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A UK newcomer's guide to driving in Birmingham

Birmingham (or Brum as you’ll soon come to call it) is a popular place to settle for many who are new to the UK. In fact, just over 6% of the UK newcomers who took out a policy with us in 2023 live at a Birmingham address. That’s the highest percentage from one place. 

Like any large well-connected city, it can be a bit daunting to drive around when you first arrive. But not for long. Here are some things to watch out for when getting on the roads in Birmingham - you’ll be driving like a local in no time.

Spaghetti Junction (Gravelly Hill Interchange)

One of Birmingham’s most infamous landmarks is the Gravelly Hill Interchange – more commonly known as ‘Spaghetti Junction’. You only need to see it to get why it’s a good nickname. This intimidating tangle of roads is where the M6, A38, and A5127 meet, plus a bunch of other minor roads into the city centre. 

True to its name, Spaghetti Junction is one of the most complicated and challenging places to drive in the UK. Our advice for newcomers? Stay calm, allow time for a lot of traffic and use a reliable GPS to help you navigate. And don’t overtake the lorries. 

Clean Air Zone (CAZ)

Birmingham's city centre has a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in place. This means that vehicles that don’t meet specific emissions standards get charged a daily fee, so it’s essential to check if your vehicle is compliant before entering the city centre. If not you’ll need to pay the charge, otherwise you may get an unexpected fine in the post. 

The Clean Air Zone mostly covers the area inside the A4540 Middleway Ring Road that circles the city centre. So if you live or work in this area it’s a good idea to only look at compliant models when you’re buying your first car in the UK.

Check if your car is compliant

Middleway Ring Road (A4540)

Note: this is NOT a roundabout. A ‘ring road’ is a series of interconnected roads that circle a town or city, so drivers can avoid travelling through the centre. Birmingham’s ring road is particularly large, so it’s often very busy and can be confusing for first-timers to navigate. Pay close attention to junctions and exits, try to stay in the correct lane – and expect traffic at peak times.

Grand Central (Birmingham New Street)

This is Birmingham’s main rail station in the heart of the city. Aside from being a very busy area for traffic, you’ll also find that there are lots of bus lanes in operation at different times. This means that sometimes it’s okay to drive in them, but other times might cost you a £60 fine. Keep an eye on the signage – it lists all the times they’re active.  

Happy driving!