Almost without fail, when I talk to friends and family back home, I get asked about how it is to drive over here, on the other side of the car and on the opposite side of the road. My answer probably comes as a surprise to most, but I actually really like it. It didn’t take a ton of time to get used to driving on the left side of the road and since I rarely drive Tim’s American car, the right door is just always my door (passenger for his car, driver for mine).
In fact, I would venture to say that driving here in England is actually a much more pleasant experience than in the states. Now, I know there are some of you who are going to read this and completely disagree, but let’s throw in some background factors keep in mind as you read my opinion, then I’ll get down to why I think driving is a more pleasant experience over here.
Background factor 1: When I discuss driving in the UK, I’m talking some smaller cities and mostly villages, towns and country roads. I’m most definitely not referring to driving in Edinburgh or London or even Cambridge. Those all have too much car congestion, expensive parking and a good public transportation system. So when it comes to those types of cities, we opt for the train, bus or taxi.
Background factor 2: I came here from Southern California, specifically Corona, home of what locals call “the Corona Crawl” and near “the Orange Crush.” These are both big stretches of highway where you just sit in traffic for hours if you don’t time your day correctly. I also used to often drive into LA and San Diego both of which are huge cities, with lots of cars and basically no public transportation infrastructure. I definitely didn’t come from a place where it was easy or fun to drive. Fun fact, in CA you refer to the distance from somewhere in time not miles and you always add “without traffic” as a caveat.
Nearly a year ago, when Tim and I moved here, we determined we wanted to live in the countryside and since we had sold my car in the states, we needed to buy me a new one ASAP. Within a week of living here, we had purchased Barnaby, my Mini Cooper Clubman and I was off, learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road and car! Over the last year we’ve adapted very quickly and have found that there are things we absolutely love about driving here vs the states. So without further ado… here are ten things that make driving in the UK surprisingly pleasant.
Overwhelmingly, people drive very politely. They actually use the slow lane to drive and only drive in the fast and faster lanes for passing.
You know how you’re supposed to drive in the slow lane and then only use the passing lanes for… passing? Yeah, they actually do that here! The slow lane in the UK is the left lane and people actually drive in it and only pass in the right lane or two. Continual driving in the righthand lanes is considered rude unless you’re passing large trucks or buses. I couldn’t believe this when I first got here, but it is by far my favorite thing about driving here.
Inconveniences are met with apologies and politeness.(Thank you, sorry for the inconvenience).
More often than not, the Brits are so polite and that even extends to their road work signs! I’ve seen road work signs that say “sorry for the inconvenience” more than once and I love it. I love that they are doing their job but they are also acknowledging that it’s changing up your day and might delay you. I’ve also seen a police car with a scrolling electronic sign in it’s back window that alerted drivers to the fact that he was stopping traffic to remove an obstruction from the high way. After the obstruction was removed and traffic started flowing again, the sign said “thank you!”
Speed limit signs thank you for going the correct speed, or if you’re speeding, you get a sad face.
On the subject of politeness, we have electronic speed signs here (just like in the states) that say “slow down” if you’re speeding. But the best part is, if you’re not speeding, the sign says “thank you!” Now how pleasant is that?
There are also signs that give a sad face when you’re speeding which cracks me up but definitely makes me slow down since I don’t want the sign to be sad. >_<
Curbs are lower.
In general, curbs here are probably about half the height of curbs at home. Now, I don’t drive a sports car with low profile tires anymore, but any of you that do, know that giant curbs and parallel parking are the bane of your existence when you’re worried about easily popping a tire. Here I wouldn’t have that problem as I’m sure even my little low car could probably easily go over the curb. It also makes parking half on the curb half on the street easy. I know all you Americans are thinking that sounds ridiculous. But in a tiny windy village, sometimes that’s the safer option than leaving your whole car in the street.
Because of those tiny windy roads, and parallel parking, people are usually very polite.
Between cars taking up half of a road when parallel parked and what they call “traffic calming” infrastructure that actually blocks one side of the road, Brits are very used to having to slow down or stop to allow traffic through coming the other way. Because of this politeness, I also find that they are usually more willing to let me out in front of them while leaving my driveway, from a store, or one way street. Just in general, they are often quite good about letting people go and taking turns. If drivers in the states could all get on this, a lot of our traffic jams would magically disappear!
Stop signs are rare, and more often than not, it’s a yield sign.
I love the yield signs! Instead of stop signs here, when you come to an intersection you are met with a triangle in the road which is a yield symbol. And for this Californian who always feels like she’s got get somewhere quickly, I definitely believe this saves time!
Roundabouts are actually an amazing invention.
Now before you think I’m crazy. I’m not talking bout those crazy roundabout in larger cities with 4 lanes and a ton of exits. I’m talking super simple roundabouts to change roads and directions. It makes life so much easier once you know the rules of the road. The biggest key is stay in the lane you need (left lane for the first exit, middle for the second and right for the third), and use your turn signals to tell people where you’re going. Once you’ve got that part down, it makes so much sense. The smaller ones (without stop lights in them) save time vs waiting at a red light or stop sign and make it super easy to turn around if you’ve missed your exit or taken the wrong road. In general, genius!
Camera system keeps speed in check and removes the fear of getting randomly pulled over by hiding cops.
If you’re driving in California, especially on the freeways, going the actual speed limit (especially in the “fast lane”) is going to get you at the worst, into a wreck with others going much faster, or, at the very least, a glare from a speeding driver as they pass you. Now I’ve only been pulled over for things out of my control (burnt out headlights or tail lights)… knock on wood… but the fear of getting pulled over by a CHP has plagued me since I started to drive. But here in the UK they’ve taken that fear away. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a speeding ticket… in all reality, you’re probably more likely to get one because average speed check cameras aren’t subjective… but at least you don’t get that heart pounding fear when the red and blues light up behind you.
They have seriously helpful signs and road markings.
The UK has an exhorbinant amount of signs, but I find that all of them are extremely helpful. With a vast majority of the roads I drive being windy country roads, my favorite sign is the blue arrow pointing to the left, reminding me that that’s the side of the road I need to be on. These are usually found after an unusually awkward intersection or when the road splits and there is a median. Signs telling you which way to drive for a football (soccer) stadium are not only denoted with the names of the stadium but also with a vector image of a football. Consecutive signs are marked with just the football image so you can continue to know you’re on the right road. In the road, they have helpful markings such as spaced chevrons letting you know how far is a safe distance from the car ahead of you.
The helpfulness of these signs is endless and commonplace to those who learned to drive in the country, but to a beginner UK driver like myself, these are not only a great help, but a great novelty as well.
Stoplights turn red and yellow before they turn green (giving you time to shift to first gear if you waited out the red light in neutral).
Since most people in the UK (myself included) drive manual cars, this is especially helpful. IF you’ve ever driven a manual car, you know your left leg will get tired of you’re at an exceptionally long red light and you’re holding the clutch in. In the states and the land of very few manual cars, taking the time to put your car into first gear after the light turns green is often met by honks. This would make life for manual car drivers so much more pleasant if we had that option in the states.
Bonus: Crosswalks have adorable names like Zebra and Pelican.
It doesn’t necessarily make driving more pleasant, but it makes me giggle. I love how adorable the names are for their crosswalks. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love animals, so the names of Zebra, Pelican and Toucan crossings make me smile every time I hear them. I also can’t help but picture those animals trotting across the road.
So there you have it. My ten personal reasons why I’m actually enjoying driving in the UK. Let me know what your favorite reasons are… or if you hate driving here, what do you find extremely unnerving?