Okay, if you’re from the UK, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is. Well, the main question I was asked after moving to England by my American friends was, “What is it like to drive there?” so I thought I’d write a post on it. I must admit that was some time ago that I first decided to write this, but I put it off. Lately, I haven’t been able to do much traveling with the weather and other factors which means, I am finally doing the driving post.
When we first arrived, we had to take a quick driving course. I say driving course, but they gave us a book of road laws we were supposed to read (translated: I read it and then corrected my husband because he never found the time to read it) and we had someone lecture us for about two hours. We then took a quick test and as long as we scored over 70%, we received our “drivers license” (I read the book and my husband scored better than I did. Of course, it doesn’t bother me one bit 😉 ). Mind you, this isn’t a UK drivers license. It’s a card with our cars listed by make, model, and colour that gives us the right to purchase gas/petrol on the US bases–a big deal when you look at the price difference and then calculate based on the current exchange rate! And just in case people didn’t know, gas is not sold here by the gallon but by the litre!
Anyway, the first thing the instructor told us when he started was that if an animal jumps in front of your car, take it out. It’s you or the animal. When you look at the roads here, it really is! Roads rarely have a shoulder like in the United States (not even the motorways which are like our interstates), and on the edge they can have a curb/kerb, just grass, in some cases a dry fence (stones), or a hedgerow. If you try to swerve for an animal, you are likely to either wind up colliding with something on the side of the road or you hit another car head on. Not a fun prospect. In the fens, you also have huge ditches on either side of the road–I mean 15-20 feet deep in places. These fill up with water during rainy times, so a real hazard if you run off the road. We hear horror stories of people killed on those roads at times.
Now, I do say that he told us to take out the animal, but I admit it is hard. The first time I saw a muntjac (a tiny deer) that was about to jump out, I gripped the steering wheel and tried not to look at it as I waited for the impact. Fortunately, it didn’t come. I suppose he or she thought better of his harrowing plan to cross the busy road and turned back into the forest. I have seen enough on the side of the road to know that many don’t think better of their plan.
The other time I had a near wildlife tragedy, I was driving home late at night and caught a glimpse of something moving. I slammed on my brakes just shy of a tiny hedgehog crossing the road. My husband and I watched it cross while we chuckled at how cute it was, but he did fuss when the hedgehog was gone. After all, I was wrong. If it had been during the day, we would have probably been rear-ended since that road is quite busy.
Other than playing Carmageddon with the animals of the UK, driving here is simply an adjustment. In the US we have stop lights, here they have roundabouts. There are stop lights but they are not nearly as common as in the US.
In the US, we have stop signs and here, they “give way.” Give way road signs and symbols painted on the roads are everywhere. Stop signs are rare and if you see one, be careful because that is likely a dangerous intersection or a stop sign wouldn’t be there.
A similar question that I’m asked often is, “Is it weird to drive on the other side of the road?” Answer, yes, for a time. I think I had a longer adjustment since I drove a US spec car for a time and on occasion would drive my husband’s UK spec car. I was driving on the same side of the road, but swapping the driver’s seat. It was disconcerting. One day your driving and sitting on the side of the road and the other on the centre line. I recently sold my US spec car and bought a UK spec, so I don’t have that problem anymore. It’s nice that we’re allowed to bring over one car from the United States, but driving it here is another issue. I had a Honda Odyssey, which was tight to manoeuvre in car parks (parking lots) and long for most of the parking spaces. The worst was when my teenage daughter decided she was going to ride in the front seat. Because of the lack of shoulder, a lot of people hug the centre line and cross it quite often on some roads. It scared me to death having her sit in the front passenger’s seat of a US model car. Too many lorries (lorry can be anything from an 18-wheeler to a garbage truck) and large vans that will hog the road when it narrows. I still feel pushed to the side at times, but at least I’m on the centre line and not her!
Another problem with US cars here is overtaking (passing). You can’t see around the car in front of you from the side of the road, and often people pull out around the vehicle in front to see if their clear. A lot of US cars get in bad head-on collisions this way. You can also say, well, I won’t pass, but it’s not realistic. We have to go around huge tractors on rural roads as well as cars parked in the craziest of places at times. There is no way to live here without passing.
I don’t know if I’ve answered most people’s questions (if you had any to begin with), but feel free to ask me in the comments if there is something I haven’t mentioned. There are a few other questions I get asked, but I will save that for another post. How to use a roundabout for example… well, I’ll explain that next time 🙂