Some Thoughts after 5,363 Miles of Driving on the Left
While on Holiday ['Vacation'] Allow enough time for your body clock to adjust before getting behind the wheel.
We like to have a minimum of three or four days before driving a car in
Britain. If possible, avoid collecting
['picking-up'] your hired ['rented'] car in the larger city centres ['downtown' areas]. In spite of the surcharges for hiring a car at airports, if we can organise
['arrange'] it, we try to start and end at airports. Advantages... The first
few minutes can be spent at low speed in the car park ['parking lot']
getting the feel of the car before venturing out. The
roadways nr ['near'] airports tend to be very clearly marked. Similarly,
airports themselves are clearly signposted so it is easy to find where it is
you arranged for the return. We hope that you won't have to use this next bit of information... 'Pay
and Display' Car Parks Direction Indicators Visitors will find that traffic travels at speeds which are - for drivers
from the States - uncomfortably fast for conditions. When reaction
time is added to the equation, it is a 'given' that using direction
indicators ['turn signals']
properly can help to avert accidents. For some reason, the average American driver has in recent years tended to
all but forget to use turn signals appropriately ...if at all.
American drivers tending to lack a presence of mind and awareness of
...Being a page of tourist Driving Tips that you will probably not find in the guide books.
Allow enough time for your body clock to adjust before getting behind the wheel. We like to have a minimum of three or four days before driving a car in Britain.
If possible, avoid collecting ['picking-up'] your hired ['rented'] car in the larger city centres ['downtown' areas].
In spite of the surcharges for hiring a car at airports, if we can organise ['arrange'] it, we try to start and end at airports.
Advantages... The first few minutes can be spent at low speed in the car park ['parking lot'] getting the feel of the car before venturing out. The roadways nr ['near'] airports tend to be very clearly marked. Similarly, airports themselves are clearly signposted so it is easy to find where it is you arranged for the return.
We hope that you won't have to use this next bit of information...
'Pay and Display' Car Parks
Visitors will find that traffic travels at speeds which are - for drivers from the States - uncomfortably fast for conditions. When reaction time is added to the equation, it is a 'given' that using direction indicators ['turn signals'] properly can help to avert accidents.
For some reason, the average American driver has in recent years tended to all but forget to use turn signals appropriately ...if at all. American drivers tending to lack a presence of mind and awareness of
When driving in Britain, stay alert, think ahead and let 'em know where you are headed by signaling properly.
In general, good practice suggests that it takes three blinks of the direction indicator before other drivers become aware of your intentions.
Direction Indicators and Roundabouts
For example, let us say that you are in the inner lane of a roundabout and planning on doing a '360'. That is, going all the way around so that you and your navigator can sort out ['determine'] which exit you need to take.
The correct procedure is to leave your right direction indicator ['turn signal'] blinking to indicate that you - at this time - will continue going in a circle.
As you change from the inner to the nearside ['left'] lane, use your left turn signal to indicate your intention to do so.
Immediately upon completing the lane change, turn the signal off if you will not be taking the next exit.
Then, as you are approaching your selected turn off, turn on your left direction indicator immediately after you pass the exit just before the one you want. To signal any earlier would be to indicate that you will be taking the next possible exit!
As visitors to Britain, we have admittedly made our share of silly driving mistakes. The fortunate fact that there were no accidents is testimony to British driving skills and the patience and courtesy of British drivers.
Learner drivers in Britain are required to display an 'L' sign on their cars to let other motorists know that they are still acquiring their skills.
Absent a 'T' sign, the hapless tourist
In the late 1960s the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) and the Highways Agency sponsored a 'Courtesy on the Road'
'Oops! Sorry' hand signal of apology: Offending driver raises his/her left hand, palm forward.
Additionally, you might want to make a slight, 'sheepish' nod of your head along with the hand signal of apology.
An observation: It is not difficult to understand why this hand signal would be 'instantly and intuitively recognised as an admission of guilt and contrition'. Readers will recall the 'not to be trifled with' teacher of their grammar school days who asked the students 'Who did that?' Appreciating that only honesty could mitigate their deserved punishment, the offending student would raise their hand, palm forward.
Cheers and Thanks!
Having experienced an act of driving courtesy, remember to give the other driver a wave of your left (so as to be more readily seen) hand along with a big smile communicating - albeit silently - 'Cheers and Thank you!'
A friend of ours in England recalled the time when he was driving a business associate from the Colonies (i.e. America) around Wales for several days. The business associate remarked that our friend - although from Middle England - certainly knew an awful lot of folks in Wales. When asked why he said that he responded, 'Because you and the other drivers are always waving to each other.' Our friend explained the 'Cheers and Thanks!' wave and pointed out that it was all about common courtesy.
The Etiquette of Wing Mirrors
Every car we have hired in Britain has wing mirrors ['outside rear view mirrors'] that fold in against the car body. This can take as much as 12-inches off the effective width of the vehicle.
Many roads in Britain are excruciatingly narrow and bounded by dense, ancient hedgerows.
In the States, car horns are mostly used as an expression of impatience and/or a somewhat negative opinion of someone else's driving abilities.
