L.L. Diamond

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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!

No shoulder! Kerbs!

No shoulder! Kerbs!

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.

IMGP6871Other 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 🙂

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Driving in England

  1. Michelle Hall says:

    Hahaha found that very amusing as I live in England and drive. However, you summed it up very well. I would never hit an animal and I would definitely swerve and take the consequences. However, you sound as if you are doing really well and getting the hang of it!!!

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    1. I responded to this, but I guess with the issues I had last night the reply was lost somehow. I figured it would be kind of a funny post for those who are from the UK, but it is the most common question I get. I’ve heard about the UK drivers test though. I’m glad I didn’t have to take that! I had a bad habit of hitting kerbs when I first began driving!

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  2. Linnea Smith says:

    I only almost killed us once when I was learning to drive in England.

    I personally found the hardest thing to get correctly was when I was driving on a one-way street and came to an interaction where I had to turn left. I had to stop and think to not pull out to the far side of the road and thus into head on traffic. I never did get the names correct of all the different types of crosswalks.

    When I moved back to the US and came to a round-a-bout, I struggled going counterclockwise.

    Sometimes you just can’t win.

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    1. OH! We have a one way here and at the end, I usually make a right hand turn. That’s where I always messed up. It was so easy just to hug that curb for the right. I’m not looking forward to adjusting back at all! Thanks, Linnea!

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  3. Loved the post! That sounds pretty scary, the deep ditches filled with water! So lucky that we don’t have to worry about that where we are. And you were so brave to drive a US spec car, especially while overtaking. We drove in Europe in a UK car once, and it was a nightmare that I had to tell my husband if it was safe to go or not. In the end I gave up and only offered to tell him when it was safe to slide out far enough for him to decide if he could carry on overtaking. The best bit was when he made a wrong move and an irate driver started shouting at me something that looked suspiciously like abuse of the dumb woman-driver.It was fun to wave my hands up in the air and point at the non-existent wheel in front of me 😀

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    1. The lodes are pretty bad and the wet ground makes the road sink into the ground in places, which makes it bumpy and more treacherous. A family was killed just before we arrived because they flipped into the lode. We actually took our US minivan to Ramsgate when we drove through. We were stopped at probably the only light in the town and the police adjacent to us did a double take because I was sitting in the passenger seat with my feat on the dashboard. My husband and I had a huge laugh over that one! Thanks, Joana!

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  4. Glynis says:

    This is so right Leslie and why I don’t like driving. I live on the Derbyshire/Cheshire border near Lyme Park and some places nearby have what they laughingly call ‘traffic calming’ where they have random bits of pavement sticking out into the road and parking spaces. They do have a white line but there is no way you can fit on the right side of it so you just have to judge the size of oncoming vehicles and decide whether to risk it or not. I only have a little car but it feels a lot bigger sometimes and I do spend a lot of time breathing in while I squeeze through.😱

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    1. We don’t have the traffic calming bits a lot here, but we do have some. Those make no sense to me whatsoever. I always wonder how many people run into those while drunk! I will say that around Cheshire and Derbyshire, the narrow windy roads and the dry fences scared the daylights out of me at times. People drive crazy fast too! Thanks, Glynis!

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  5. Anji says:

    Oh the perils of driving on the wrong side of the road! As a native Brit, I obviously don’t have to think about driving on the left, but found driving on the right took some getting used to when we had a holiday in the US a few years ago. Turning left at intersections seemd very traumatic and totally counter intuitive. I also wondered, at the time, why we came across virtually no roundabouts whatsoever.

    When it comes to hitting animals who venture out into the road, it very much depends on their size, the road in question and what other traffic is around. I once had a very close encounter with a full grown deer on my way to work one morning. It ran across from right to left between my car and the one about 50 yards in front. If I’d hit it, the size of the animal would have meant major damage to my car so I was standing on the brake pedal so hard that my rear end lifted off the seat! I was also saying (actually, shouting”, to the deer, “Don’t stop, don’t stop!” Fortunately, it didn’t but it was a close call and I was quite shaken up by the incident.

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    1. I know what you mean about the turns being counter intuitive! I do agree about the animals. Around here, we usually get pigeons, muntjacs, hedgehogs, and badgers on the sides of the road. Fortunately, nothing too large. It’s like that in Texas though. You have to choose between your car and the deer, who can cause major damage. Thanks, Anji!

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      1. Anji says:

        Oh yes, and as we live in Yorkshire, there’s the added hazard of dry stone walls in many of the rural areas. If they’re not maintained properly they can tumble down and end up on the road.

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  6. Carole in Canada says:

    Oh you are so brave! I remember in 2008 when my husband and I decided to do our (my) dream trip to Scotland. We rented a car for the first 10 days and I am so glad we did that first. The rental guy actually drove us to where we had to get on the highway. The highway part was fine, but once we got off, the roads were soooo narrow and having a big lorry coming at you was rather intimidating. It took me the first 5 days to relax when we were driving around visiting the abbeys and castles. The roundabouts were not really a problem once you got the hang of them and you went around twice until you found your exit. The first time we went through one though, I made sure to hold up the map I was looking at so they knew we were tourists and wouldn’t get overly upset with us! The driving on the Isle of Skye was amazing not just for the scenery but having to pull off to the passing area (not sure if that is the correct term) and then to make sure a sheep didn’t decide to cross the road in front of you! As for the rest of our trip, we spent it on a barge cruise on the Caledonian Canal where I could really unwind and relax!

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    1. Sounds like a great trip! You’re right though, once you adjust, it’s usually not so bad. Thanks, Carole!

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  7. You brought back memories of driving in Europe. I loved you explanations of reasoning behind the rules of the road.

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