Driving in England

This is a picture of me driving from the passengers side, as far as I'm concerned.
This is a picture of me driving from the passengers side, as far as I’m concerned.

“I’m just going to hang up,” I hear Jamie’s voice through the car rental guy’s iPhone, “because I don’t know what to say.”

Yeah, 10 minutes after renting a car, I side-swiped a parked Land Rover. The shocking part is that they immediately gave me another car. I took it, pondered the possibilities, and decided to go driving for a few days anyway. I’m glad I did.

So, there are some upside and some downsides to driving in Britain. Having experienced the downsides, I feel I’m pretty damn well qualified to discuss, in an unbiased fashion, the pros and cons of driving in the U.K. At least to the extent that it compares to the U.S.

PROS

No stop signs. In middle school, I had a moron of a half-friend tell me “No cop, no car, no stop, dude!” But in the middle of his idiocy was some wisdom. Have any of you ever approached “stop” sign in the middle of nowhere and thought “WTF?” as you rolled through? Yeah, me neither. But England does away with the pretense and simply has red lights (mostly for pedestrians) and “give way” (the equivalent of our yield signs). For an American it’s weird, but it doesn’t take long to realize the childishness of a “stop” sign. No car, no stop, dude.

Drivers are good. I was once forced to take a the Defense Driving Course, where I spent about six hours of the day learning lesson that should have been taught in drivers ed. For example, don’t turn your tires while you’re waiting to go left. People in England seem to constantly be thinking about the rules, even in rural areas. That results in smooth traffic and—for a terrified tourist like myself—low blood pressure.

Compact, fuel-efficient is the norm. I get it—trucks and larger vehicles are useful, and sometimes downright necessary. But it seems like in England, the DEFAULT is super-ultra compact, manual transmission. Yeah, that sounds like a disadvantage, until a gallon of gas costs over $10. Suddenly, it’s nice to know that 2.5 gallons is half a tank to your Toyota Aygo.

CONS

Compact, fuel-efficient is the norm. That Toyota Aygo is great, but I’d better not be too worried about passing while going uphill. Thankfully, having our luggage being crammed around us might be a benefit in the event of a collision.

At this bridge, a sign warns that trucks can only make it by driving in the middle. I hope delivery truck drivers are the highest paid people in the UK.

Narrow f(*#ng roads. Seriously, only a Toyota Aygo can fit on most of these roads (don’t worry, delivery trucks still use them, much to the abject terror of the American tourist whose put his family in a bright blue soda can). In fact, half the time, two cars can’t simultaneously fit while another is parked. Thank god the English are such nice, polite drivers—if human decency and “giving way” were required facets of traffic flow in Chicago, Downtown to O’Hare would be a three day journey.

Street signs optional. When I get lost, I look for an intersection and then compare that to the map. I can do that even in Cataract, WI because our wonderful government has standardized the location and look of street signs. But in the U.K., they’re like garden hedge decorations, placed optionally by the owner of the property at the intersection. Never mind that every “wiggle” in the road might also result in am (unlabelled) name change.

Speaking of wiggles…

No straight lines. I would never want to be a surveyor in the UK. There’s not a rectangular plot in the entire damn country. Every single road—from the Gloucester countryside to downtown London—”wiggles” through the landscape. I haven’t seen a road meet at a 90 degree angle since we got here.

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