In Britain, one rarely hears a car horn. That is simply not done.
Obey the speed limits and the traffic lights. (Yes. One can still find the odd ['occasional'] traffic light.)
Note that many town councils can and do supercede otherwise nationwide speed limits with local, lower limits.
Do not even think about 'beating a train' to a level railway crossing! The trains can and do exceed 100 miles per hour.
Danger Drivers and Motorways
This will sound familiar to North American Drivers: Common causes of 'road rage' (Yes. It exists in Britain.) on motorways ['expressways'] include...
Tailgaters - Either the car in back is driving too fast for conditions and is 'trapped' behind a sensible driver or the car in front is driving too slow for conditions. Either way, the car in back becomes a Tailgater.
Middle Lane Hogs - Overtaking ['passing'] on the mostly three-lane motorways is only on the right. If the inside lane is empty, a slow moving vehicle is in front of you in the middle lane and the outside lane is congested... good driving practice says that you flash your headlights. If the driver does not pull into the inside lane and relinquish the middle lane, he is a Middle Lane Hog and you have become a Tailgater.
Swoopers - Driving along in the outside lane, at the last minute a driver 'swoops' across the two inside lanes to a slip road ['off ramp'].
You're on a Candid Camera
Speed trap cameras called 'GATSO' (another link) are also used at traffic light and level crossings and document the infraction. If you spot one before the flash of light, it may be possible to hit the brakes and drop below the enforcement speed limit. You 'may' have been caught when you see the visible flash of light illuminating the car and driver. We say 'may have been caught' because GATSOs are notorious for malfunctioning and as many as 7 out of 8 are reportedly lacking film in the camera. But, all that is changing...
Newer, high-tech, digital speed cameras called 'Specs' send the information electronically and instantaneously to the authorities. They operate 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. The 'Specs' cameras are deployed in pairs and varying in distance from one another. All cars are identified by their registration ['license'] plates. The precise time of each snap ['photo'] along with the distance between the cameras allows a computer to calculate the average speed of the vehicle. Since they use infra-red bulbs, you will not see a flash. Having missed seeing the first camera, hitting the brakes when you spot the second will not help! You have already been caught. Some fines are 250 Pounds Sterling. The potential is there for a constable to be waiting for you when you drop off your hired car.
One of the automobile clubs in Britain had the opinion that these cameras may be at odds with EU (European Union) laws and their use could be ruled 'illegal' by the autumn of 2000. Our thought is... Don't count on it until it happens.
Britain's motorway ['expressway'] services offer convenient - and higher priced - meals, petrol ['gasoline'], newsagents ['newspapers, books, magazines, local maps, et. al.'] and, occasionally, a TIC ['Tourist Information Centre']. The majority of these services are operated by Granada, Welcome Break
What with all the taxes on it, the price of petrol ['gasoline'] in Britain will leave you gobsmacked ['suprised into silence']. Taxes account for approximately 75% of the price of petrol. In the summer of '99, the price was three times the price in the U.S. That difference was mitigated by the better fuel economy of the car we had hired plus the fact that we were seeing the places we wanted to see and on our own schedule.
'Print and take with' a
The high cost of petrol is another reason to carefully plan your routings with AutoRoute Express™ so as to maximise your 'miles per litre ['liter']'. For example, try to avoid driving through major town centres when a bypass or alternative route is available.
Also, minimise your driving on 'Bank Holiday Mondays' when it can seem that all of Britain is one giant tailback ['traffic jam'].
Our personal experience has been that the average British driver has it over us in their courtesy, patience and overall driving skill... they drive assertively, very rarely aggressively.
One wag has suggested that driving in Britain is like a ballet and, by comparison, upon returning home the driving in the Colonies seems more like a hockey match.
Most of Us Are Non-Swindonians
Or... Counter-flow, Two-Way, Magic Roundabouts
And lastly, if you can, avoid Swindon's famous counter-flow roundabout.at the conjunction of the A4259, A4312, Fleming Way, Drove and Shrivenham Roads. Area Map, Local Map If you can't avoid it, suggest staying along its circumference unless you have done your homework! To see what we mean, be sure to see the iPIX™ 360-degree panoramic view of Swindon's Magic Roundabout.
David Craig's snaps ['photographs'] of 'The Magic Roundabout" show the approach to the little terror and - at rush hour - the diabolical contraption itself. The latter snap is definitely off-putting ['discouraging'] to us non-Swindonians.
If you are interested, there is a long-winded narrative of our first - and only - encounter with Swindon's Magic Roundabout.
We are aware of four more of these contraptions (which we personally will try to avoid.)
(With thanks to Mr M Chittenden and The Sunday Times newspaper for alerting us to...) a brand new one in London - at the junction of Westminster Bridge Road, York Road and Lambeth Palace Road. The London 'two-way, Magic Roundabout' is on the same side of the River Thames as County Hall and the London Eye which is the side opposite to Westminster Palace and Big Ben. Area Map, Aerial Photo
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|Last modified: Thursday, 27 October 2005.|
Car animation courtesy of the Animation Factory.