Tag Archives: driving in Europe

Mind your p’s and q’s

imageI wish that Australians showed more manners sometimes…. I thought that the Chilean ‘politeness’ was simply a cultural thing, as we often had anyone from a teenager to an adult offer us seats when we were out as a family..it .didn’t matter where it was, whether it was the local pool, on the metro etc.  Then we got to London and I soon discovered that even in a city with a population of over 8 million, here were another bunch of really courteous people… whenever we were on the tube someone always offered a seat to either myself or the kids and everyone knows that spare seats in the tube are rare.

Sure we might be a bit miffed and joke about the overly organised societal rules that can exist –the almost iconic ‘mind the gap’ (although its no longer continuously broadcast over the PA), ‘keep to the left’, the specific doors you have to enter or exit when catching a double decker bus. The refusal (either wittingly or unwittingly) to comply with any of the above can at best be met with a rude glare or an abrupt excuse me, and  at worst, well find out at your peril!!    These matters can be taken into one’s own hands and might even  be the cause of a riot…….In one instance, I witnessed a bus driver refusing to drive until one  passenger (an older lady) got off and re-entered the bus again through the entry not the exit doors.. Well, all manners went out the window, and it caused everyone much grief. For ten minutes there was lots of grumbling, swearing, insults, sides taken, and I could foresee a fight to break out…and all for what? I even joined in with a “come on mate, it doesn’t really matter, does it?” (as I felt it my duty to remind him of his duty; to drive the bus!) Oh yes, for someone with staunch principles…everything matters, either that, or the bus driver was having an exceptionally bad day…..

Aside from these rare moments, when it comes to driving etiquette, a similar politeness and courteousness takes place on the roads too. On the motorway in the UK, people keep to the left, overtake in the right lane and generally, are mostly good natured even though the traffic can be hideous and the conditions not so great especially in winter time with fog, black ice, early darkness.

Australians have generally had a great record when it comes to road safety especially with the introduction of child safety seat laws, mandatory seat belts (as early as the 1970s) and compulsory helmets for bike riders (who could forget the stack hats of the 80s). Currently, the governments latest target as the biggest killer on the roads is speeding, and anything above 5kms over the speed limit gets you a hefty fine, yes even on the free way/motorway.

So what does this lead to??? A bunch of angry, frustrated, impatient and arrogant drivers..and 3 lanes of traffic on a free way ALL driving at the same pace, give or take a couple of kms depending on the accuracy of your car’s speedo.

There are the drivers who refuse to move out of the right (overtaking lane) because they are doing the speed limit, so why should they, would come the reply.

There are the drivers going slow (still in the right lane), who can’t quite make the transition to the middle/left lanes, partly because there’s few gaps in the traffic (cars are all going just under 100 kms) and they seem to miss every opportunity and partly because in 186 kms or so they will be taking a right turn exit off the free way so why move now only to move later.

Then there are the arrogant drivers who are in the right lane also, who refuse to budge, because after all, they pay taxes and the right lane is just as much theirs as anyone else’s.  So is anyone driving in the left lane you ask? Well, that’s what I’d like to know…

So what does this create? Road rage, reckless driving, undertaking, tailgating, lots of raised fingers, hand shaking out the window, high stress levels, high blood pressure, headlights flashing, horns beeping, low morale, low cash flow (camera’s are everywhere) and basically some very dangerous driving conditions. Even when I’m driving at home on a free way, I’m torn between yelling at the driver in front, to get the hell out of the right lane and back to the left and to the driver behind me to back off unless he wants to pay my fine and cop my demerit points…

100 or 105 kms, is it really a speeding hazard or a revenue raising venture?? Sure, in residential areas it’s important to keep driving to a minimum safe speed especially where there are schools, parks nearby, families out walking, kids out playing etc. But on a free way?? Surely the danger is in a driver who is distracted, not concentrating, driving dangerously or driving at ridiculous speeds…

We have witnessed in awe at the driving that can take place in other countries…. even amongst the more arrogant EU countries that we won’t name. The speed limit is usually anywhere from 110 to 130 kms (in Germany we found no speed limit freeway!).  Drivers generally as a norm seem to go at an average 110/115kms regardless.   Of course there are always the drivers that push the limits and go much faster regardless of the speed restrictions (this happens every where in the world).    We found that drivers generally  keep left (or right depending on which country your in), keep the fast lane for overtaking and will move very quickly out of the way when another car is in sight…And you know what?  It works….. in 2010, the road death toll was 3 per 100,000 in Great Britain, compared with 6  per 100,000 in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, Australia’s record is quite good in comparison to some countries, but it’s also quite average compared to others despite its strict speed regulations.

The other day while driving back into London after a weekend away in the countryside, my husband pointed in disbelief to the  strange scene ahead of us….. “did you see that… the car in the left lane slowed right down to let the merging car in”… and you know what, there was no honking, screeching, yelling, anger… just polite road manners….I’d like to see more of that. Sure as Australians we have big roads, big country, big cars but do we need the big egos?!