18 June 2012

It's not just the wrong side of the road

There is a funny scene from the National Lampoon's European Vacation. Chevy Chase (Mr. Clark) and his family are trying to drive in England and get stuck in a round-a-bout for hours. it's a hilarious scene -- haven't seen it? It's here:


This exemplifies some of the fears and stereotypes that Americans have about driving in the UK. I've never driven here, I've only driven in 3 countries outside of the US: Canada, New Zealand (they also drive on the "wrong" side of the road) and Germany (Autobahn driving is fun!)
Friday in the car, my friend Ruth and I had a conversation about driving in each other's countries and our perceptions of it.
She said its very nice to drive in the US -- the roads are huge, lanes are huge and parking spaces are huge.
I felt that driving in the UK would be a bit scary -- the roads are narrow, the lanes are narrow and the parking spaces are narrow.
We both agreed however that when driving in another country it's frustrating to have to pay attention to different road customs, signs etc as well as navigate an unfamiliar place.
As we conversed I realized a blog post would be necessary to show just what the roads here are like. All photos were taken from a moving car (I wasn't driving!) so I apologize for any blurriness!
Also note that none of these are highway photos - they are mostly roads between towns, but not proper Motorways with junctions (in American: not Interstate highways with exits)

As can be seen from the photo above there are rarely shoulders, and really no space to pull completely off the road if you break down. It is very common for roads to be lined with hedges.

In this photo one sees again that the roads are narrower than at home in TX. The signs seen here are speed limits. In the UK they utilize a mixture of metric and standard measurements in daily life. Speed limits are posted in miles per hour.
If you drive on the right side of the road, you will note that it appears that the cars are on the "wrong" side of the road. I have on more than one occasion looked in an oncoming vehicle and wondered what on earth that crazy woman was doing letting her 9year old drive!!
For those of y'all who wonder why it is that we drive on the sides we do, I found a decent explanation here:

One of the things that scares me most is that there seem to be soo many blind corners here. Roads here tend to curve and turn more frequently than roads back home, and with tall hedges bordering the roads, one can never know for sure just what they will encounter around the corner - maybe road works (in American: road construction), an oversized Lorry (in American: truck / 18-wheeler), or stopped traffic.

Sometimes when one approaches a junction (in American: intersection) one sees the signs in the middle of the road ... Why? Easy: they are on a roundabout.

Actually most junctions have roundabouts - its rare to find one without it.... Some are nice built up with gardens as one sees here. Others are small - about the height of a speed bump and still others are just painted on. Cars approaching from the right have the right-of-way. Although this system seems scary at first to those of us who do not understand it, it actually is quite good and alleviates a lot of simply sitting at an intersection waiting to turn.

Many signs are different. A lot of them are standard European road signs that even those of us not accustomed to them could figure out. But some stand out as ones that I like. For example: Kill Your Speed.

More signs, very blurry - sorry.

I've seen this in other parts of the world - I think it's just lovely when the trees grow up over the road and form an archway - just lovely.

More signs - see the small white posts with what appears to be a 2x4 strip of wood between them? (right side - midway down). That is a street sign. They are very low. The nice thing - they are rarely covered with tree limbs and because they are so low, when one drives at night they are reflected great with your headlights. Quite clever placement.

I hope you enjoyed your drive in England....oh and as always, don't forget to buckle up!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Wokingham,United Kingdom


  1. Well, I think that the link you provided proves that we drive on the correct side of the road over here ;o)

    Having driven in America and (obviously) Britain I think our roads are much more exciting to drive on.

  2. I was just wondering what part of the UK you're in and thinking how similar it looks to where I live, and how that roundabout looks just like one round the corner from me. Now I see why... you *are* just round the corner from me! :o)

    The hedges thing varies a lot round the country. Around Berkshire, hedges are typical, but in other parts of the country walls would be much more normal. I found driving in West Wales and Cornwall really scary because the roads were so narrow and the hedges and walls so high! In some parts of the country, there are just huge wide flat grass verges on either side of the road. And in surburban or urban areas, pavements (sidewalks?) are the norm.

    Over all the UK, I'm pretty sure that roundabouts are not the majority. Round here we "benefit" from the national transport research laboratory being very close, so they seem to install all kinds of experimental road layouts here, although roundabouts aren't exactly new any more. Also, there has been a real population explosion in this part of the country and roundabouts have been used on many of the new roads. We very rarely have junctions with actual Stop signs (only for safety) and I don't think I've ever seen a four-way stop in the UK at all(only when I went to Texas).

    Did you find it weird that all our traffic lights are on poles instead hanging suspended from cables? I noticed that everywhere I went in Texas! It's so fascinating once you start looking, isn't it?

  3. Alice
    You are right, I probably over generalized a bit - but a lot of the things I pointed out are big differences. However I did not mention the lights - and yes, they are different. I often feel one has to look harder for them. Of course they do deter one from driving too far into is junction when stopping, because if one goes too far they can no longer see the light!