it.
If turning left off the roundabout, you should approach in the left lane, and if turning right, approach in the right lane.
If leaving straight ahead, things may not always be so simple, and you should pay great attention to any road marking or signs which indicate the correct lane as you approach.
Mini-roundabouts (which are increasing in number) may cause an extra challenge for drivers due to other traffic being much closer than at the larger traditional roundabout, so you will have less time to react.
In urban areas and occasionally at major junctions on some National roads, you will come across traffic lights. In general, the colours are the same as used in other countries and have the same meaning.
Petrol (gas) stations are widely available throughout Ireland, and all accept major credit and debit cards.
They may not be so frequent on Motorways, so it is advisable to ensure your tank is filled before setting off.
You will generally find locals extremely helpful and delighted to help you with directions, road signs and other questions.
They will also be fully aware of the rules and customs relating to speed limits, drinking and driving and parking charges and will be happy to explain anything you encounter which seems unclear.
The law on drink-driving in Ireland is strict, and the police (Gardai) carry out regular checks.
In 2011 the restrictions were tightened in the name of safety and the legal limit for alcohol was lowered to 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.
This means that just one alcoholic drink — a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a single measure of spirits — could push many motorists over the legal limit.
This is much lower than the limit in many other countries, so it’s important to be careful.
The wisest course of action is to not drink at all if you are going to be driving.
Of the 27 European states, only the UK, Ireland and Denmark refused to sign an agreement for reciprocal penalties for traffic offences.
However, the Republic has mutual recognition of driving disqualifications with the UK.
Therefore, if a UK driver is disqualified from driving in Ireland, the disqualification will also apply at home.
The driver will be informed of any remaining period of disqualification due to be served in the UK, and the driving licence must be surrendered until the disqualification period has been served in full.
It is an offence to drive in the UK during the period of disqualification.
If you are caught by a speed camera while speeding in a rental car, the authorities will contact your rental company, who will then pass on the fine notice to you when you return the car.
Seat belts provide the best protection in accidents, and the general rule in relation to passenger or goods vehicles is that, where belts are fitted, they must be worn.
It is especially important if you’re driving a car carrying children that you make sure they wear seat belts and that the belts are in working order, or that younger children are provided with appropriate child restraints.
A child restraint is a device designed for use by a child weighing 36kg or less.
The restraint is fitted directly to a suitable belt or is held in place by the action of a safety belt, which in turn restrains movement in the event of an accident or incident.
It needs to be appropriate for the weight of the child. The weight range is indicated on the child restraint. Examples of appropriate restraint systems are baby car seats and booster cushions.
Parking regulations are made locally and vary widely in different parts of Ireland. These regulations are enforced by parking/traffic wardens.
Cars parked illegally may be clamped or even towed away and impounded, requiring payment of a fine before the vehicle is released.
You should generally assume that parking on streets in most towns and cities will be very restricted and the parking charges steep, particularly around tourist attractions.
A double yellow line means no parking is allowed, while a single yellow line means that parking is allowed at particular times.
There will be signs outlining the restrictions, but these aren’t always easy to understand.
If in doubt, use clearly identified car parks and do not leave your car unattended on a road which has parking restrictions, as you may find that it has a ticket or even been towed away when you return.
Paying for Parking
Where parking is allowed, you will generally have to pay.
Car parks may be at ground level or multi-storey, and some may be underground in city centres.
They usually have a machine at the barrier you take a ticket from when you enter the car park.
When you return, you put the ticket into another machine and the fee for the time you were parked is calculated.
On payment of this fee (which may be via cash or by credit or debit card), your ticket is validated and returned so that you can put it into the machine at the exit barrier.
In Dublin and Cork, you may see electronic signs, particularly as you enter the city, which advise drivers where car parks are located and how many spaces are available.
On-Street Parking in Ireland
Paying for on-street parking is done via a pay-and-display machine which is situated at the roadside close to the parking area.
Generally with these, you pay the appropriate fee for however long you want to stay (usually cash, so make sure you have sufficient loose change available as many will not provide change).
You will then be issued with a ticket indicating the expiry time, and you should display this ticket prominently in your vehicle (usually on the dashboard or in the driver’s door window).
Wardens patrol these areas to check that tickets have not expired. If they have, then they will issue a fine.
Parking is not allowed near junctions, in bus lanes or close to traffic lights or pedestrian crossings, and you have to have a European Disabled Drivers parking sticker if you want to use parking spaces for the disabled.
Enjoy Driving in the Emerald Isle
We hope that you have found our guide to driving in Ireland helpful and informative, and we look forward to welcoming you soon.
Ireland’s roads are safe, and the locals extremely helpful.
The key to a safe, comfortable trip is driving with as much care and attention as you would at home.
The laws relating to speed limits, drinking and driving and parking charges are generally there for your safety and protection, and compliance will help you to enjoy your trip around our beautiful isle.