Tuesday, October 09, 2007

UK: Right hand drive and other oddities

Driving in the UK was certainly a fun and fascinating experience. Here I am posing next to the Vauxhaul/Opel Corsa that we had hired in Reading. It is quite a nifty little car, and the sad part is that you can't get stuff like this here in North America.

I got to observing the distinct things that I noticed were different. Here are my top 10:

10. People drive on the left hand side of the road and the right hand side of the car. (Duh, but I had to start with the obvious! :))

9. Driving on the other side of the car of course means that my usual habit of turning right to look behind me when I am in reverse doesn't work. This one took a bit of getting used to.

8. Roundabouts are everywhere. I have grown to love these things: why stop at a four-way stop or a traffic light when you can just merge into a roundabout and exit just as efficiently? Think of all those left turn accidents that this avoids.

7. Speed limits are reasonable. On country roads and dual-carriageways, speed limit can be up to 50mph. Considering the width of these roads, there would be a media circus if this were the speeds in Vancouver.

6. Cars are much smaller. This could be purely because things are just generally so much more expensive in the UK, but cars are much smaller, compact and practical than the bloatware you often find roaming the streets in Vancouver. The Opel/Vauxhaull is affiliated with GM by the way. Why does GM have this obsession that North Americans like big cars? If only they sold their European cars in Canada, I might actually use some of my GM points I've racked up over the years...

5. Petrol (gasoline) is very expensive. Think same price except in pounds per litre.

4. Everybody knows how to drive standard. Had I not had the chance to practice driving a standard transmission, right hand drive, 12 passenger mini-bus back in 2003, I think I might have freaked at this one, but this is old hat now. That and driving a manual transmission Mazda5 back home helps.

3. Standardized road signs. They were a bit difficult to figure out at first, but once you had them figured out, it was easy to navigate with them. Of course the hardest one for me to figure out was the white circle with the slash through it - I didn't know it meant "National Speed Limit" until I was told.

2. People know how to drive. In general, drivers are alert, aware and observe fast/slow lane rules. On the motorway, the slow lane really is the slow lane, and the fast lane is really the fast lane. You don't have people who drive in the 'fast' lane just because they feel like being on that side of the road.

And the number one thing I found was different...?

1. Drivers are much more courteous. I guess it has to do with knowing how to drive well. When you drive well and are aware, letting someone else go ahead of you means you'll know they'll be paying attention and you'll be making traffic flow more efficiently. Compare this to the "me-first" or the deadlock "you first, no you first" situations one often finds in Vancouver.

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